You can recycle the storyline for fantasy tight ends every year. There are a few established studs, but you have to pay up for them. There are also a lot of candidates to make the leap to stud-dom available later, but few actually make the leap and most leave grasping at waiver wire straws. Last year, Darren Waller and Mark Andrews made the leap. How much will they cost this year? Are they worth it? Who are the best picks to make the leap this year?
This duo is separated by a hair, so if you are thinking early tight end, hope that Kelce gets taken before you and snag Kittle at a slight discount from Kelce. Kelce has the better quarterback but a more crowded passing game, and he has a lot of mileage and wear and tear on his soon-to-be 31-year-old body. Kittle’s numbers would have been very similar to Kelce’s in 2019 if he hadn’t gotten hurt, and he is at his peak, turning 27 this year. Don’t be surprised if Kittle overtakes Kelce, with an assist from a 49ers wide receiver group that can’t stay healthy.
Priced Correctly: Kelce
All offseason I’ve gone back and forth on Ertz vs Andrews. Ertz is at the end of his prime, while Andrews is on the upslope of his career arc, turning 24 right before the season starts. Ertz is in a higher volume pass offense, while Andrews' lower volume offense creates a smaller weekly margin of error. Ertz could see a reduction in targets if the wide receivers stay healthy and play well, while Andrews lost his main competitor for targets at tight end - Hayden Hurst - but also has a young, developing group of wide receivers around him who could demand more targets. Andrews was on the injury report a lot last year and I wonder if upping his snaps and targets might be a bad idea. Andrews is generally going ahead of Ertz, but often in the same round - usually the fourth. I would probably prefer going Kelce/Kittle or late-round tight end over one of this tier.
Priced Correctly: Ertz, Andrews
STRONG TE1 IF…
The next tier of tight ends is a bit of a no man’s land. Yes, there is some reason for optimism, but each in this group needs something to overcome an unknown to hit their ceilings this year - which would put them on a par with the strong TE1 tier, if not better. Engram needs to stay healthy. Hurst needs Austin Hooper’s targets and to be at least as good as he was last year. Higbee needs to get most of the huge target load he got in December when he was the TE1 - and when Gerald Everett was hurt. Waller needs to get more red-zone involvement and remain as heavily targeted with a new deeper wide receiver group as he was when the Raiders wide receivers were decimated by injury last year. Higbee and Hurst are coming cheaper than Engram and Waller, so if you want to invest in this tier, they should be the targets.
Priced Correctly: Hurst, Higbee
Overpriced: Waller, Engram
This group will have their share of TE1 weeks, but consistency is unlikely to be a hallmark of their scoring profiles. Cook was fantastic on a small target share last year, but Emmanuel Sanders coming to town isn’t going to help him. Henry goes from Philip Rivers to Tyrod Taylor, and while Taylor targeted Charles Clay frequently in Buffalo, this isn’t a net improvement for him in a crowded passing game, although the Mike Williams injury could help. Smith is the best tight end in the game after the catch, but the catches aren’t going to come in bunches. Hooper won’t get the kind of volume he got in Atlanta, but he could still be viable and David Njoku’s failings help raise his ceiling and floor. Gronkowski might play a limited high leverage situation role, which will give him the touchdown opportunities to be viable for fantasy leagues but also create lineup killing duds when he doesn’t get them.
Overpriced: Gronkowski, Henry, Cook
Priced Correctly: Smith, Hooper
This group is the most likely to yield your Andrews/Waller of 2020. Gesicki is the most exciting with his 2019 second-half breakout and a Dolphins passing game that will run through him and the top two receivers after the #3 and #4 receivers opted out of the season. Hockenson has the pedigree and has had a great camp, and is certainly still in a steep growth part of his career arc, but there wasn’t enough opportunity for him to break out last year. Jarwin should get more opportunity with Jason Witten in Las Vegas, but just how much? His high efficiency should make it matter less for him than it does for others in this tier. Smith should be ready for a second-year breakout, and the lack of established wide receiver options after Adam Thielen might make him the #2 target in the downfield pass offense. Herndon has generated as much preseason buzz as any tight end and he won’t have much competition for targets among the Jets wide receivers, the only thing stopping me from wholeheartedly recommending him is that he’s a Jet.
Values: Gesicki, Hockenson, Jarwin, Smith, Herndon
MATCHUP TE1/UPSIDE TE2
It’s difficult to picture anyone from this group having a strong TE1 season without extra injury opportunity, but the talent and quarterback play is there to create production. Goedert is behind Ertz but would break out with an Ertz injury and if the wide receivers are shaky again, he can be relevant while Ertz is still on the field. Fant is in a crowded passing game that probably won’t be high volume, but he can break long plays with the best of them. Thomas will be 4th or 5th in the pecking order in Carolina, but he was ahead of schedule as a rookie and if Teddy Bridgewater is good, the Panthers will have the game scripts to make him relevant. Ebron is riffing with Ben Roethlisberger and might have a reprise of his touchdown heavy 2018 with Andrew Luck. Everett was ahead of Higbee in the pecking order until his injury, so it’s hard to know where his place is now, but if the Rams run more two-tight-end than three-wide, he might be relevant anyway.
Values: Everett, Thomas
Priced Correctly: Goedert, Ebron
HIGH FLOOR TE2
Doyle and Olsen are draftable in this group and they might be low TE1’s as long as they stay healthy, although neither is in a high volume pass offense and both have quality company at tight end, so they are far from essential. Graham has gotten good reviews in camp, but we know he is well past his prime and the Bears pass offense isn’t going to create overachievers. Eifert is going to be a top 4-5 target in Jacksonville by default, but what is that worth when he isn’t the player he was before all of the injuries? Rudolph could flirt with relevance again if he benefits from the Vikings' lack of wide receiver depth and quality. Fells is probably still going to be one of the leaders in touchdowns at tight end, but the emergence of any of the three younger tight ends in Houston could make him irrelevant.
WAIVER WIRE WATCH LIST - DEEP SLEEPER
We can go 25 deep at tight end this year in rankings and still have plenty of names who could be fantasy relevant by the end of the season. Arnold and Thomas lead off the group - Arnold might not get a ton of playing time, but he could be the answer to the team’s red-zone woes. Kliff Kingsbury knew how to use Jace Amaro… Thomas is very natural and athletic as a receiver and it sounds like he will get to be the #1 receiving tight end on a team without much at wide receiver. The Packers #1 tight end will be worth monitoring, whoever it is. Asiasi is having a good camp and should lead the Patriots tight ends in targets. Uzomah is functional and Joe Burrow should breathe life into the Bengals pass offense, but he’ll struggle to get consistent targets. The Texans have a lot of raw talent at tight end and the potential for the wide receiver group to deteriorate, but who knows who is ahead among the young trio on any given day.
WAIVER WIRE WATCH LIST - INJURY UPSIDE
This group has a lot of talent, either realized or unrealized, but in their current situations, fantasy relevance won’t be within reach. If injuries narrow the target trees or push them into the starting lineup, fantasy value will follow. Knox’s passing game volume is too low with the addition of Stefon Diggs. Howard and Brate have a path to relevance through a Gronkowski injury, and Smith might be the most important name because all he needs is an Engram injury. Dissly is healthy again (for now). Njoku is having a poor camp and Bryant might actually be next man up after Austin Hooper. Burton is reunited with Frank Reich and Jack Doyle hasn’t been the picture of durability. McDonald has had his share of problems staying healthy, but Eric Ebron is far from established in Pittsburgh.
More Bang for Your Buck Scoring System Plays
TE Premium 1.5 PPR
- George Kittle starts with Arizona (will Isaiah Simmons be a tight end stopper?), then the Jets, Giants, Eagles, and Dolphins, who all have problems at linebacker and most are breaking in new safeties.
- Keep Logan Thomas on your watch list with the Eagles, Cardinals, Browns on the schedule to open.
- The Jets open with Buffalo, San Francisco, Indianapolis, and Denver, which could equal some garbage time for Chris Herndon
- It's unlikely that anything will come easy for the Giants against the Steelers, Bears, and 49ers to open, which might squander some of Evan Engram's healthy games on low offensive output performances.
- The Chargers open with Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Carolina, which could combine with Mike Williams' shoulder surgery to get Hunter Henry off to a good start.