Jonnu Smith, the Titans next Pro Bowler?
Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith is going into his fourth season in the NFL and the team is expecting a lot from him in 2020.
It is fair to say that most people don’t realize what it takes to be a great tight end in the NFL, including decision-makers around the NFL. Just look at the hit rate on truly elite tight ends around the NFL.
Among active tight ends in the NFL, only 8 players have had a season with more than 1,000 yards. Of those players, only 1(!) was selected in the first round: Greg Olson. In the last decade alone there have been 24 tight ends selected in the first round and only one of those players ever broke 1,000 yards in a single season…so why do people even draft tight ends in the first round?
I think a large part of that is because teams get confused by what a tight end is able to do in college and they don’t realize how much more they will be asked to do in the NFL. Touted as a “safe” position to draft, tight end seems low risk but the reward is also incredibly low.
The players that get a chance to sit and learn or who are given patience and time, generally pick it up well and have a much better chance of reaching their peaks.
That is why there are more active tight ends drafted in the 3rd round with 1,000-yard season than there are 1st and 2nd round tight ends combined.
What does this have to do with the Titans?
There are a lot of great examples of this development taking time, but this one should hit home the hardest. Delanie Walker’s first season with 350+ yards was in 2013 when he was 29 years old and he was already on his second team and his third contract.
Jonnu Smith had 439 yards as a 24-year old in 2019, and he did that while half of the games he played in involved him being on the field for less than a dozen pass attempts per game.
If you had known that, then the praise from Gregg Rosenthal wouldn’t have surprised you in a recent article about big homegrown players for each team. There he said:
"Like his mentor Delanie Walker, Smith is an incredibly talented physical specimen whose career could prove to be a slow burn. He jumped to 439 yards in his third season and helped knock the Ravens out of the playoffs, but there’s potential for so much more. He broke 14 tackles — third among all tight ends — despite only 35 catches. Bill Belichick said Smith is probably “the best in the league” at running after the catch, and the stats back him up. (Only Noah Fant averaged more YAC than Smith.) At a position that sometimes takes a few years to master, Smith emerging as a Pro Bowler would round out the Titans’ bullyball offense."
The roster of Pro Bowl tight ends isn’t that tough to get into, I mean looking at output Jonnu Smith outgained Pro Bowl alternate Jack Doyle in total yardage 517 to 448 and only had one fewer touchdown.
If Doyle hadn’t been a guy that the media talked up all the time, there is a good chance that Jonnu Smith gets called about that alternate spot in a fair world.
If it does then the Tennessee Titans weapons will look like this:
WR: A.J. Brown (star), Corey Davis (underrated but needs volume), Adam Humphries (2nd highest catch % among starters with 30+ targets)
TE: Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser
RB: Derrick Henry (king), Darrynton Evans (the player we dreamed Dion Lewis would be)
That is a far cry from two or three years ago where you could bring up a practice squad player to the active roster and no one would even be able to tell the difference. This is a group of skill players you can win a lot of games with in the NFL.