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New England signs Jonnu Smith: Fantasy football fallout for 2021

Jonnu Smith joins the Patriots as part of a one-two punch at tight end, a situation that complicates his production outlook.

Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith (81) reaches for a first down after a reception against the Detroit Lions during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The first of the New England Patriots’ twin splashes at tight end, Jonnu Smith arrives in Foxborough as a freshly minted top-3 player at the position in average annual value. That investment would normally assure Smith a featured role in the passing game, but the arrival of fellow tight end Hunter Henry complicates the matter.

Jonnu Smith signing: Fantasy football impact

Had the Patriots signed only Smith, he would have almost immediately become a top fantasy option at the position after the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle. Smith produced well in a limited role with the Tennessee Titans, turning 76 catches into 887 yards and 11 touchdowns (he added a 12th as a runner) over the past two seasons. Smith’s combination of athleticism and savvy appear a strong fit for the “move” tight-end role in the New England offensive system.

But like Smith, Henry received a huge contract from the Patriots and will require a significant share of the targets as well. Henry doesn’t fill the same role as his new teammate — he plays more often on the line as the “Y” tight end — but the offense didn’t produce as many passes last season as it has in the past. Cam Newton, the quarterback New England re-signed shortly before the legal-tampering period, attempted the second-fewest throws among passers with at least 15 starts. That number could increase with the bevy of pass-catching additions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will reach peak Tom Brady levels or something similar.

That combination of factors could put Smith in a similar position to the one he just left in Nashville. If so, he has the outlook of a low-end fantasy starter with upside should something happen to Henry.