Tight end is, perhaps, the weakest position group on the Jaguars roster. After not retaining Tyler Eifert and with James O'Shaughnessy's contract expiring, the Jaguars will likely need to address the tight end group in free agency and the draft.
There are two upper-tier tight ends set to hit the open market next week — Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.
Jonnu Smith is 25 years old and coming off his best season as a pro. Drafted in the third round by Tennessee in 2017, Smith has plenty of athleticism and a strong frame to boot. He stands 6'3'' and weighs in at just under 250-pounds. Over the last two seasons, Smith has developed into a complete tight end, proving to be a quality blocker in the run game and becoming one of the top receiving targets in the Titans' offense. In 2020, he caught 41 passes for 448 yards and eight touchdowns.
Hunter Henry is just a bit older than Smith at 26 years of age. Drafted by the Chargers in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Henry has been a force in the passing game. He's 6'5'' and 250-pounds. He missed all of 2018 with a torn ACL but has played in at least 12 games in his four other seasons as a pro. Like Smith, he is a complete tight end that doesn't need to come off the field. Henry caught 60 passes for 613 yards and four scores in 2020.
So who makes the most sense for the Jaguars?
Both can line up in line, in the slot, out of the backfield, or even in out wide. Both have strong hands, adequate blocking ability in the run game, and plenty of bulk on their frames. And both tight ends are still relatively young and should have long careers ahead of them.
A case can be made for either player as a better fit in Jacksonville. Henry's market value is $10.9 million per year, according to Spotrac, while Jonnu Smith is valued at $8 million per year. But with the Jaguars having the most salary-cap space in football, money shouldn't be the deciding factor.
This may come as a surprise to some, but I'd take Jonnu Smith, regardless of who costs more. It's rare to find a tight end with the mix of athleticism and physicality that Smith brings to the table. He has the acceleration of a running back with the ball in his hands but has no problem going toe-to-toe with bigger defenders in the run game. Henry certainly has a larger catch radius and is slightly more consistent when it comes to making contested catches, but Smith is going to be the more versatile player and can create something out of nothing. Urban Meyer has spoken about the need for speed and big-play ability on offense. Jonnu Smith's longest gains over the last three years have been 63, 61, and 57 yards, whereas Hunter Henry's longest catch has been just 36 yards.
Don't get me wrong — Hunter Henry would be a fine addition and a safety valve for Trevor Lawrence and is a quality athlete himself. But when it comes to making the Jaguars' offense as explosive as it can possibly be and adding physicality up front, Smith is the way to go. Jonnu Smith might be the most attractive offensive free agent when it comes to value, a term Trent Baalke repeatedly used in his press conference on Wednesday.
The Jaguars should, without question, add one of these two talented tight ends. They're weak at the position, and both would immediately give the Jaguars a leg up on offense.
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