Patriots Tight Ends: The Fantasy Debate Continues
After looking over a couple of articles done by Trey and Kam regarding Patriots tight ends and their fantasy value, I knew I had to chime in. Kam argued that both Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry will be fantasy-relevant for the Patriots. Trey countered, saying he will stay away from the New England tight ends in 2021. I will note that while both of these articles had solid points, they were written before the Patriots selected Mac Jones in the 2021 NFL Draft. While I have my reservations about the former Alabama quarterback, there seems to be a true quarterback competition brewing in New England. This is good news for both Henry and Smith’s fantasy value.
First, The Quarterbacks.
Cam Newton was pretty horrible in his first year with the Patriots. While he led the league in rushing touchdowns for quarterbacks with 12, it was painful watching him throw the football. Newton looked like he was throwing a weighted medicine ball, but all the weight was in the front of the ball. I have never seen a quarterback throw more 10-yard passes at receivers’ feet. Cam completed 65% of his passes for 2,657 yards and only eight touchdowns. The offense was run-heavy and at times they seemed hesitant to pass the ball. If Cam is the starter, I would side with Trey and stay away from the Patriots’ tight ends.
However, if Mac Jones starts the season under center for Coach Belichick, the conversation on Smith and Hunter’s fantasy value changes. I have been very critical of Jones, but he just had one of the great seasons we have ever seen from a college quarterback. Jones has pinpoint accuracy and was at his best when he could sit in the pocket and be a distributor. Newton and Jones could not be more different when it comes to playstyle. With Newton and a committee of running backs, they are a power/run-first offense while with Jones, the offense will feature more passing plays, which clearly benefits the tight ends.
Advantages for Smith and Henry in New England
One thing that bodes well for both Smith and Henry’s fantasy value is that New England does not have any special receivers. I like Kendrick Bourne and Jacobi Meyers but neither is an elite wide receiver in this league. Nelson Agholor had a drop problem in Philly and although it was less of an issue in Las Vegas, I do not trust him in a weather zone that is frequently assailed by rain and snow.
For the first time in their careers, Smith and Henry will be number one options in the passing game. While in Tennessee, Smith was the fourth offensive option behind Derrick Henry, AJ Brown, and Corey Davis. As for Henry, I could argue that he has been the third option on the Chargers behind both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
Trey noted in his article that the Patriots have targeted their tight ends in the red zone three times in two seasons, but he did not mention that their tight ends were Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. Smith and Henry had a combined 36 redzone targets in 2020 and both should be threats inside the 20 for the Patriots.
Which TE Has More Value?
I am under the impression that both Smith and Henry have fantasy value in New England, as long as Jones is the quarterback, but which player has more value?
Jonnu Smith, the former Tennessee Titan, signed the biggest contract for a pass catcher under Bill Belichick in the 2021 offseason. After watching Tennessee games for the past two years, I have noticed that Smith is not exactly an every-down tight end. He seems indifferent to blocking and was only used in certain situations, almost as a gadget guy.
I feel like McDaniels is going to use Smith in a Cordarrelle Patterson-type role where he is active in both the pass and the running game. The biggest worry I have about Jonnu Smith is that he has not shown to be a high-volume tight end. In 2020 he did not have a game where he had more than six receptions and his season-high in yards was 84 against the Jaguars. Nevertheless, Smith did haul in eight receiving touchdowns.
Hunter Henry’s biggest concern is health. In five years with the Chargers, he missed 33 total games and including all of 2018 with a torn ACL. Unlike Smith, Henry is more of a blocker and an old-school tight end. In 2020 Henry had 60 receptions, 613 yards, and four touchdowns, and while he was not especially productive, he did more than just catch passes for the Chargers.
As much I would love Smith and Henry to repeat the greatness that was Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, it is not going to happen. Gronk is the most dominant tight end in league history and although Hernandez was a scumbag of a human being, he was truly a special talent on the field. Oh, and they were catching passes from the greatest quarterback of all time.
If I had to pick one, I would go with Jonnu Smith. It is a tough call, but Henry’s injury history is a cause for concern, and he is going to be asked to block more than Smith. Smith is a dynamic athlete and even if Henry is the primary tight end, Smith will get some run at wide receiver. Again, if Newton is the starter, scratch everything I just said. The Patriots tight ends only have big fantasy value if Jones is the quarterback.
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