Entering the 2022 season, the New England Patriots hoped to get a better return on investment from tight end Jonnu Smith. After signing a four-year, $50 million contract last offseason, Smith posted just 28 receptions for 294 yards and one score.
Throughout the offseason, New England seemed committed to unlock their versatile tight end. During training camp practices, Smith was fed the ball in numerous, creative ways while the Patriots overall featured their two-tight end package more than last season.
In Week 1, those trends continued. After using their 12 personnel grouping less than 20 percent of the time last season, New England played 51 percent of their snaps in their two-tight end package against Miami.
As for Smith, the tight end saw four targets in the passing game — two coming off designed screens. Smith, who was Pro Football Focus’ fourth-highest graded tight end in the league in Week 1, hauled in three of those passes for 33 yards. 30 of those yards were coming after the catch.
“He runs angry. He can generate yards with the ball in his hands. He’s worked very hard, credit to him,” Patriots tight end coach Nick Caley said via Zoom on Tuesday. “He’s fast, he’s explosive, he can run through arms tackles. He’s violent on contact. I thought he did a good job of really creating yards, making yards, protecting the football, all things he’s worked on and I was pleased with that.”
Even with his struggles last year, Smith’s ability after the catch has never been in question. He ranked third in the NFL and first among tight ends last season in YAC/reception, according to NextGen Stats.
Moving forward, the Patriots should continue to get the 27-year old the ball in space as much as possible and let him use his use those skills. On plays like Mac Jones’ first drive interception, Smith was open underneath and there’s no telling if anyone would have stopped him on his way to the end zone.
Jonnu was open on the first drive INT. Maybe could have kept on running to the end zone with his YAC ability.— Brian Hines (@iambrianhines) September 13, 2022
Not saying the shot by Mac was bad, but he may need to take the bunnies at times with this offense. Getting Smith the ball in space more is a good start. https://t.co/yZIl3AUbSg pic.twitter.com/7y2MK2VGQm
“Jonnu’s a versatile guy period,” Caley added. “He runs the ball, he’s a natural ball carrier. He’s very explosive, he’s very fast, he can really eat up yards in a hurry. Any time he has a chance to catch the ball and get the ball in his hands, we got a chance to make some positive yards.”