Another year, another round of fantasy football tight end drafting with a choice between spending an early pick on one of the few sure things at the position or trying to create an unfair advantage by finding a breakout tight end among a group of players who show promise but never seem to follow through with only one or two exceptions a year.
Strategy: The top of tight end rankings don’t look different than they did last year, nor does the cost of the elite options in drafts. Both will likely require second-round picks, although they offer a big advantage at a thin position, unlike the second round running back/wide receiver options. Taking one of the first tight ends off of the board in the second round is viable, if not optimal, especially in tight end premium leagues.
Target at ADP: Kelce, Kittle
Kelce is in the best offense and he is due for some positive touchdown regression. He should be the No. 1 tight end taken in almost every draft and could flirt with a career year if Mahomes plays 16 games.
Kittle only missed two games with a rough leg injury and wasn’t 100% upon his return. He should be expected to bounce back to 2018 numbers. He’ll be the consensus No. 2 and the gap between him and Travis Kelce is small.
Strategy: The fantasy football hive mind is correctly reflecting that Ertz is no longer in the Kelce/Kittle tier. His value is just ahead of Andrews and Andrews could easily eclipse him this year. If you are going tight end in the 30s/40s of your draft, Andrews should be prioritized as the option with the arrow pointing up.
Target at ADP: Andrews
Consider a round after ADP: Ertz
Ertz had a huge second half while the Eagles played with a decimated wide receiver corps and still didn’t come close to his 2018 career highs. He’s the clear #3 tight end, and could easily be overtaken by a few ascendant players at the position.
Andrews was hyperefficient and clearly Lamar Jackson’s favorite target. He was on the injury report a lot but didn’t miss any time, which could indicate a potential durability issue, but also gives even more room for growth with better health now that Hayden Hurst has been traded to Atlanta. There’s also some potential for a dropoff if the Ravens pass offense suffers a significant loss in efficiency.
Strong TE1 with Skepticism
- Tyler Higbee, LAR
Strategy: Higbee was elite last year in December but can be had four or more rounds after the elite options. He could be the obvious best value pick at tight end if the return of Gerald Everett doesn’t change Higbee’s role in the offense.
Consider reaching a round early for: Higbee
Ascendent TE1 Talents
Strategy: Of this tier, only Engram costs a pick in the top 100 of drafts, and his inflated price over his peers makes him the player to avoid. The others all fit in a late-round tight end strategy, but they are also players to target even if you take a top 5-6 tight end because they can allow you to trade the established option to fill another hole if they hit, or at least keep a rival from getting off easy and having a solid to strong TE1 at a discount when you paid full price for yours. All are going out of the top 10 tight ends taken in most drafts.
Avoid at or near ADP: Engram
Consider reaching a round or more for if you don’t have a TE1 yet: Goedert, Hurst, Gesicki
Target at or near ADP if already have a TE1: Goedert, Hurst, Gesicki
Engram is now officially on the "injury-prone" list, but his physical talent and production are undeniable. He has been a strong TE1 when he has been able to stay on the field, but that time is getting shorter every year of his career so far. He had big games with both Eli Manning and Daniel Jones last year. The Giants pass offense does have three quality wide receivers and Saquon Barkley to feed, but the abundance and diversity of options could also make his targets more valuable because defenses are contorted in multiple directions by the difficulty in accounting for Barkley out of the backfield, Darius Slayton’s speed, Golden Tate’s run after catch ability, and Sterling Shepard’s route running, leaving Engram in mismatches.
Goedert is established in fantasy and was a solid TE1 last year once he was healthy. He’s entering his third year in the league and should be considered a player on the rise, although some of his production could have been due to the Eagles terrible situation at wide receiver last year, so there’s some possibility that he treads water or even dips slightly. Better quality and speed at wide receiver could also create more room for Goedert to roam and make his targets more valuable, offsetting any drop in volume.
Hurst has the best situation, the one that made Austin Hooper an elite TE1 for a long stretch last year. He has flashed better athleticism than Hooper and could add more value to his targets than Hooper did, but he hasn’t shown the sustained ability to produce in the NFL yet, so if he’s your late-round tight end, you should also take another upside pick to go along with him.
Gesicki came on strong late with Ryan Fitzpatrick and he is a player with an arrow pointing up entering only his third year, and second under a coach who didn’t want to make him a blocker. The hopefully increased efficiency of the offense and maturity of his game could make Gesicki the hit of this tier, but he also will have a healthier Albert Wilson and Preston Williams to contend with.
Veteran TE1 with Capped Ceiling
Strategy: Waller is still going top five despite gaining a lot more competition for targets this year. Cook did his damage on a limited target share that could get even thinner with Emmanuel Sanders in town. Gronkowski delighted the football world by coming out of retirement, but he wasn’t lighting up fantasy leagues the last time we saw him. Gronk is generally the cheapest of the tier and most fun with the highest ceiling.
Avoid at or near ADP: Waller
Consider a round after ADP: Cook
Target at ADP: Gronkowski
Waller was one of the best stories of 2019, but this year Hunter Renfrow and Tyrell Williams should be healthier, and the team drafted Henry Ruggs III at No. 12 and Bryan Edwards and Lynn Bowden Jr in the third round (although they announced Bowden as a running back). Waller wasn’t a presence in the red zone and should blend more into the cast of receivers in Las Vegas instead of standing out like he did in Oakland last year.
Cook was actually a top-five tight end once he and Drew Brees were healthy on a minimal target share because he was getting a lot of looks near the end zone and the Saints offense creates opportunities for him to create chunk plays. That should stay intact or even improve with the arrival of Emmanuel Sanders, but Sanders is more reliable and he could take enough looks away from Cook to decrease the margin of error of starting him in any given week.
The last time we saw Gronkowski he was a sad disappointment for fantasy as his body was breaking down. Hopefully a year off from the rigors of the game has helped his body heal and regenerate durability. Gronkowski has the upside of being the #1 touchdown scorer in an already robust pass offense, but it’s also possible that he goes back to being a shell of himself once he breaks the injury seal.
Ascendent Talents With Capped Ceilings
- T.J. Hockenson, DET
- Hunter Henry, LAC
- Blake Jarwin, DAL
- Jonnu Smith, TEN
- Noah Fant, DEN
- Irv Smith, MIN
Strategy: This group has the talent to post breakout seasons in 2020, but their situations present obstacles to hitting their ceilings. Henry is by far the most overvalued. Hockenson, Fant, and the Smiths are valued about right. Jarwin is the most undervalued. All of this group will post some TE1 weeks, but without changes to their situation, all will introduce volatility to your lineup if you roll them out as a TE1 every week. One viable strategy is to take two, hope for one to breakout, and play the best matchup/hottest player until then.
Hockenson got a lot of opportunities to have the rare rookie tight end breakout, but couldn’t convert many of them and then got banged up. He should be better in year two, but needs a Marvin Jones Jr injury (or trade) to realize his ceiling, which puts him at the top of this tier.
Henry is still a viable matchup play, but he is being drafted as a solid TE1, which seems impossible given the number of good targets in the Chargers pass offense and Tyrod Taylor or a rookie Justin Herbert playing at quarterback, not to mention Henry’s spotty durability record.
Jarwin looked like a player on the rise last year with length and speed, but Jason Witten was still the top option. His ceiling is unknown, which is exciting, but the surprise fall of Ceedee Lamb to 17 will hurt his target share. Those targets will be very valuable with defenses preoccupied by the wide receiver trio and running game, so Jarwin could have a low volume TE1 campaign like Jared Cook’s 2019. He’s universally underrated in fantasy leagues.
Jonnu Smith was a big bully with the ball in his hands, like teammates Derrick Henry and AJ Brown, and weary defenses were no match for him at times. He has some added value with the potential for some carries, but the Titans pass offense is probably going to still offer him minimal opportunities as a receiver, so he will be a boom/bust weekly option.
Fant flashed the unbeatable speed at tight end on a few plays last year, but he comes in 2020 surrounded by new and exciting targets, including his quarterback’s favorite player to throw to in the red zone in college. Albert Okwuegbunam’s reunion with Drew Lock could be a big problem for Fant, but if the fourth-round pick gets hurt or his development is slow, Fant could outproduce his ADP.
Irv Smith is just as viable an answer to "who will help replace Stefon Diggs" as first-round pick Justin Jefferson, but Kyle Rudolph is still around and the Vikings pass offense is unlikely to be a tide that lifts many ships. The upside is there if Rudolph gets hurt or declines sharply, or if Jefferson isn’t ready for a big role in the offense.
Boring But Potentially Safe Weekly Plays
Strategy: This group is unlikely to finish as better than low TE1s, but they should have stable roles in their offenses. All three have to share with at least one other viable target at their position and don’t provide much to add value to their targets. Hooper is being overdrafted on the momentum of his big 2019, while Doyle and Olsen are valued about right.
Avoid at or near ADP: Austin Hooper
Consider at ADP if you prefer a safe TE2 in your late-round tight end team build: Doyle, Olsen
Hooper got fat in fantasy leagues as Matt Ryan’s favorite target when the offense struggling, but the Falcons wisely let him go in free agency. Now he’s in Kevin Stefanski’s offense, which will use a lot of two-tight end sets. Unless David Njoku is traded or gets hurt again, his upside is limited, and fourth-round pick Harrison Bryant should also play a role.
Doyle gets a big upgrade at quarterback this year, but Trey Burton was signed to fill part of the target vacuum left by Eric Ebron, and the wide receivers should be much improved this year if TY Hilton, Parris Campbell and second-round pick Michael Pittman Jr can stay healthy, along with Nyheim Hines also potentially getting more targets in an Austin Ekeler role. He’ll have to be a prominent red zone target to outperform ADP.
Olsen was still productive last year with Kyle Allen, but he had trouble staying healthy. Olsen will gain quarterback quality in Seattle but lose volume due to the structure of the offense. Olsen will also compete with at least one of Will Dissly and Jacob Hollister for targets to lower his weekly and season-long ceiling.
Theoretical Upside Tier
- Jace Sternberger, GB
- Dawson Knox, BUF
- Chris Herndon, NYJ
- Ian Thomas, CAR
- Eric Ebron, PIT
- Gerald Everett, LAR
- O.J. Howard, TB
- David Njoku, CLE
Strategy: This is a “wait and see” group with the potential to be relevant in fantasy leagues this year, but reasons to think that they will stay on the margins of fantasy rosters this year, so they don’t require picks except in tight end premium and deep leagues. Sternberger, Knox, Herndon, and Thomas have the clearest paths to opportunity, so they should be prioritized if you need to dip into this tier, but the better angle to avoid drafting them and hope that they go undrafted or are dropped before gaining enough momentum to become waiver wire pickups.
Sternberger should inherit the starting tight end job in Green Bay and he has the physical abilities to do more than Jimmy Graham did in that role last year, but the opportunity in Green Bay’s offense will still be limited.
Knox was getting high-value targets from Josh Allen as a rookie, but Stefon Diggs is coming to town. The 2019 third-round pick could still take a big step forward, but his target share should remain too modest to have a sustained fantasy impact.
Herndon looked like a fantasy TE1 in the making as a rookie, but a suspension to begin the season and inability to get healthy kept him in the garage during his first year under Adam Gase. He should get a chance to secure a role in the offense this year over Ryan Griffin, but Griffin being retained after having success last year is troublesome for his fantasy outlook.
Thomas will inherit the starting job in Carolina, but he’s behind three strong receivers and Christian McCaffrey. His rookie season promised bigger things to come, but counting on Thomas in 2020 is probably ill-advised.
The Steelers were eager to get Ben Roethlisberger another big target in Eric Ebron, but between injuries and underachieving, he has mostly been a fantasy tease. If Ebron can consistently outperform Vance McDonald and shine in the red zone like he did in 2018, he could be a surprise reemergence candidate.
Everett started out the season as the Rams preferred receiving tight end, but ended it in the shadow of Tyler Higbee, who got an extension last year. Everett is likely to leave in free agency after the Rams drafted Brycen Hopkins to replace him when his contract is up next year, but if he has a good year, he can increase his value, and there’s always Higbee injury upside.
Any chance of Howard breaking out in 2020 on the back of Tom Brady coming to town was struck down when Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement. Even if Gronkowski stays healthy, Cameron Brate is still in Tampa, so we’re likely waiting for Howard to land on a second team in 2021 or 2022 to realize some value from the 2017 first-round pick.
Njoku’s failure to launch should be extended by Austin Hooper landing in Cleveland with a big contract. The Browns offense should feature a lot of two tight end sets to allow Njoku to shine athletically on limited targets, but fantasy relevance will be out of reach unless Hooper gets hurt.
Strategy: Watch for this duo to resume their 2019 fantasy relevance unless younger and more talented underachievers overtake them this year, giving them desperation play and possible DFS matchup value.
Fells had seven scores last year and was brought back in free agency in a sign that the Texans don’t trust Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas, and Kahale Warring to handle all of the tight end duties this year.
Griffin was one of Sam Darnold’s favorite targets last year, earning a modest extension, and he had four scores and a 100-yard game in a five-game stretch. If Chris Herndon can’t stay healthy or ends up in the Gase doghouse, Griffin could be relevant again.
One Foot in the Grave
Strategy: It’s over for this duo even though no one sent the memo to Ryan Pace and David Caldwell. They can be competent receivers but are unlikely to have sustained value, although they should be fine desperation plays in a pinch.
Graham was signed to a two-year, $16 million dollar deal in Chicago after failing to consistently help Aaron Rodgers while not making it to the end of a three-year, $30 million dollar deal he got from Green Bay in 2018. He’ll share targets with second-round rookie Cole Kmet.
Eifert should be Jacksonville’s primary receiving tight end, but injuries have clearly robbed him of his upside as a red-zone target. For now, he is blocking the workload growth of 2019 third-round pick Josh Oliver.
Rudolph's numbers fell off of a cliff last year and he should be overtaken by Irv Smith this year, but he at least has a shot at scoring a touchdown if you plug him as a bye/injury/emergency option.
Deep Waiver Wire Watchlist
- Trey Burton, Mo Alie-Cox, IND
- Cameron Brate, TB
- Vance McDonald, PIT
- Will Dissly, Jacob Hollister, SEA
- Kaden Smith, NYG
- Nick Boyle, BAL
- C.J. Uzomah, CIN
- Ricky Seals-Jones, KC
- Ross Dwelley, SF
All of these players with the exception of Uzomah will require an injury to be relevant in fantasy leagues this year. Of particular interest is Smith, who was a solid TE1 in the last six weeks of the season after Evan Engram went down and is still developing in his second year, Seals-Jones, who is a converted receiver that would inherit a high-value role if Travis Kelce goes down, and Boyle, who would get the lion’s share of valuable tight end targets in Baltimore if Mark Andrews goes down.
Deep Dynasty Waiver Wire Watchlist
- Dan Arnold, ARI
- Logan Thomas, WAS
- Kahale Warring, Jordan Akins, HOU
- Seth DeValve, CAR
- Josh Oliver, JAX
- Drew Sample, CIN
- Jeremy Sprinkle, WAS
A lot of players on this list have draft capital investments that indicate some fantasy upside if they can grow and force more targets their way. Arnold is a converted wide receiver and Thomas a converted quarterback, both could be the best receiving tight ends on their respective teams. Warring and Akins were both third-round picks but haven’t yet overtaken Darren Fells. DeValve is a very athletic fourth-round pick who never emerged in Cleveland. Oliver’s rookie year was lost to injuries in 2019. Sample and Sprinkle are going to be tabbed for big roles as blockers this year, but could always pull a Will Dissly and defy the blocking tight end label.