The New England Patriots surprised a lot of fans last offseason when they signed tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to big contracts.
While it was always expected that Bill Belichick would revamp the position following Rob Gronkowski’s retirement and subsequent trade to the Buccaneers, signing arguably the two biggest names on the market hinted he wanted to change up the team’s offensive approach.
While Henry hit the ground running with the Patriots, Smith almost became an afterthought in the passing attack. Could Smith’s sluggish start be attributed to the fact that he got a delayed start to the offseason program?
Per ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Smith missed voluntary OTAs last offseason while he awaited the birth of his daughter. For someone looking to make an impression on Belichick, missing OTAs put Smith behind the eight ball and that was reflected in the tight end’s inconsistent season.
Taking that into account, Patriots fans will love hearing that Smith will be a full participant in the team’s voluntary offseason program this year.
Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith will be a full participant during OTAs.
Could this signify a breakout second season for Smith? We certainly hope so, because he was grossly outperformed by Henry despite signing for more guaranteed money ($31.25 million to $25 million) than his running mate.
Last offseason, everyone viewed Smith as the next breakout star at the tight end position, but he underwhelmed to the tune of playing just 51% of the snaps and logging 28 catches for 294 yards and two touchdowns.
In his final season for Tennessee, when he was competing for touches with Derrick Henry, who compiled 378 carries, AJ Brown and Corey Davis, Smith posted 41 receptions for 448 yards and a whopping eight touchdowns. In other words, his plummet in production was shell-shocking for Patriots fans.
Conversely, Henry played 68% of the snaps and hauled in 50 catches (10 short of a career-high) for 603 yards and nine touchdowns, which tied for first at the position with the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the Ravens’ Mark Andrews.
It’s clear Henry’s presence at the OTAs last year aided his transition to learning the Patriots’ system and developing a rapport with Mac Jones.
Smith, on the other hand, didn’t report to Foxborough until mandatory minicamp last June and was limited due to an injury. Couple that with the fact that he missed time during training camp and it’s really not a surprise he struggled in Year 1.
It might seem like we’re making excuses for Smith, but that couldn’t be anything but the case. Offseason participation is paramount for all players joining new teams, but it increases ten fold with free agents joining the Patriots.
With Smith planning to be a prominent participant this time around, there’s reason to believe 2022 goes down as his coming out party.