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What You Need To Know:
- Delanie Walker made it through only 7 games last year, helping Smith to a career best 35-439-3 line.
- Smith made the most of limited chances, ranking 7th among TEs in yards per route run; 2nd in yards after catch per reception.
- A run heavy offense remains in Tennessee, but Smith could force his way into a role that allows for 80-90 targets behind A.J. Brown.
Smith shows improvement
With Delanie Walker lasting only the first 6 games of 2019, Smith had another opportunity to prove himself as the Titans’ lead TE.
The results weren’t striking without Walker: 36 targets, 29 targets, 342 yards and 3 TDs (10 games). Yet Smith made the most of his opportunities.
He averaged 12.5 yards per catch. His 1.83 yards per route run, per Pro Football Focus, ranked 7th among 35 TEs with at least 40 targets. Smith ranked 9th at the position in yards after catch; 2nd in yards after catch per reception.
PFF also credited him with 14 avoided tackles — 3rd most behind George Kittle and Travis Kelce. And we’re talking about a guy who finished 31st among TEs in targets. He added 4 carries for 78 yards — a clear sign of his tackle-breaking ability and the coaching staff’s desire to get creative with him.
But will he see enough volume to ascend to fantasy TE1 status in 2020?
Smith enters the final year of his rookie deal. He does so while entering the summer as Tennessee’s starting TE for the first time. The 25-year-old has spent time working out with Ryan Tannehill.
"Ryan [Tannehill] is making me better, I’m making him better, and we’re just building that chemistry,” Smith said per ESPN. “I’m sure it will give us a great advantage, just learning my speed, learning his speed. Feeling the football come out of his hands and just catching the football, knowing the spin on that thing. I’m only learning him more and he’s only learning me more.”
Smith will have a chance at becoming the #2 target in this passing game. A.J. Brown returns as the alpha after breaking out with 52-1,051-8 as a rookie. Corey Davis provides some target competition, but he’s largely underwhelmed through 3 seasons.
The key will be retaining a high catch rate and a WR-like yards per catch, since volume doesn’t look ideal. The Titans ranked 30th in total plays last year under 1st-year OC Arthur Smith (Jonnu’s former position coach). Some rebound there is reasonable to project, although this unit’s clock draining, run-heavy ways won’t change. Derrick Henry returns for another go-around after leading the league in carries.
Of course, volume matters less at TE, where so few guys even reach 100 targets (only 4 guys did so in 2019). Over the last 3 years, the TE8-TE12 have averaged 79.2 targets per game. Smith has a real shot to reach that range.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line:
Smith enters a contract year set for his biggest workload yet. This offense is fairly thin, so an injury to Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown or Corey Davis would spike Smith’s volume.
Even if everyone remains healthy, Smith’s shown over the past 2 years that he can maximize his opportunities. If he can approach 80+ targets, TE1 numbers are highly likely.