In this series of articles, our resident tape wizard Greg Cosell will take an in-depth look at some of the more interesting fantasy players for the 2020 NFL season. It’s a peek behind the curtain of the film room, as these are Greg’s raw, unfiltered notes he takes as he watches a player.
The Titans are a power football team — they’re built off the run game and Derrick Henry, and they want to play defense. It’s old-school football. But in today’s NFL, teams must have the threat of big plays in the passing game, no matter how they’re built. That’s why Tennessee gave QB Ryan Tannehill a nine-figure extension this off-season.
Tennessee hopes it has its #1 WR for the foreseeable future in second-year stud AJ Brown. But who is the #2 target when Tannehill drops back? Could it be gifted TE Jonnu Smith? Let’s see what the tape shows.
Smith was not targeted very much in the Titans’ passing game, but he has the athleticism and speed to be a factor on intermediate routes and seam routes.
Smith also showed plus run-after-catch ability, which showed up in the screen game and at times on shallow crossers (look at this 35-yard reception against the Chargers, on which he broke multiple tackles).
Smith flashed good body control and hands to make tough back shoulder catches in the middle of the field — another reception against the Chargers, this one for 24 yards, highlights this.
It is evident from tape study that Smith has the athleticism, receiving ability, and run-after-catch to line up as a detached TE and be effective.
Smith made tough hands catches at all three levels of the defense. He caught the ball effectively away from his frame.
I came away from Smith’s tape believing he could be a bigger factor in the Titans’ passing game with his strong combination of receiving traits. However, the Titans’ offensive foundation is the Henry run game, so there are not that many overall targets available.
- Smith’s 2019 stats: 35/439/4 (12.5 YPR, 44 targets)
- Smith lined up in multiple locations in the Titans’ offense, including line-of-scrimmage TE and split outside the numbers. At times in 2x2 sets, Smith aligned off the ball in stacked alignments.
- Smith was one of the foundations of the Titans’ screen game, both the conventional screen game and the bubble/tunnel screen game when he was detached as a split receiver.
- Smith gained 57 yards in Week 15 against the Texans on a toss play from the traditional I-back alignment. It was a pin-pull concept and Smith showed natural running ability with patience, vision, and short-area burst. It was a straight up run play without “tricks.”
- Smith is effective from the line-of-scrimmage and flexed TE alignments in the bang play action pass game off of power run action. He ran quick in-breakers behind the second level defenders with room to run-after-catch — his 41-yard TD against the Saints is a good example.
- Smith was consistently used throughout the season as the movement/shift TE in the Titans’ offense.
- Smith had some catches that came off well-designed and well-schemed route concepts against zone coverage — “two-through-zone” concepts that attacked voids in the coverage.