Among the "Famous last words …" for a Fantasy analyst, "This is the year tight end is good!" has to be pretty high up there. It feels like we're collectively trying to make the case every year, and it never works out. And, personally, I'm done with it.
It's why I'm so high on Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller. If this really is the year we have more than just a few useful tight ends, it doesn't necessarily make much sense to target the elite guys in the first or second round. Sure, those guys can produce like WR1, but if there were, say, 10 tight ends who you could count on for consistent 12-14 point per game production in PPR, the edge you get from the Big Three starts to dissipate.
And hey, maybe this will be the year! Kyle Pitts is a once-in-a-generation-(or-two) talent. T.J. Hockenson is poised to be the clear No. 1 option in the Lions passing game. Mark Andrews could take a step forward if the Ravens passing game does as well. Dallas Goedert, Noah Fant … well, you can always talk yourself into someone.
But why should this year be any different? This time last year, Jonnu Smith, Hayden Hurst, Mike Gesicki, Blake Jarwin, Hockenson, Fant, et al., were all poised to make a leap. And what actually happened is Kelce and Waller outscored every other at the position by more than 100 PPR points, with No. 3 Robert Tonyan scoring just enough to outscore the No. 37 WR.
We talked about the tight end position and rankings on Thursday's episode of the Fantasy Football Today podcast, with Dave Richard and Heath Cummings breaking down their tiers for the position, and Heath published his Dynasty tight end tiers, focusing on Irv Smith and Cole Kmet, two players who could be well positioned to make a leap this season -- or who could join the long list of also-rans and never-weres at the position.
Below, you'll find Dave's full tiered rankings along with his strategy for how to approach the position in drafts this season. You've heard my thoughts, but maybe Dave is a little more optimistic. It wouldn't take much!
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Dave Richard's TE Tiers and Strategy
Last year, 10 tight ends averaged 10 PPR points per game. That's not good. And last year, only four averaged more than 11 PPR points per game. That's really not good.
This is a fresh-off-the-deli-slicer-thin position. It's tough to be happy about a tight end you'll draft in Round 11 ... or Round 9 ... or Round 7. Does it mean you have to take a tight end in Round 2? Or even before Round 2?! That's something you're going to have to answer before you draft, because it will make an impact on your roster.
You already know that running backs are in good supply, at least early on. Receivers and quarterbacks are definitely plentiful. However, if you pass on an early-round tight end, you'll have to get lucky stumbling into a difference-maker. Also, there is no question that you'll have an edge by setting a lineup with a tight end who produces like a high-level wide receiver versus some jabroni.
It's worth the thought exercise of taking Kelce with a late first-/early second-round pick, or Darren Waller or George Kittle with a late second-/early third-round pick. You'd still have other early-round picks to use on running backs or whatever other positions you want. Consider committing to drafting one of these three on Draft Day.
The extreme alternative is to wait and draft one or two tight ends who carry some good potential and have favorable matchups to begin the season. Young and hungry types like Irv Smith, Adam Trautman, Jonnu Smith and Cole Kmet match the profile. If the one you draft hits, you're on easy street. If the one you draft whiffs, then keep chasing tight ends from the waiver wire, where gems like Logan Thomas and Tonyan were dug up in 2020. Waiting on tight ends lets you pick up stars at other positions, but it also sets a low bar for expectations and typically involves a lot of upkeep during the season.
There is a middle ground: Go after one of the tight ends in the Weekly Starters tier. Mark Andrews has been mostly reliable for the past two seasons, T.J. Hockenson is shaping up as the Lions' No. 1 target in the passing game, Kyle Pitts has more upside than anyone named in this paragraph, and Dallas Goedert figures to be the top tight end for the Eagles. They'll come at relative bargains compared to the first three tight ends and have a chance to acceptably produce.
DAVE'S FAVORITE STRATEGY: Aim for a top three tight end depending on your draft position, but be open to drafting any of the top seven tight ends at a fair value. Trying to steal one won't happen; they're in too much demand. If you're worried about missing out on great wide receivers or quarterbacks, be confident knowing you will be able to find one later.
ROUNDS 9, 10
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