The New England Patriots’ free agency spending spree started with the addition of Jonnu Smith on a four-year, $50 million contract. Expectations were naturally high for the tight end, but compared to other additions this offseason he has taken a bit longer to hit his stride in the New England offense.
Eleven games into his tenure as a Patriot, however, it is obvious that Smith has begun to carve out a valuable role as both a blocker and a receiver. His performance against his old team, the Tennessee Titans, was further proof of that.
Playing 57 percent of New England’s offensive snaps, Smith finished with four touches: he caught three passes for 49 yards and also added a 9-yard carry. His combined 58 yards from scrimmage were a season-high for the 26-year-old, and his best statistical outing since early during his 2020 campaign.
Smith’s touches are not the only positive development. He also played a big role as a blocker on top of his receiving and rushing output, with 20 of his 34 total snaps coming as either a pass protector or run blocker.
Regardless of how he was used, he generally fared quite well:
Starting to see Jonnu Smith blossom in the Patriots' offense as a receiver and blocker— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) November 29, 2021
Had a couple big plays on Y-Cross (Gronk's specialty) + exploited touches on a jet sweep and check down. Also chipped in some POA blocks pic.twitter.com/IEZRrL4uHY
On the season, Smith has now touched the ball 30 times for 288 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, though, it appears as if offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has found a way to incorporate him into his team’s attack: he is being used more as an in-line option now compare to earlier during the season.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick also seems to be happy with how Smith is progressing.
“Jonnu’s been a good player for us all year,” he said earlier this week. “He brings a level of toughness in the running game and explosiveness with the ball in his hands. Even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, he’s still an explosive player in the passing game that the defense has to respect, and if they don’t, he’ll big-play them.
“If they do, a lot of times that creates space for other players. I thought his in-line blocking, which is something he’s always done very well, continues to be a strength for him and us. When he has the ball in his hands, he’s a fast player that’s big, explosive, and hard to tackle. Love to see him with the ball in his hands in space. He have us some big plays early in the game to kind of help get us going there, which is always a good thing.”
Smith’s best performance of the year came just days after he faced questions about his comparatively limited impact. McDaniels himself spoke of a “foundational year.”
Smith, meanwhile, said that he would not be worried about his usage and that his focus would lie on himself rather than how the coaches envision his role.
“You get to anywhere the first time in your life and it’s an adjustment. It’s just about how well you adjust,” he said. “Just coming in with the same mindset every day, put my hard hat on, and I’m just thankful for the position that we’re in right now. We know we have a lot more football left and we’ve given ourselves the opportunity to continue to play a lot more football. I’m thankful for that opportunity; that’s just where I’m at right now.”
The Patriots, it seems, are also willing to keep giving him opportunities. And if his game against Tennessee is a sign of things to come, opposing defenses better come prepared.