Wednesday - Jan 20, 2021

Home / Commentary / FLAVOR OF THE WEEK: Jonnu Smith, TE, TEN


As you’ve noticed over the last few weeks, interesting free agent and waiver options have been few and far between lately.  This is not an unusual development this year; this is what November’s like every year.  Sure, there are the isolated cases of David Johnson 2015, but remember that late season boon stemmed from injuries to BOTH of Arizona’s other running backs in the same game.  Reality is if you’re looking for improvements at this stage in the game, you’re going to have to take some shots and the likelihood of them hitting is low.

Who are those shots?  If you need a running back it’s probably Josh Adams, a wide receiver and it’s Josh Reynolds, and quarterback – probably Lamar Jackson.  I’m going to focus on the position that has driven many fantasy players nuts this year – tight end. The Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz owners are absolutely satisfied with how their seasons have gone. Those that stumbled upon George Kittle are in a good spot too – although you need someone this week. Everyone else?  There’s at least some level of uncertainty with everyone but Trey Burton. With the bye weeks coming to a close it’s time to take one of those shots and see if you can get one of those late season riser’s.

That shot is Tennessee Titan, Jonnu Smith. Yes, a player with just 10 receptions in 2018 and 28 total in his career; someone who hasn’t gotten more than three targets in a game all year. He comes with a canyon-like floor and I’m not trying to sell you otherwise; the ceiling is what should have your attention though.  Across his last nine targets he’s pulled eight of them in for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Small sample size bias withstanding, an 89% catch rate and yards per target north of 11 is an attention grabber to the coaching staff, especially when you consider the other weaponry on the Titans. Nobody behind Corey Davis has emerged at wide receiver and the two that have been getting work are either injured (Taywan Taylor) or playing hurt (Tajae Sharpe). The offense just recently found their footing under first year coordinator Matt LeFleur after an injury riddled September derailed the train before it ever got off the tracks. Smith is obviously not the only reason this offense has recently began to trend upwards, but along with Davis and Dion Lewis he’s been the other reliable piece for signal caller, Marcus Mariota.

Additionally, him being a late bloomer is not much of a surprise.  He was off most radar’s before entering the pre-draft process.  He was seen as a plus athlete, which at least got him invitations to post season events, but little else was expected of him.  His work in those events started showing that he was more than just that. He’ll never be confused with a blocking tight end, but he showed enough for decision makers to believe it could develop into something at least functional.  Raw athleticism and ability to create are not necessarily mutually exclusive, so him showing those YAC skills were an eyebrow raiser. His routes and hands were not surprisingly a mess, but he showed enough other traits to believe with time he could develop into a starter; note the key word, ‘time.’ Not all developmental curves are linear, some prospects come into the league better prepared than others, and tight end is historically a position that takes at least two-three years before most players begin to produce. His slower development wasn’t the only reason the Titans extended Delanie Walker in the off season, but that action both told me that they don’t think he’s ready for to start but that they believe his time is coming – because they didn’t bring anyone else in of consequence. Start putting this puzzle together and it’s clearer why this Florida International prospect may not be developing until just about now.

Now all of that is only part of the equation; his match ups going forward play a big role too. Those match ups are why I think now is the time to strike. His next two opponents (Colts and Texans) are in the bottom third against tight ends. The best waiver wire and free agent plays are the ones with quick outcome timelines. You will know what to do with him the rest of the season amidst these two games. If he performs well and sees increased volume then he makes a strong case to be your guy for the home stretch. If he doesn’t then you send him back to the pool for something that may help in December. Speaking of December, on the surface his schedule does not appear to be that friendly as he draws the 2nd, 9th, and 12th best defenses against tight ends in his final four games. That said, after digging a little deeper there are reasons to believe those rankings don’t necessarily tell the whole story. We saw one of those cases Monday night as the Giants Alec Ogletree was picked on all game long, but especially by George Kittle. While the Redskins sport the 9th best overall production against tight ends they have given up at least five catches for 45 yards (or a touchdown) in six of their nine games. The Jets may be second to these Titans, but they’ve only played two tight ends in the top 10 – one of them went for 71 yards and a touchdown (Eric Ebron) and the other (Trey Burton) was simply a victim of his own team getting too far ahead and they stopped throwing. Once again, if these next two weeks don’t go well none of that matters. But if it goes well don’t let those surface numbers mislead you; this guy can make plays against all of those teams.

This week’s Flavor of the Week is: Chili.

It’s getting cold outside and the best chili’s are the one’s that take time to develop. A slow cooker at a low temperature, slowly layering more and more ingredients on top of each other. Those ingredients are finally blending together and we’ll soon find out how it turned out. Do so with him already on your squad instead of going chasing after him next week.

About Mark Chamberlin

A big heart with a little snark. If you've got thick skin then I think we will get along just fine. If not though...