The only thing more reliable than the tight end position being bad for Fantasy is that every August we'll come up with a list of tight ends who are set to change that ...and most of them will let us down.
You might think 2020 was different since Logan Thomas, Robert Tonyan, and T.J. Hockenson all jumped into the top five at the position. It's more like they fell into the top five with fewer than 180 PPR Fantasy points due to George Kittle's injury, Mark Andrews' time on the COVID list, and Evan Engram's drops.
Thomas, last year's No. 3, would have finished TE7 in 2019, more than 40 points out of the top three. In fact, last year was the first in the past 10 where it didn't take at least 200 Fantasy points to finish in the top three tight ends. So surely, we aren't going to do this thing again, right? Of course we are.
The state of the tight end position is such that we only have four tight ends we should fully expect to be really good; Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, Kittle, and Andrews. Then we get to the could-be players, which has been one of the most dangerous positions in all of Fantasy.
That group is led by a rookie, Kyle Pitts, but also includes T.J. Hockenson (if he gets all the targets in Detroit) and Noah Fant (if he can get in the end zone). Now, if you're just catching up you may wonder how a rookie tight end is even in this group, because yes, they're generally bad. But Pitts is a unicorn in terms of his size/speed/reach combination and he was an absolute monster in his final year at Florida. If any rookie tight end is going to deliver, it would be him, although as you'll see below, I'm still betting against it.
Outside of these seven tight ends it's a hodgepodge of young guys who need more opportunity (Cole Kmet and Adam Trautman), veterans people just don't believe in (Logan Thomas, Rob Gronkowski, Tyler Higbee) and the Patriots. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry would both be way more interesting if the other was gone. These players are best left for the double-digit rounds, and don't provide a whole lot of upside.
The bottom line? The tight end position is still very top-heavy, even if there are some who hope that will change in 2021.
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Tight end strategy is determined by your draft position this year. If you pick in the first six picks you probably aren't taking Kelce, which means you shouldn't take a tight end until Round 3 at the earliest. This is where you have to do the mental math as to whether Waller and Kittle are worth what you'll pass on in early in Round 3, if you don't think so, Mark Andrews will probably be there late in Round 4. If you miss the top four, I prefer to wait until Round 8 and take Fant. If you miss Fant, I'd take a pair of the tight ends going in the double-digit rounds. Preferably, one young and one old.
If you have a pick in the back half of the first round, you can avoid all of this by just taking Travis Kelce with your first pick. If you miss him, you should be happy to land Waller or Kittle after Round 3. If you miss them, you can follow the same flow chart from before.
If you're in a tight end-premium league, Kelce should be a top-three pick and Waller-Kittle are worth consideration at the 1-2 turn. Everyone else gets a two-round boost.
Now let's get to the sleepers, breakouts, and busts:
Jonnu Smith TE
NE New England • #81
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Smith appears to be the favorite in New England, though I view both as late-round dart throws. They were both helped a lot by Mac Jones winning this job. If the Patriots dedicate a third of their targets to tight ends, the pair could be successful. If not, Smith and Henry could cannibalize each other when they're both healthy. Thankfully, both have shown great red zone ability in the past.
CLE Cleveland • #81
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Austin Hooper had a bad first year in Cleveland but it was also in the heart of a pandemic, with two games played in extreme weather, and two more missed because of an appendectomy. Even with Odell Beckham, he was on pace for 90 targets and nearly all tight ends who get 90 targets finish in the top 12. Hooper is a complete afterthought on Draft Day, but I like his Week 1 matchup with Kansas City.
Noah Fant TE
DEN Denver • #87
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Fant averaged 11.5 PPR Fantasy points per game last year in the 12 healthy games he played with a quarterback. That would have been good enough to be TE5 last year. Considering he had miserable quarterback play and an abysmal 3.5% touchdown rate, there's room for upside from there. Especially considering he won't even turn 24 until November. The return of Courtland Sutton could be a problem, but there are enough vacated wide receiver targets for Sutton to absorb. If Drew Lock takes a leap this year, Fant could be a top-four tight end.
Kyle Pitts TE
ATL Atlanta • #8
Age: 21 • Experience: Rookie
I want to be clear: I don't like calling Pitts a bust. But that's undoubtedly the most likely outcome with an ADP at the 4-5 turn. Essentially, Pitts needs to give you the greatest rookie tight end season of all time just to justify his ADP. Is that possible? Yes, he's that kind of special. Is it something I want to bet a draft pick on? No chance. Mark Andrews is a better bet in the same range, and I prefer T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant at their cost. All have elite upside and a much higher floor than Pitts.
Numbers to Know
- 25.4% -- Mark Andrews has been targeted on more than a quarter of his routes run the past three seasons; only George Kittle has been targeted at a higher rate.
- 9.9% -- Rob Gronkiwski's career TD rate. Robert Tonyan, Jimmy Graham, and Jonnu Smith all topped that rate last year. Don't bet on them repeating.
- 33.01% -- Nearly a third of the Raiders passes went to tight ends last year. The Eagles were the only other team above 30%.
- 5 -- George Kittle has never scored more than five touchdowns in a season.
- 96.3 -- Kyle Pitts averaged nearly 100 yards per game in his final year at Florida.
Draft to Stream
Hooper should have less attention with Odell Beckham back on the field and the Browns should have plenty of pass volume thanks to the Chiefs high-powered offense. The Chiefs gave up the third-most Fantasy points to tight ends last year.
This is not a good matchup, but we already know Will Fuller will miss Week 1 and there's no guarantee Devante Parker will be healthy either. Gesicki could be the team's second option in the passing game, and their first option could be rookie Jaylen Waddle.
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.