Tight End Tiers for 2021 Fantasy Football Drafts

George Kittle San Francisco 49ers Tight End

A great part about doing a bazillion fantasy football drafts is that you get to see trends develop. A quarterback run here, a drop off in talent there; you start to see the ebbs and flows of the draft. It’s a hard-earned dataset, gotten through endless hours of mock drafting and poring over the data. Or, you take 20 minutes on 4for4 and snag their ADP data and break it up into tiers… Anyway, here are the fantasy football tight end tiers as broken up by average draft position data for a 12-team league, as well as some thoughts on the players going inside said fantasy football running back tiers. ADP data are for 12-team leagues and 6.03 means the sixth pick of the third round, 12.12 means the twelfth pick of the twelfth round, et cetera.

In a glow-up from last year’s iteration of the tight end tiers article, I’ve included my tier, where I have the player, by my projections.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 1: Travis “Effing” Kelce
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team ADP TIER MY TIER
5 TE-1 Travis Kelce KC 1.05 1 1
My Favorite: Skipping This Tier

That’s right. If I have my druthers, I’m hopping right over Travis Kelce. Do I think that he is going to bust and this is a wasted pick? Absolutely not. But at this ADP, I’m more likely to hop over Kelce to get one of the guys in the next tier. But unless I’m in a TE premium league, I’m likely leaning into position scarcity and looking elsewhere. If Kelce slips to near the turn, however, I will go ahead and snatch him up.

There’s no real thinking about this: either you have decided to look at Travis Kelce’s body of work and you want to take him in the first round, or you decided to skip over him to snatch up value at another position. That’s it.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 2: The Contenders to the Throne
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team ADP TIER MY TIER
24 TE-2 George Kittle SF 2.12 2 2
25 TE-3 Darren Waller LV 3.01 2 2
My Favorite: George Kittle

I’ve been flip-flopping on this one this season. On one hand, George Kittle has reached the highest highs a tight end can reach on a yardage basis (breaking the hours-old yardage record in 2018). On the other hand, however, Darren Waller has also reached the highest heights (13 catches for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns in week 12 of 2020). There’s a fear that the 49ers will marginalize Kittle… but Darren Waller missed nearly two weeks of camp with an ankle injury. It’s a real dill of a pickle separating between them.

George Kittle is my favorite of these two… at least, today he is. I don’t fear the idea that the 49ers would suddenly not give Brandon Aiyuk more targets than George Kittle. I don’t fear it mostly because it doesn’t make any sense. While Brandon Aiyuk is a much better player than Hunter Renfrow, we did this same thing last year with Darren Waller. I’m not buying it.

In the end, I am going to go with… Darren Kittle. George Waller? Honestly, go with your gut on this one. They’re both hyper-elite tight end talents. Personally, I like Kittle more because he’s in a receiving corps that doesn’t have 5 or 6 mouths to feed like the Raiders (Bryan Edwards, Darren Waller, Kenyan Drake, Henry Ruggs, and John Brown?) and he didn’t have a mystery ailment through camp. But, I understand taking Waller. It’s splitting the narrowest of hairs, here.

If you thought I was wrong and dumb to think what I did then guess what? You should draft Darren Waller, instead. Bet on yourself.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 3: Solidly Top-Half
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team ADP TIER MY TIER
44 TE-4 Kyle Pitts ATL 4.08 3 3
46 TE-5 Mark Andrews BAL 4.10 3 3
52 TE-6 T.J. Hockenson DET 5.04 3 3
My Favorite: T.J. Hockenson

So technically Kyle Pitts is more in a tier 3a for me. I concede, by my projections, that he will come close to Mark Andrews and T.J. Hockenson. But, he also has a chance to completely fall short of these projections. After all, he would have to have an all-time fantasy football rookie tight end season to come close to paying back this draft price. “But he’s a wide receiver!” Okay, well, four out of five rookie wide receivers fail to return top-36 WR value. Last season in half-PPR, that was Tee Higgins at 10.7 fantasy points per game. That would have made Kyle Pitts TE4 on the year, if he had those points exactly.

So, let’s say Kyle Pitts is used as a wide receiver. Just under 20% of rookie tight ends finish the year as a top-36 wide receiver. Last year, that was 10.7 fantasy points per game (half-PPR). That would have had him finish as… TE4. So, he has to beat those odds to beat his draft price. No thanks.

Mark Andrews is fine and as the wide receiver corps around him turns into a MASH unit, I like him more and more. But my pick here is T.J. Hockenson. He’s the best offensive weapon on the Detroit Lions, and if you don’t believe that, he’s the best receiver on the Detroit Lions… and it’s not even close.

But unless one of these guys falls to me in round six, I’m likely jumping over this tier. And the next tier, and the next tier.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 4: Probably a Wasted Pick
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team ADP TIER MY TIER
72 TE-7 Dallas Goedert PHI 6.12 4 4
77 TE-8 Noah Fant DEN 7.05 4 5
My Favorite: Noah Fant

Dallas Goedert is very good. Noah Fant might be a transcendent talent on the Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce level. Unfortunately, they have a lot of other guys to deal with in their respective passing games, as well as quarterbacks who may not actually be good at quarterbacking. I don’t really want these guys because I would rather have Javonte Williams (pick 70), Courtland Sutton (pick 76), and ESPECIALLY Ryan Tannehill (pick 85) and Brandin Cooks (pick 90). This just isn’t a good spot in the draft to take a tight end. So, skip on down the road.

One fun fact before I let you go: only three tight ends per week finish top-12 without a touchdown. I’d put Kittle/Waller/Kelce into one of those spots. That means, at this point, we’re looking for someone who has the touchdown upside to make this work.

Or we are finding someone who can be one of those three guys without having to score a touchdown. Or someone who can do both. After all, he’s literally the only rookie tight end to ever have multiple 100-yard games with a touchdown! Also, he’s a marvel after the catch. I won’t steal Chris Towers’ work, but I will post it here:

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 5: Definitely a Wasted Pick
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team ADP TIER MY TIER
93 TE-9 Robert Tonyan GB 8.09 5 6
95 TE-10 Logan Thomas WAS 8.11 5 5
My Favorite: Logan Thomas

There’s just so much going against these guys that I can’t see myself diving into this tier unless they fall dramatically. I drafted Logan Thomas as my TE2 in round 11 last week, so it’s not only possible, but it’s something I would advocate doing. But in the eighth round? No thanks. They’re in the tight end donut hole. There’s just not good value to be had here.

First, Robert Tonyan was, by far, the touchdown luckiest tight end in the history of the NFL. He scored 11 touchdowns on 59 targets last year. His 18.6% touchdown rate made him the nineteenth wide receiver since 2000 to score at least 11 touchdowns in a season. He was also one of three guys (2015 Tyler Eifert and 2014 Julius Thomas) to do it on fewer than 79 targets. He was really lucky.

Nobody wanted Logan Thomas last year. He was one of two tight ends to get at least 4 targets in all sixteen games last year (the other was Waller). Unfortunately, he just… didn’t do anything with them. That was until Antonio Gibson left against the Steelers with a toe injury. From that point until the end of the year, Logan Thomas averaged 10 targets per game for 7.6 receptions and 68.4 yards. Before that point? Just 3 catches for 30 yards per game.

Now, everyone is healthy, the Football Team added Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries to gum up the short-area targets, and Ryan Fitzpatrick will prefer to run or throw it deep than dump off to Logan Thomas. I just don’t see a path forward for Thomas that seems him as an exciting fantasy football option in 2021.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 6: Hopping Back In
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team ADP TIER MY TIER
112 TE-12 Mike Gesicki MIA 10.04 6 5
113 TE-13 Irv Smith Jr. MIN 10.05 6 8
116 TE-14 Rob Gronkowski TB 10.08 6 7
My Favorite: Mike Gesicki

I love Mike Gesicki, and if he falls to me in the tenth or eleventh-round, I will take him every time. He’s just quietly been a top-ten tight end over the last two seasons. While I concede that the Dolphins’ bolstered weaponry might lead to him falling off, I also ask you to concede that if Gesicki whiffs, then there will be options on the waiver wire.

Irv Smith is fine, I guess. He’s small, unathletic, and Kyle Rudolph (2106 excepted) never really did much for fantasy football. I’m not enthusiastic about taking him until the last couple of rounds. And Rob Gronkowski? Yea right. I’m not sticking my fist in that bee’s nest.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 7: TEs in “New” Places
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team ADP TIER MY TIER
129 TE-15 Hunter Henry NE 11.09 7 9
134 TE-16 Jonnu Smith NE 12.02 7 7
137 TE-17 Evan Engram NYG 12.05 7 6
My Favorite: Jonnu Smith

The newest Patriots’ tight ends go almost back-to-back, with Evan Engram trailing in the back. Honestly, ending up with two guys in this tier isn’t the worst result of your fantasy drafts. For me, I like Jonnu Smith, then Evan Engram. Hunter Henry is already hurt, so he gets a distant third.

Jonnu Smith is eminently talented and athletic, but the Titans failed to make it work for him. Hopefully, Bill Belichick and the Patriots can dust off their old Gronk and Aaron Hernandez Game Plan and give them both value. For a detailed explanation of what that entails, check out this great piece from Matthew McCarthy of Gridiron Ratings.

Evan Engram though… this could go very well or very poorly. With a twelfth-round selection, I’m willing to find out. Daniel Jones isn’t good at football, so that might hurt his value. But, at the same time… we’ve seen how good Evan Engram can be. He is the only rookie tight end since 2003 to finish as a startable tight end in his rookie year; that’s a great start to a career, and his downfall last season came from ten drops… and he had six in the two prior years combined. He’s still one of the more athletic tight ends in the league, he just has to get back to the heights that he’s already reached.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 8: Upside Values
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team ADP TIER MY TIER
143 TE-18 Adam Trautman NO 12.11 8 4
147 TE-19 Jared Cook LAC 13.03 8 8
151 TE-20 Eric Ebron PIT 13.07 8 9
My Favorite: Adam Trautman

Jared Cook and Eric Ebron are old and busted, and Adam Trautman is the new hotness. I’m not particularly excited in adding either Jared Cook or Eric Ebron to my fantasy football squad. We’ve seen these shows before, and they both fall into the “just okay, and I can probably get this production on the waiver wire” group of tight ends. And one of my big rules for 2021: don’t draft what you can get on the waiver wire. That’s exactly what Jared Cook and Eric Ebron are.

So, that leaves us with Adam Trautman. Adam “Possible #1 target not named Alvin Kamara.” People are panicking because he played 9 snaps in the preseason and he blocked on three of them. That means he ran routes on 66.7% of his snaps. And people are worried about this, which is in the range of Dallas Goedert (70%), Kyle Rudolph (as an Irv Smith Proxy, 69%) and Robert Tonyan (68%). It also smashes Tyler Higbee and Rob Gronkowski’s sub-60% route participation.

Fantasy Football Tight End Tier 9: Bounce Back Candidates and Deep Sleepers
ADP TE-# Player Team 12-Team ADP TIER MY TIER
161 TE-21 Zach Ertz PHI 14.05 9 5
162 TE-22 Austin Hooper CLE 14.06 9 9
163 TE-23 Cole Kmet CHI 14.07 9 8
166 TE-24 Blake Jarwin DAL 14.1 9 7
179 TE-25 Anthony Firkser TEN 15.11 9 10
185 TE-26 Gerald Everett SEA 16.05 9 8
My Favorite: Gerald Everett

Fun fact, I expanded this specifically to include Gerald Everett (I tried to keep it to guys going in the first fifteen rounds. There’s an easy case here: he’s the third target for a quarterback in Russell Wilson who averages 35 touchdowns per year over the last four seasons. That’s it. That’s the case for Gerald Everett. It’s a pretty straightforward one. If you need more, you can know that Gerald Everett is one of the most athletic tight ends in the league, despite not getting a chance to do much due to the depth chart.

As for the rest of these guys, don’t draft what you can get off the waiver wire. You can test the print date of your draft guide because it will make a huge, flowery case for Anthony Firkser as a sleeper, which went out the window on June 24, 2021 (the date Julio Jones became a Titan).

The only other person you should draft in this range is Cole Kmet, and even Kmet has a stinky Jimmy Graham problem. Give me Gerald Everett, instead.

Do you want more 2021 fantasy football discussion? Then check out these links!


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