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Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith To New England - Fantasy Impact

The first day of NFL free agency was headlined by something we don't usually see in free agency: the New England Patriots spending money. Among other moves, they signed former Titans tight end Jonnu Smith, plus added wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. And then on the second day of free agency, they added another tight end, bringing in Hunter Henry.

So, the Patriots added the two top tight ends on the market. That sure is odd, huh? Before the Henry signing, I thought Smith was a big winner of free agency, but now it's hard to know what to make of this. Won't Henry and Smith cannibalize each other's value?

I'll also touch on the Agholor and Bourne signings. Will they supplant all the other Patriots receivers? Do they move the needle at all? And what does this all mean for Cam Newton?

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Can Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith Complement Each Other?

I mean, no. Like, we'll get more into all of this in a second, but the easy answer here is no, Henry and Smith being on the same team is not good for either of their fantasy values. It doesn't mean you should totally avoid both guys, but this is a team that had the second-fewest passing attempts in the NFL last season -- they aren't suddenly supporting two fantasy TE1s, no matter how talented Henry and Smith. This isn't a Gronk/Hernandez situation. Having two TE1s on a team just doesn't happen. PFF looked into this last Summer and since 2010, it's happened just twice. Once was Gronk and Hernandez, who finished as TE1 and TE3. The other were the 2019 Eagles, with Zach Ertz at TE4 and Dallas Goedert at TE10.

So look, it's possible, but it's not something fantasy managers should be betting on.

What should they be expecting? I'd say a couple of solid TE2s.

Last year, Jonnu Smith was 18th among tight ends in snap share and 45th in target rate. He was productive with the usage he got -- 41 catches for 448 yards and nine touchdown, which ranked third among tight ends -- but all the hype about him signing in New England was assuming that he'd be the clear No. 1 tight end on a team with Cam Newton, a tight end friendly quarterback, throwing the ball. Smith shared time with Anthony Firkser on a team with a similarly-low number of pass attempts last season and if he hadn't found the end zone so much, it would have been a disappointing season after how he was being drafted.

As for Hunter Henry, the biggest knock on him is that he's never played a full 16 games, but he's been productive when on the field. Last season, Henry was fifth among tight ends in snap share, seventh in routes run, and seventh in targets. He finished with 60 catches for 613 yards and four touchdowns, ending up 11th at the position in fantasy points per game.

Like with Smith, a move to New England without another tight end joining him would have been a win for Henry, as he would have had less competition for targets -- his 20 percent target rate ranked 68th at the position -- even on an offense that would throw the ball much less than the Chargers would have.

But Henry's history of production suggests that he'll probably be the safer of the two tight ends from a fantasy perspective. Jonnu Smith will be the boom/bust guy who'll need to find the end zone, while Henry will help move the chains. He's had at least 30 receiving first downs in each of his seasons, a number that could go up in New England this season.

Ultimately, Henry is the one I'd pick to have a TE1 season if one of them does have one, especially in full PPR leagues. Smith will have value, but might be more matchup-dependent than Henry.

But Henry's lack of touchdowns in his career suggests that even if he's the higher floor guy, he's also the lower ceiling guy, which is another thing to add to the equation.

The point of all this rambling: the Patriots have two good tight ends in real life, but don't get your hopes up that they'll have two good tight ends in fantasy.

 

Cam Newton's The Big Winner Here

The one player whose arrow is pointing up? Cam Newton.

Let's look at Newton's full-season numbers for his whole career. See if you can spot what the big difference was last year:

Yes, his attempts were down, but the bigger issue was that his touchdown rate just fell off big time. Newton threw more interceptions than touchdowns, but the 2.7 percent interception rate isn't a big deal if Newton was throwing some more touchdowns.

What was the big difference last year? Tight end.

If you look at Newton's time in Carolina, having Greg Olsen was huge. Olsen had three 1,000 yard seasons with Newton throwing him the ball, and two of Newton's three worst seasons in terms of interception rate came with Olsen playing limited time.

Last year, New England's tight end rotation was probably the worst in the NFL. Ryan Izzo's 20 targets were the most of the team's tight ends. Devin Asiasi had the only touchdown catch. It was rough, but adding two good tight ends to this team is going to give Newton some reliable targets, both in the open field and down in the red zone. Newton has actual, NFL-caliber targets this year! Last year, he had six games of a potentially past-his-prime Julian Edelman and Jakobi Meyers.

Newton gets a lot of flack for his performance last year, but the lack of talent surrounding him can't be ignored, as it was a big part of that. He was fourth among QBs in deep ball completion percentage, but just 49th -- yeah, 49th -- in red zone completion percentage. Jonnu Smith helps that. I'm not ready to call Newton a QB1, because I do want to see him actually take advantage of these weapons, but he's trending up, especially when you factor in his rushing upside, as he had 592 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns last year.

 

Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and the Patriots Receiver Room

Oh yeah, the Patriots signed some wide receivers too.

I'm not super excited about these guys, but they deserve at least a little attention.

If we expect New England to do a lot of 12 personnel because of the addition of Henry and Smith, then we'll be looking at a lot of two-receiver sets. If Julian Edelman is healthy, he'll have first dibs on one of those starting receiver roles. Agholor seems like a lock for the other one after his season last year, with a lot of other dudes fighting to be the third guy when the team uses three wideouts.

I'm not going to talk about that third guy. It could be Bourne. It could be Jakobi Meyers. It could be N'Keal Harry, except it sounds like they're looking to trade Harry.

But whoever it is, this offense would need to throw a LOT more for any of those guys to be fantasy relevant.

What's more likely is that Edelman puts up decent numbers, but not near what he did in his prime. Agholor has some good games, but goes back to being the inconsistent player he was in Philly before last year's surprisingly good season in Vegas. Both guys are, what...low-ceiling WR4s? We have to assume that Newton's first reads are going to be tight ends, just because there's more talent there and, well, 2020 showed us that this team probably needs to refocus things around talent.



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