Every year we see players who seem to come out of relative obscurity and become household names and subsequently turn into league-winning fantasy players. It is even sweeter when it comes to a position that seems to lack upside later in drafts. This year, that player is Tennessee Titans TE Jonnu Smith. I have talked about him in previous articles, but I am firmly planting my flag on his upcoming breakout season. Between incredible athleticism, uncontested opportunity, and team philosophy, Smith is a player you need to target in your fantasy drafts in 2020.
Even with limited opportunities, Jonnu Smith’s athleticism was apparent
Entering his fourth season in the NFL, Smith possesses everything I am looking for in someone who can break out. Let’s start with his freakish athleticism. Standing at 6’3″ and 248 pounds, Smith has the frame that becomes an instant mismatch. Throw on his 4.62 40-yard speed, and not only can he out-muscle someone, but he can also run past them at the same time. Thanks to these factors, Smith’s 3.7 yards of separation ranked third in the NFL. Not just amongst tight ends, but all players.
Smith started to showcase his talents in 2019 after long-time TE Delanie Walker suffered a season-ending ankle injury during their Week 6 game against the Denver Broncos. Smith’s 35 receptions on 44 targets (79.5%) for 439 yards and 3 touchdowns were enough for a TE19 finish. However, there is a bit more to it when you break it down once he became the primary tight end.
From Week 7 on, Smith was TE12 and ranked amongst the best in the NFL in several metrics. He ranked second in both yards per target as well as yards per catch per reception. He also was third-best in fantasy points per target beating out both Travis Kelce and George Kittle. There was also evident chemistry with QB Ryan Tannehill as he had the sixth-best passer rating when targeting Smith.
After taking over the primary role at tight end, Smith saw a target share of 13.4%. A mear 1.5% increase would have been good enough for Smith to end the season as TE8! Smith’s breakout started in 2019, but it appears not everyone has taken notice. This is perfect for us as it means you can target Jonnu Smith much later in your 2020 fantasy drafts than he should be going.
Jonnu Smith has very little competition for targets in 2020
When looking at the Titans roster, finding reliable pass-catchers becomes a bit of an issue. Their primary wide receiver is A.J. Brown, who is on a shortlist of players who could develop into one of the top-5 at his position. Other than Brown, there is nothing but question marks. Corey Davis is still around, but unless he sees a fourth-year breakout on the line of what DeVante Parker did last year, I don’t foresee him being a significant factor. In 2019, even though he had eight fewer receptions, Smith had 32 more yards after the catch than Davis.
The most significant change entering 2020 for Smith’s outlook is the departure of Walker. After missing the rest of 2019, the Titans chose not to bring him back, and he remains a free agent. Moving on from a proven veteran shows the massive vote of confidence the organization has in the skillset Smith brings to the offense.
When utilizing the PFN Offensive Share Metric (OSM), which uses separation, catch rate & several other NFL Next Gen stats to find who contributed most to the team’s offense, we agree entirely. Smith ranked as our TE1 with an elite score of 44.32. Based on what Tennessee asks Smith to do, he is the optimal fit for this offense.
Tennessee is a run focused offense, and there is no mistaking that fact. The Titans finished with the second-fewest passing attempts in 2019, only behind the Baltimore Ravens. However, given the lack of competition at wide receiver or tight end, Smith could easily be second on the team in targets.
Another factor working in Smith’s favor is this Titans’ overall usage of the tight end in their offense. Tennessee ran the fourth-most multiple tight end formations in 2019 and targeted the tight end on 25.2% of its passing attempts. Also, inside the red zone, the tight end turns into a primary read. On their 39 passing attempts inside the red zone, they targeted the tight end on 18 (46.1%) times. Smith has already started seeing its benefits as only Brown saw more targets in the red zone in 2019.
Looking at past performances, team philosophy, ADP, and athleticism, Jonnu Smith checks every box for a player you want to target in 2020 fantasy drafts. Now a new question emerges. How high is Smith’s ceiling for 2020?
Jonnu Smith will finish as the fantasy TE6 in 2020
Is this a bold claim? Yes.
I promise you that I can back it up, though.
Let’s break down my fantasy projections for the Tennessee Titans in 2020.
As I covered earlier, the Titans attempted the second-fewest passes in 2019. A large part of that was due to the offense being hamstrung by the inept quarterback play of Marcus Mariota. I project the team to employ a rushing-centric approach but will attempt more passes due to more sustained drives. I am projecting an uptick from 448 attempts to 470 attempts in 2020.
Now we have to look at how these targets are going to be distributed.
I have it shaking out as follows:
- A.J. Brown – 107 targets (22.9%)
- Jonnu Smith – 97 targets (20.7%)
- Corey Davis – 78 targets (16.7%)
- Adam Humphries – 58 targets (12.4%)
- Darrynton Evans – 50 targets (8.4%)
- Anthony Fisker – 26 targets (5.5%)
- Derrick Henry – 21 targets (3.5%)
- Cody Hollister – 18 targets (3.8)
While the 20% target share for Smith would be a significant jump, given the lack of depth all around, I think he ends up second in targets. As mentioned earlier, the Titans targeted the tight end on 25.2% of their passes in 2019. There is no one else in that room that has shown any reason to command any significant target share. Secondly, Smith can also be very successful when played offline in the slot. When split out, Smith had a nearly 80% catch rate in 2019. Could all of this be ruined by Corey Davis becoming the player dynasty owners have been hoping for since 2017? Sure. But is that a bet you want to put your money on?
Now that we have the targets established, we can look at what Smith will do with them. In 2019, Smith was one of the best in the NFL with his 12.5 yards per catch. We need to consider that while this is impressive, only catching 35 passes allows big plays to inflate this number. With the additional volume Smith will see in 2020, his efficiency will take a slight hit. I still have him at an extremely respectable 11.9 yards per catch.
When you put this all together, I have Smith projected for 67 receptions on 97 targets (69%) for 769 yards and 6 touchdowns. In 0.5 PPR scoring, Smith’s 149.1 fantasy points would put him as TE6 on the season just above Evan Engram.
There is one other factor working in Smith’s favor that few, if any, tight ends have on their side. He possesses a sneaky rushing upside. Last year, Smith rushed the ball four times for an astonishing 78 yards. Give him a full season, and Smith could end up with nearly 100 yards rushing and boost his floor. I have Smith rushing the ball eight times for an additional 96 yards and ending with a grand total of 158.79 fantasy points in 2020
When it is all said and done, I have Jonnu Smith becoming the next breakout tight end, joining the ranks of Mark Andrews and Darren Waller from 2019. Right now, you can get him for a fraction of their price. Smith’s current ADP of TE17 presents an incredible value that you need to be targeting in your fantasy drafts in 2020.
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