Patriots’ Offense Was Dreadful With High-Priced Free-Agent on the Field

Getty Jonnu Smith

The New England Patriots‘ offense was supposed to be more effective with Jonnu Smith on the field in 2021, but that wasn’t the case.

According to advance stats shared by analytics expert Warren Sharp, the Patriots weren’t just less effective with Smith on the field, they were downright bad.

For anyone wondering what EPA stands for, it is Expected Points Added. Inside the Pylon defines the metric as followed:

Expected Points Added (EPA) is a football statistic that seeks to measure the value of individual plays in terms of points. This is done by calculating the Expected Points (EP) of the down, distance, and field position situation at the start of a play and contrasting it with the situation at the end of the play. A three-yard gain on first-and-10 is pretty different than a three-yard gain on third-and-two, something not usually captured in conventional statistics. The Expected Points framework helps translate raw gains into value.

If more basic and conventional stats are what you’re looking for, Smith didn’t shine in those categories. In 2021, Smith managed just 28 receptions for 294 yards and a TD. The rushing ability we’d seen flashes of during his time with the Tennessee Titans was nearly non-existent with the Patriots.

Smith nine rushing attempts for 40 yards. The single receiving TD was a career low for Smith while his reception and receiving yards were the lowest he’d produced since 2018 when he was still finding his footing with the Titans while battling for targets with Luke Stocker.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft called out the free-agent signings from the 2021 offseason earlier this year, and the hope is that a tweak to the offense–now that Josh McDaniels has moved from New England offensive coordinator to Las Vegas Raiders head coach–might awaken Smith.

Smith will be entering the second year of a four-year, $50 million deal. It’s very important for Smith to perform well in 2022 and 2023. He can be released heading into the 2024 season with just a manageable $3.75 million cap hit.

How Jonnu Smith Can Bounce Back in 2022

Smith could get a chance to play more of the H-Back role he seems best-suited for in 2022. Many of the Patriots’ offensive players seemed to believe the new offense from Joe Judge and Matt Patricia is simpler than what they ran under McDaniels.

That’s potentially a good thing for players like Smith who were seemingly more comfortable in different systems. If Smith gets more opportunities to catch the ball out of the backfield, carry the ball from a running back position and use his speed when he has a mismatch, the Patriots might get what they expected from him after all.

The Biggest Threats to Jonnu Smith’s Second Season

There is a chance Smith puts out another disappointing year for the Patriots. Health will be a major factor in Smith’s performance. While Smith only missed one game in 2021, he was battling nagging injuries all season.

New England still has 2020 third-round picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene on their roster. Asiasi and Keene have both made little to no impact since they were selected two years ago. Both will have a chance to make the team in some capacity during training camp and preseason–if they aren’t cut before.

Still, Smith’s big contract and his talent should afford him a leg up in any race for a primary spot as one of the Patriots’ biggest contributors at the tight end and H-Back positions.

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