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Why Jonnu Smith Will Be A Top-6 TE (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Kyle Yates | @KyleYNFL | Featured Writer
Jun 8, 2020

Throughout the offseason, Kyle Yates will be highlighting several marquee fantasy players as he walks through his projection process. These projections are subject to change based on injuries, signings above/below them on the depth chart, new information regarding scheme or player usage, etc. They’ll serve as a way to give a “peek behind the curtain” into Kyle’s projections thought process and whether or not a player will be a fantasy value in 2020.

In this article, we look at how Jonnu Smith is well-positioned to finish as a top-6 TE in 2020.

Jonnu Smith

If you’ve played fantasy football for any length of time, you know the volatility that comes with the TE position. There are the top-tier guys at the top, that you have to pay through the nose for in your drafts, and then a bunch of players that are simply rolls of the dice.

While there are certainly some players every single year that do not hit or pan out, there are the occasional late picks that end up contributing for your team in a big way. This year, there are some intriguing names towards the back end of your drafts, but maybe none more enticing than Jonnu Smith.

Smith was drafted in the third round by the Tennessee Titans back in 2017 and has been living in the shadow of Delanie Walker for the past few seasons. Walker has been a dominant fantasy force for periods of his career, but is now 35 years old and the Titans have let him walk in free agency. Smith will now step in as the primary option at tight end for this offense and he has absolutely flashed his potential whenever he’s been given the opportunity over the past couple of seasons.

Smith is a special blend of athleticism at the tight end position and has the potential to be a game-changer for fantasy football. While he’s unproven, he’s been a candidate to breakout for a few years now, but Walker’s presence above him on the depth chart has prevented that from happening. He certainly has the talent, but how does all of this come together to result in a top-6 finish in my season long rankings?

Let’s look at the projections.

Projections

This Titans offense had been treading water the past few seasons with Marcus Mariota behind center, but that all changed once Ryan Tannehill took over. Tannehill was extremely efficient last year and having a weapon like AJ Brown to throw to certainly didn’t hurt. With Derrick Henry carrying the ball, the team was able to control the clock and rely heavily on play action.

The Titans finished with the second lowest passing volume output in 2019, only behind the Baltimore Ravens. With Mike Vrabel as the head coach, I fully expect that trend to continue into 2020, so we cannot project a significant passing volume increase. They are still going to rely heavily on the run game and should be able to repeat their success from last season. With that in mind, I feel comfortable projecting the Titans offense with a slight increase in passing plays from 448 last season to 465 this season. It’s not a large margin, but 448 passing attempts is a historically low mark (especially factoring in how efficient they were) and that’s unlikely to repeat in 2020.

If we take the projected 465 passing attempts and look at the Titans’ receiving corps, it’s not unreasonable to project these players with the following target share percentages:

Up to this point, Davis has yet to progress into the player that we (or the Titans) expected him to be and we saw his target share diminish last season with the addition of Brown. If we project Brown to take another step forward in 2020, that leaves less targets available for Davis. Humphries was a big offseason addition for the Titans last year, but he missed quite a few games with an injury and finished last season with only 47 targets. I expect that the Titans will want to keep him involved on key third downs, but he’s not going to take away many more targets than his projection.

While Evans will see some work out of the backfield, Henry’s a non-factor. This leaves a lot of available targets and the tight end position has always been important to the Titans success on offense. In 2019, the Titans threw the ball 25.2% of the time to their TEs, which was towards the top of the league. Walker absorbed several targets per game while he was in the lineup and there’s reason to believe that those targets won’t go elsewhere now that Smith is the primary option. Firkser is a fine player, but he’s not any sort of significant threat to take away targets from Smith in this offense.

With the projected target share in mind for Smith, we can look forward now to how he’s used in the offense and what types of targets he’ll be receiving. The TE position has always been used in Tennessee to help move the chains and averaging somewhere around 5-7 yards for average target distance. These are high percentage throws, which indicates that Smith should be able to reel in the majority of these receptions and then create after the catch, which he excels at. I’m projecting a 67% catch rate for Smith and a slight decrease from his average yards per reception to 11.8.

These numbers give him 69 receptions on the season for 809 yards. Based on expected TD rate, which I go over in previous articles in this series, Smith should have a baseline of 6 receiving TDs. I’m comfortable projecting this number forward, but with the lack of true weapons the Titans have there’s a possibility that we see Smith’s red zone targets increase this season. There’s certainly the potential for an even higher TD total in 2020.

When all is said and done, Smith finishes with a season long projection of 102 targets, 69 receptions, 809 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns.

Fantasy Outlook

Based on those numbers, Smith slides right in at TE6 in my season long rankings. Whether or not you feel comfortable projecting him this highly, it’s difficult to look at his opportunity and not see a big season on the horizon. Smith has all the talent in the world to be a fantasy football star, but he’s needed the targets to truly capitalize on it. He now has a clear path to a boatload of targets and it’s now a question of whether or not he can deliver.

When rolling the dice with a late-round TE, you’re typically choosing between someone who’s completely TD dependent like Jared Cook or someone who could be in line for a large target workload. Smith fits both criteria, which is often a recipe for fantasy football stardom. If you don’t feel comfortable spending up on George Kittle, Zach Ertz, Mark Andrews, Travis Kelce, etc. you should be looking to walk away from your draft with Smith. He’s currently going as the TE16 in ADP Consensus, which I fully expect to rise as the season gets closer, and he’s currently ranked as the TE17 in ECR.

Obviously, my ranking is very aggressive, but I feel strongly about Smith’s outlook this upcoming season. If you’re looking for the next breakout tight end, Smith’s your guy.

“Kyle Why” Fantasy Football Series


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Kyle Yates is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Kyle, check out his archive and follow him @KyleYNFL.

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