2020 Fantasy Football Tight End Tiers

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Ah, tight ends. The official unofficial motto of Football Absurdity is “All Tight Ends Are Meh (A-TEAM).” But, I think they’re a lot of fun. You can mix and match them and there are a lot of guys in various positions in the draft that are worth your draft price. These fantasy football tight end tiers break down the average draft position of the top 31 tight ends by average draft position.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 1: The Studs
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team
17 TE-1 Travis Kelce KC 2.05
23 TE-2 George Kittle SF 2.11

The cream of the top. The top of the pops. These are the guys you pay up for when you don’t want to worry about the dreck of the fantasy football position. You spent last year trying to decide between Eric Ebron or O.J. Howard or you were stashing Chris Herndon all year, this is the tier for you. This tier is for those who want to wash their hands of the TE game entirely with two guys who got big money contracts from their squads. Kelce has been the TE1 for the last four seasons and was a TE1 in 37 of his last 47 games.

But George Kittle will be TE1 as his touchdowns finally come as he takes his place as the ascendant tight end that he is.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 2: The Almost Studs
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team
33 TE-3 Mark Andrews BAL 3.09
38 TE-4 Zach Ertz PHI 4.02

These are two tight ends potentially headed in two different directions and are the discount version of getting a set and forget tight end so that you don’t have to worry about whether you’re starting T.J. Hockenson versus the Bears or Jonnu Smith against the Texans. Mark Andrews was the biggest smash sleeper last summer and paid it off with the highest target rate of all tight ends (when on the field). He played in about half the Ravens’ snaps last season, so things can only get better from here.

Zach Ertz is starting to age, but getting far too many targets for a tight end doesn’t age. He’s averaged 9.6 targets per game in the last half-decade. I’m not as high on Ertz as I should be at his price point, but that has more to do about how I feel about Dallas Goedert than anything else (more on that later).

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 3: Darren Waller
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team
52 TE-5 Darren Waller LV 5.04

Darren Waller is nestled safely here, a full round separated from Andrews/Ertz and the “if they’re healthy” tier. Darren Waller had a massive breakout campaign last season on the back of getting 117 targets last season. I’m wary of Darren Waller this season given the Raiders’ efforts to vacuum up any pass catcher with a pulse in the draft. They snagged Henry Ruggs, Lynn Bowden, and Bryan Edwards in the draft to go with a full season of Hunter Renfrow and [insert whatever pass-catching running back they signed today].

Waller sits at the top of the “lottery ball” tier of tight ends for me. That isn’t that they are lottery tickets, it’s that you can put their faces on little lottery ping pong ball machines (for the zoomers) and you can tell a plausible story for the outcome. Why pay a fifth-round price when the tier goes all the way down to T.J. Hockenson at 11.06?

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 4: “If They’re Healthy”
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team
64 TE-6 Evan Engram NYG 6.04
70 TE-7 Hunter Henry LAC 6.10
73 TE-8 Rob Gronkowski TB 7.01

Evan Engram is a TE1 in 62% of his games, Henry a TE1 in 49% of his games, and Gronk a TE1 in 67% of his games. These are all great fantasy football options to have on your roster… if they’re healthy. Evan Engram has missed 40% of the games in the last two seasons, Henry missed 62.5% of the last two seasons, and Gronk missed three games in 2018 before retiring. These guys are all great options… if they’re healthy. I’m not super interested in these guys at their ADP if we’re being honest because of the health factor.

There’s just too much injury downside here, and you’re not getting great value taking them in the first half of your drafts. If they slip in their draft price, they’re worth a shot. For example, Hunter Henry went in the tenth round of a recent draft that I did… to me. And I was more than happy to do it.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 5: Small Sample Size Warriors
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team
80 TE-9 Tyler Higbee LAR 7.08
85 TE-10 Jared Cook NO 8.01

TE9 and TE10 fit perfectly well together as two guys who didn’t do much until recently. Tyler Higbee mostly floundered until the Rams turned his target volume from zero to 100 last year. How insane was his volume? He had 62 targets in the last six games of 2019, and 63 targets from New Years’ Eve 2017 through week eleven of 2019. There are questions as to whether it will be Tyler Higbee again, or Gerald Everett (waaaay down there by ADP) this season… or maybe it’s Van Jefferson? The Rams’ offense is a big question mark.

The Saints’ offense is not quite as foreboding, but I still don’t trust Jared Cook in it. He had 65 targets in 2019 and caught all 12 in his last four games, for 61 yards and 1.25 touchdowns per game there. That, like Higbee’s December, is unsustainable. However, unlike Higbee, Cook still had fantasy football usefulness before lighting up the league, turning in top-twelve fantasy football games in six-of-ten contests to start the season.

This tier is another couple of guys I’m not excited about at their ADP, but if they drop, I will take them.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 6: Hotlanta Hot Swap
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team
93 TE-11 Hayden Hurst ATL 8.09
100 TE-12 Austin Hooper CLE 9.04

Austin Hooper received the richest tight end contract in NFL history this offseason, shortly holding the title before George Kittle received the richest tight end contract in NFL history. The Falcons traded a second-round pick to replace Austin Hooper with Hayden Hurst.

Here’s a twofer stat that explains exactly why I am in on Hayden Hurst here, but out on Austin Hooper:  Austin Hooper’s 250 targets rank as the fifth-most among tight ends since 2017, but Browns’ Head Coach Kevin Stefanski’s Vikings threw the third-fewest targets to tight ends last season.

Plus, Hooper has to contend with Njoku. I’m letting someone else take the bet on Hooper, I’ll go with Hurst and that target volume in Atlanta.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 7: Young Guns
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team
107 TE-13 Noah Fant DEN 9.11
119 TE-14 Mike Gesicki MIA 10.11
126 TE-15 T.J. Hockenson DET 11.06

Fant turns 23 during the season and Hockenson just had his 23rd birthday; Gesicki turns 25 in November. These three guys could be the future of the tight end position for the next half-decade. Really, any of these guys are great options at their draft price, but my favorite is my Large Adult Son, Mike Gesicki.

Mike Gesicki is a physical freak who the Dolphins plan on using as a massive slot receiver this season. People like to talk about his broken tackles, comparing him to Hunter Henry (TE7 this year by ADP) and last year’s TE10 in scoring, Jason Witten. I don’t get how those are bad things, I truly don’t. Anyway, Gesicki was TE11 last year and turned it on when Josh Rosen was no longer the QB, as he was TE7 without the bust under center. Charlatans will tell you this has to do with Preston Williams; don’t believe them.

Fant flashed unlimited upside last season, becoming the first rookie tight end to have multiple 100-yards-with-a-touchdown games last season. Think of your favorite tight end; they didn’t do that.

T.J. Hockenson has all the hype to be the next Rob Gronkowski, and he is playing for a head coach who watched Gronk Smash for years (Matt Patricia). We saw what he was capable of last season when he crushed the Cardinals for 6 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown last season. He’s very talented, but he’s coming off an ankle injury that is of some concern.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 8: Vet Breakouts
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team
141 TE-16 Dallas Goedert PHI 12.09
142 TE-17 Jonnu Smith TEN 12.10

Dallas Goedert and Jonnu Smith have been chilling behind better tight ends for years now, just waiting for targets. Well, that’s not entirely true for either of them, but that’s the narrative that gets pushed by those who want to call them their sleepers du jour. Goedert already had a mini-breakout last year, posting top-ten TE numbers when the Eagles had to turn to him last season due to a decimated WRP corps. Their WR corps is (at least temporarily) replenished, which means the targets might dry up for Dallas.

Jonnu Smith has a lot of per-target stats that never really bore out into additional targets. People like to talk about Delanie Walker leaving the Titans clearing out target and snaps for Jonnu Smith. Here’s the only problem: Delanie Walker played 232 snaps over the last two seasons, and Jonnu Smith hasn’t broken out yet. But, the Titans don’t have a viable WR2 on their team (if Corey Davis’ slow burnout continues) and Jonnu Smith might get enough targets to matter by default. He’s worth a shot as a second TE if you’re doing a two-TE strategy.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 9: Names You Know
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team
153 TE-18 Eric Ebron PIT 13.09
158 TE-19 Blake Jarwin DAL 14.02
162 TE-20 Jack Doyle IND 14.06
175 TE-21 Chris Herndon NYJ 15.07
176 TE-22 O.J. Howard TB 15.08

Don’t fall for Eric Ebron. People want to call him a sleeper because Heath Miller was good half a decade ago. The Steelers don’t funnel targets to one tight end and have four great young wide receivers. Also, Vance McDonald is there. Where are the targets for Ebron?

Blake Jarwin, Jack Doyle, and Chris Herndon are all there for the people who wait on a tight end. Jarwin is a hot breakout tight end because the Cowboys gave Jason Witten’s husk 83 targets last season, and didn’t get any other tight end to replace him. He’s a great bet to make the Jonnu leap at a sixteen-pick discount. Jack Doyle was a top-ten tight end in the two seasons before Andrew Luck suddenly retired, and Philip Rivers throws nearly 17% of his targets to his TE1 year over year, so the opportunity will be there.

Remember Chris Herndon? He received tons of glowing praise last season as a deep sleeper. Nothing from that preseason hype changed; he just ate a four-game suspension and had a couple of nagging injuries before breaking his ribs to complete a lost season. Now, he’s basically free.

O.J. Howard was irrelevant with two tight ends, why are you drafting him when Gronkowski makes three tight ends in Tampa Bay?

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 10: Drafting From 2016
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team
183 TE-23 Greg Olsen SEA 16.03
187 TE-24 Kyle Rudolph MIN 16.07

I mean, come on guys. Don’t do this. Yeah. That’s all the words you get about this tier.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 11: Two Tight End Leagues?
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team
207 TE-25 Ian Thomas CAR 18.03
211 TE-26 Irv Smith Jr. MIN 18.07
214 TE-27 Will Dissly SEA 18.10
215 TE-28 Jimmy Graham CHI 18.11
221 TE-29 David Njoku CLE 19.05
246 TE-30 Vance McDonald PIT 21.06
250 TE-31 Cole Kmet CHI 21.10

These are some deep deep guys who are likely only getting drafted in two-TE and best-ball leagues. I’m not particularly interested in anyone in this tier except Ian Thomas. Thomas didn’t get much run last year as 84% of the Panthers’ pass plays had only one tight end on the field, and that was Greg Olsen. Thomas filled in late in 2018 and paced out for 80 catches for 800 yards and 8 touchdowns. Not too shabby.

Everyone else you can leave floating out on the waiver wire if you did things correctly.

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About Jeff Krisko

You can follow me on twitter, @jeffkrisko for the same lukewarm takes you read here.

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