Patriots: Should Jonnu Smith feel disrespected by ESPN’s TE rankings?

The New England Patriots’ passing game should provide a breath of fresh air after the disaster that was 2020.

For context, the Patriots’ ranked 30th in yards per game (180.6), 23rd in completion percentage (64.3%) and 27th in passer rating (81.1). We could rattle off more stats, but what purpose would that serve? Let’s get excited about what 2021 can offer!

Of course, that excitement stems from the seismic changes New England made to its receiving corps and tight end room. Speaking strictly in terms of the latter, we can’t wait to see what free agent additions Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith will bring to the passing game.

It goes without saying Henry and Smith are two of the top tight ends in the league, but we’re interested to know where they rank according to executives and players.

For the last week, ESPN’s been doing exactly that for every position. On Friday, the TE ranking was revealed … and let’s just say Smith might feel a certain way about it, as he came in at No. 9 … behind Giants big-catch-dropping specialist Evan Engram.

ESPN disrespected Patriots’ Jonnu Smith in their tight end rankings.

Let it be known that we aren’t upset that Smith ranked ninth. That’s a tremendous achievement for someone who was the fourth option in the Titans’ offense behind Derrick Henry, AJ Brown and Corey Davis. However, the fact he was listed behind Engram is borderline unforgivable.

For starters, Engram finished second in the NFL with 11 drops last season, grabbing the top spot for tight ends. That’s a damning stat itself, but a number of those drops occurred in crunch time and it’s not crazy to say the 26-year-old cost his team a few wins.

Smith, meanwhile, recorded just three drops. He’s also averaged 7.1 yards AFTER the catch per receptions since 2017. That ranks second only to 49ers superstar George Kittle during that span, according to Pro Football Focus.

On top of being one of the most dominant blocking TEs in the game, Smith is as dependable as they come in the pass-catching department. Some fans don’t know that because he’s played in the same offense as the aforementioned Henry and Brown, both of whom ESPN ranked first and 10th in their running back and wide receiver rankings, respectively.

Want more proof that Smith deserves to be ahead of Engram? The newly-minted Patriot registered more receiving touchdowns last year (eight) than Engram has managed over the last three seasons combined (seven).

To piggyback off that point, Smith absolutely feasts in the red zone. In 2020, the former Florida International standout tallied an 88.5 red zone receiving grade from PFF. His eight red zone touchdowns also ranked second behind Chiefs stat-padder Travis Kelce.

ESPN was so close to giving Smith the proper respect he’s earned since his debut campaign in 2017. All they had to do was not rank him behind the consensus most frustrating TE over the last few seasons. Since they didn’t, Smith has every right to feel disrespected by this list.