FOXBORO, Mass. — Don’t write off Jonnu Smith just yet.
That was fellow New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry’s message Thursday.
Henry, who’s emerged as one of quarterback Mac Jones’ favorite targets in recent weeks, believes Smith is due for a breakout of his own.
“He’s going to come on,” Henry said. “I’m excited to see him break out. … He works extremely hard at what he does, so I think he’s going to continue to keep coming.”
The former Tennessee Titans standout has just six catches on 13 targets for 45 yards and one touchdown over the Patriots’ last three games. One of those was a truly nightmarish performance: six targets, one catch, 4 yards and multiple drops — including one that resulted in a pick-six — in a Week 3 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Smith accepted responsibility for that dud, acknowledging “the whole world knows” he “didn’t put (his) best product out there.” Henry said Smith’s work ethic behind the scenes has been “fantastic.”
“He’s a stud, man,” said Henry, who caught six passes for 75 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win over the Houston Texans. “He’s fun to be around. Works his tail off and there’s a lot of competition in the room. Always trying to compete with each other — against our guys and on the field. I think it’s a healthy room where we’re always trying to better ourselves, communicate better. So those things are continuing to improve.”
Lately, the Patriots have given Henry more opportunities in the passing game and used Smith more as a blocker. Against Houston, Smith played 40 offensive snaps and ran just six routes, compared to Henry’s 22, according to Pro Football Focus.
Smith’s blocking hasn’t been particularly effective, either, though. His PFF run-blocking grade ranks dead last among NFL tight ends.
Still, Henry is confident his position mate will find his stride. The Patriots are banking on it after signing the two tight ends to hefty contracts each worth $12.5 million annually.
“Man, he’s been doing this for a while,” Henry said. “Obviously, I’m going to be there and encourage him in some of those tough times, but the man — he’s done it for a while. He knows what he’s doing. He has a process and the way he goes about things. It’s fun being the teammate of a guy who works extremely hard and is very present in the meetings, bouncing things off communication-wise. So he’s doing a great job. He’s a lot of fun to be around and compete with and go out there and try to win some games with.”
Perhaps Smith’s long-awaited emergence will come Sunday. This week’s Patriots opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, ranks 31st in pass defense DVOA against tight ends, per Football Outsiders. Only seven teams have allowed more passing yards to opposing tight ends than Dallas has.