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What You Need to Know:
-With Delanie Walker out of Tennessee last year, Smith set career highs across the board with 65 targets, 41 catches, 448 yards and 9 scores (1 rushing).
-Smith missed just 1 game with a knee injury and 1 half with an ankle sprain.
-Still, 2020 was a bit of a disappointment. Smith saw only 47% of Tennessee’s TE targets. Anthony Firkser saw 53 targets under then-OC Arthur Smith, the team’s former TE coach.
-Consistency simply wasn’t there. After tallying 18-221-5 over his first 4 games, Smith managed just 23-223-3 over his final 10 appearances.
-Smith ranked 4th among 26 TEs with 50+ targets in yards after catch per reception (5.76). That further built his resume as a strong post-catch athlete.
-Smith played 41.4% of his snaps in the slot or out wide, a sign of his pass catching versatility.
-The Pats signed Smith to a 4-year deal worth $50 million. His average annual salary ($12.5 million) matches that of fellow newcomer Hunter Henry. (Henry signed 1 day after Smith.)
-Of course, Henry’s a potential roadblock to Smith’s upside. But we should see the Patriots rank at or near the top of the league in 2-TE sets. Don’t expect his usage to be puzzling like it was in Tennessee.
-The Pats retained Cam Newton on a 1-year deal and added Mac Jones in Round 1 of the 2021 draft. Newton looked like a shell of himself in 2020, but we expect him to at least enter Week 1 as the starter.
-Jones started only 1 season at Alabama, but he showed pro-level accuracy on tape.
-Only 6% of Newton’s targets went to TEs in 2020 — lowest in the NFL. There’s no doubt that’ll change massively in ’21. While the Pats added WRs Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne to pair with Jakobi Meyers, the strength of this offense now lies at TE.
-What figures to remain is the Pats’ run-heavy game plan. With a restocked defense and a well-built O-line, look for another low-volume pass attack.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line:
Smith looked like a sure-fire TE1 upon signing with the Pats. He’s now on the edge of that territory following the signing of Hunter Henry.
The Pats relative lack of WR talent provides hope that Smith can still produce top-12 totals alongside Henry. Smith’s huge contract — even coming off an uneven 2020 — certainly signals that the Pats have high hopes. Just expect some bumps along the way.