Jonnu Smith was one of the New England Patriots' most expensive free-agency signings of the offseason. The veteran tight end was inked to a four-year, $50 million contract to form what was expected to be a stellar TE duo with Hunter Henry.
Through the first six weeks of the 2021 campaign, Smith's production has been underwhelming. His 16 catches for 124 yards and one touchdown are well below what was anticipated when the Patriots went on their spending spree. Drops have been an issue as well, particularly in New England's Week 3 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
So, how can Smith turn his season around? What can the Patriots do to better utilize his talent?
Matt Cassel, who played with Smith on the Tennessee Titans in 2017, shared his thoughts on a brand new episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast with Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry.
"It's just the inconsistency. Even the drop in the Saints game where it hits him in his hands, he had a few drops that game," Cassel said. "And so, it could be a confidence issue, it could be that for 70 percent of the snaps he's being used as a blocker as well, so they're utilizing him more in the run game as more of a fullback/wide tight end. He can do that, there's no doubt, but at the same time he's an incredible athlete and you have to get him the ball in space and utilize him. ...
"He's a guy that you can split out and isolate one-on-one as you saw them do a little bit last week in those first two series, and you get good matchups. That's what they did so well with him in Tennessee. We'd put him on the backside of a formation and let him get matched up on a safety and give him either a post or a corner route, and he could go win. You haven't seen that. You haven't seen him get the ball pushed down the field toward him at all. Rather, he's more of a possession guy."
Will we start to see Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels try to get Smith the ball more going forward?
"I have to believe he will because in the past they've had multiple tight end sets and guys that can go out and win, and he's able to formation them and utilize the personnel groups to get favorable matchups and use them in the red zone," Cassel said.
"Josh McDaniels is one of the best play-callers I've ever been around, especially when you're talking about taking somebody's skill set and playing to their strengths. And so, I don't know if it's a matter of him figuring out what exactly Jonnu Smith is and how to make it work within the system, or if it's just a matter of time before we see him have that breakout game."
Also discussed in this episode: Are the Patriots a good 2-4 team? Do they have a problem with players that are "situationally dumb?" Five players who need to step up now for the Patriots. And which other QBs would you rather have than Mac Jones?