Bleacher Report says Titans TE Jonnu Smith may be the key to the AFC South.
It is rare that a tight end is one of the most important players in a conference, but Tennessee Titans rising star Jonnu Smith can make that case.
First of all, we need to address the fact that there are really only three teams in the AFC South race at this point. The Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans are going to compete for a playoff spot while the Jacksonville Jaguars seem to be setting up a run for the 1st overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
So that leaves three teams to talk about and we really know most of the cast of characters for each of those teams. The Texans are basically just a worse version of themselves from last year and how much upside does Philip Rivers really have at this point in his career?
On the other hand, the Titans tight end has a ton of upside and only needs to find out how to show it consistently if he wants to become a big player in this division.
Well, an article from Bleacher Report actually focused my attention on Smith when they said that he could be a player who could swing the AFC South. In that article, they crystalized Smith’s best trait in his elusiveness:
"A year ago, Smith forced 14 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. The number ranked third behind last year’s first- and second-team All-Pro tight ends, George Kittle and Travis Kelce.Both Kittle and Kelce had at least 85 receptions, which more than doubled Smith’s output—in Kelce’s case his 97 receptions nearly tripled Smith’s 35 snags—which makes the Titans tight end’s forced missed tackle total even more impressive."
Just how big can he be this year?
Smith’s production has never been a question of ability, instead, it has been more about the constant rotation of play-callers. On top of that, Smith had to deal with coming from Florida International to run-heavy schemes in the NFL.
A year ago fans might have looked at Smith going into the final year of his contract, but now it looks like the raw talent from 2017 has finally developed into a potential star.
Speaking of development, why don’t I quantify that for you so that you know it isn’t me just trying to pump up a player. You don’t need to take my word for it, you can see his numbers hold steady or improve in literally every category that matters over his three-year career:
Targets: 30 -> 30 -> 44
Receptions: 18 -> 20 -> 35
Catch percentage (fewer drops): 60% -> 67% -> 80%
Yards: 157 -> 258 -> 439
TDs: 2 -> 3 -> 3
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You have to remember that he is doing that on teams that have been very run-heavy and the volume hasn’t been there for anyone in the passing game, so the numbers from last season are impressive.
To put into some perspective, if he matched his market share in the Titans offense in a pass-heavy offense like the Atlanta Falcons, his last season would have looked like this: 54 receptions, 670 yards, and 5 TDs and that was in his first season starting more than a handful of games.
For the first time in a long time, Smith comes into the season as a starter with the same offensive play-caller and quarterback supporting him. Hopefully, the consistency around Smith will make him even consistent and productive than the player he has developed into.
Don’t forget, the last time we saw Jonnu Smith was in the playoffs and he opened the scoring on the Baltimore Ravens. His strength, athleticism, coordination, and concentration along with the trust of his QB Ryan Tannehill, helped give fans a glimpse of the great things Titans fans could be in store for in 2020.