One of the "tiebreakers" I use when choosing between two players is the schedule. Every year I go through a process of grading each defense in a number of areas, then plug it into each player's schedule. This helps me figure out which decent players might overachieve because of a favorable slate, and which solid players might disappoint because of a bad slate.
You can read up more on my Projected Strength of Schedule Rankings (PSoS) process and which players have good/bad season-long schedules by position here:| | | .
I took some extra steps to break down the schedules for tight ends this year, focusing on the linebacker and safety matchups most of them (but not all figure to have. For this exercise, I also went a step further to see which tight ends would have a chance to start the season hot because of weak opponents in Weeks 1 through 4. It creates a specific tiebreaker for those of us who end up streaming the position to begin the year.
So go ahead and put a star next to a tight end's name on your pre-draft list if they're ranked high here. It means they're projected to face easy opponents early on, and it means they're legit streaming candidates to help your squad in September.
Week 1-4 Projected Strength of Schedule TE Rankings
Biggest Early Winners
Mark Andrews: Two of his first three matchups (Las Vegas, Detroit) look like slam-dunks, and even the games against Kansas City and Denver will offer some appeal since he'll avoid top cornerback coverage (we think). Remember this about Andrews when you're weighing him versus T.J. Hockenson and Kyle Pitts before the end of Round 5.
Dallas Goedert: After receiving zero red-zone targets from Jalen Hurts last year, there's a bit of risk in trusting Goedert, but at least his schedule is nice. Projected high-scoring games against the Falcons, 49ers (figures to be a tough matchup), Cowboys, Chiefs and Panthers in his first five weeks offer some hope. You'll take him between Rounds 6 and 7.
Irv Smith: There isn't a very scary matchup for Smith until Week 9, much less Week 5. His targets aren't quite as promised, but Kirk Cousins has thrown at his tight ends on at least 20.5% of his passes over the past two seasons. If Smith is elevated to the main role without someone else butting in, he could emerge as a reliable Fantasy starter before the schedule gets ugly in the second half of the season. Remember that before you commit to him with a pick between 90th and 100th overall.
Noah Fant: The Broncos' third-year tight end has a pretty good schedule overall, but his first three games against the Giants, Jaguars and Jets should indicate whether or not he's a legit breakout candidate. Another Fant factor: his quarterback. Whether it's Drew Lock (too erratic) or Teddy Bridgewater (too passive), there's fear that Fant won't ever be a target magnet given the other players in Denver's passing game. If he couldn't blow up past 9.4 PPR points per game last year with Courtland Sutton sidelined and Jerry Jeudy dropping everything, then he won't have a big shot to do so in 2020. Fant shouldn't get picked ahead of 80th overall , if not 90th overall.
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Eric Ebron: How can you trust a tight end on a roster with three really good wideouts? Yep, it's hard, but other tight ends like Jared Cook and Cole Kmet have similarly mixed-bag opponents in Week 1 before their schedules become more of a mixed bag. Ebron's the only one who takes on the Raiders and Bengals in Weeks 2 and 3, though. He also has the best-rated PSoS over the balance of the season. He's worth a late-round grab if you're desperate for tight end help in September.
Dan Arnold: No one can confidently say Arnold will have even a modest piece of the target pie in Carolina, but at the very least his opening set of opponents is incredibly favorable. He has the Jets, Saints, Texans and Cowboys. That's pretty great. If Arnold has a good preseason with positive rumblings out of Panthers camp, he'll warrant streaming consideration with a late pick.
Jonnu Smith: Here's a tight end who has displayed awesome athleticism in the past, and was chased hard in free agency by Bill Belichick. There's legit potential for Smith to be the Patriots' most lucrative target overall, not just tight end. Week 1 (Miami) and Week 4 (Tampa Bay) aren't the most generous of matchups, but Week 2 (Jets) and Week 5 (Texans) could be. He and Hunter Henry have the most favorable PSoS among tight ends, but Smith's versatility as a receiver gives him a nod over Henry, who is a better blocker. Smith can be found in the double-digit rounds.
Mike Gesicki: Finding targets for Gesicki might be tough given the Dolphins' additions at wide receiver. Last year he had 5.7 per game but actually had at least six targets in each of his last four (and five-plus targets in each of his last seven). Carrying that over might be tough, and getting it done against Patriots, Bills and Colts within the first four weeks will be tougher. But the quality of his opponents figures to dwindle soon thereafter, making Gesicki someone Fantasy managers should aim to be patient with after taking him in Round 11-plus.
Adam Trautman: One of 2021's breakout tight end candidates, Trautman has difficult opponents in Weeks 1 (Packers), 3 (Patriots) and 5 (Washington). After that he'll see potentially just three rough outings the rest of the way, so he might be best suited as a matchup-based player early on with hopes he becomes a must-start by midseason. Irv Smith has good-looking matchups in Weeks 1, 3 and 5, so you could feasibly draft both tight ends and hope one breaks the bank.
Darren Waller: Any tight end who acts as the No. 1 receiver for his team automatically is a Fantasy hero. That won't change with Waller, but his opening schedule against the Ravens, Steelers, Dolphins, Chargers and Bears isn't easy. Sadly there aren't many soft spots in his entire schedule. If we knew for sure George Kittle wouldn't miss any games nor lose targets to the other 49ers receivers, we'd take him over Waller in every draft.
T.J. Hockenson: Poor Hockenson not only has the worst-graded early PSoS, but the worst-graded overall PSoS. His schedule is a nightmare, and it begins right away with the 49ers, Packers, Ravens, Bears and Vikings. , but I wouldn't take Hockenson with a top-60 pick.
Kyle Pitts: Is it wrong to say something bad about the new kid on the block? His overall schedule is very good news, but he will start 2021 versus the Eagles, Buccaneers, Giants and Washington. Just something to keep in mind when you think about splurging a big-time draft pick on him.
Biggest Early Losers
Robert Tonyan: The overall schedule for Tonyan is a problem, but it doesn't help that he'll open the season against the Saints, Lions (OK, that one's good), 49ers and Steelers. He remains a touchdown-needy tight end that Fantasy managers may only take if it's with a very late-round pick. If he whiffs in Weeks 1 and 2, you might be compelled to move on from him by Week 3.
Logan Thomas: Washington added talent on offense to take targets away from Thomas anyway, but his first three games (Chargers, Giants, Bills) makes matters worse. It's a tough sell for Thomas to be a reliable PPR starter if his quarterback has a track record of letting loose downfield and not checking it short. He's only draftable late in PPR formats, and that's if you can stomach these first three matchups.
Gerald Everett: There's excitement brewing about a tight end like Everett playing in the Seahawks offense, but don't bother drafting him unless you're willing to be very patient. Early-season meetings against the Colts, Vikings, 49ers, Rams and Steelers over Weeks 1 through 6 make the likelihood of him starting hot very low. He might prove to effectively be their No. 3 wideout, but when's the last time the third-highest targeted Seahawk meant something for Fantasy?
Tyler Higbee: There's been a groundswell of support for Higbee now that Matthew Stafford has joined the Rams. Maybe if L.A. had stuck by Higbee in their game-planning last year the excitement would be justified. All of Higbee's first four matchups are ugly: Chicago, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and Arizona. That makes for the third-worst early PSoS for tight ends. I was excited to get Higbee last year, but he had four or fewer targets in two-thirds of his 2020 games. That's probably not going to change much even with Stafford in town, and certainly not with tough games to open his season.