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Tight ends in fantasy include subsets of studs, starters, streamers, and the rest of the position. Whether paying a high draft cost or using the waiver or committee to find an undervalued producer, tight ends are all about leverage against the investment.
Also, this is specifically looking for TE1 producers for 2021 who have yet to produce such a season-to-date.
Round 1 tight ends break out for the first time more often in Year 4 and beyond than the first three seasons. This differs for Round 2, where they break out in Years 1-3 more often than Year 4 and later. The same applies for Round 3-4 pedigree, where they hit earlier despite a lower overall success rate.
On to the 2021 tight end breakout candidates and their projected draft cost:
Beyond Michael Thomas, New Orleans is riddled with questions among the wide receiver group, while the tight end position is thin. Adam Trautman is one of the glaring names for 2021. Trautman has Round 3 pedigree and Jared Cook moved on in free agency to clear the depth chart. Jameis Winston has fed tight ends during his career. This bodes well for Trautman if Winston is the full-time starting quarterback for the Saints.
Gerald Everett will have a host of depth chart competition in Seattle with good enough options like Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson. However, neither possesses Everett's athleticism as a receiver. Two strong wide receivers in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett stunt the likely upside of Seattle's starting tight end, but at least there are WR3+ questions on the depth for a tertiary option, plus there is the attachment to Russell Wilson.
Irv Smith is a trendy breakout candidate. He comes with the second-highest draft cost of inclusions in this article (Kyle Pitts) and is already in the TE1 zone. The demerits for Smith are likely being fourth in the Minnesota pecking order (Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook) and comments from the coaching staff of Smith staying in his role from last season and the team liking the upside with Tyler Conklin. Smith has the pedigree and early flash moments to warrant consideration, but a lower price point would be optimal to offer more profit potential.
- David Njoku, TE30+
- Dalton Schultz, TE25+
- Blake Jarwin, TE20+
- Anthony Firkser, TE20-30
- Dawson Knox, TE30+
David Njoku certainly fits the profile, entering Year 5 with Round 1 pedigree. The Browns depth chart is cloudy, to say the least, with Austin Hooper on a strong contract and Harrison Bryant having a relevant role as a Day 3 rookie in 2020. Njoku being traded would vault his upside formula or an in-house injury to consolidate the depth chart.
Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin, both in Dallas, make the perfect-storm potential for a breakout season. The level of the passing game could be the top team in the entire NFL and, despite a strong wide receiver corps, could still produce a top-12 tight end. Jarwin returning from a major injury but was earmarked for the starting role in 2020. Schultz was a viable starter (mid-TE2) in Jarwin's absence. This could turn into a murky committee split, but if either is the clear starter, top-12 is within range.
Anthony Firkser took snaps and targets from Jonnu Smith in 2020, and Smith received a monster contract from New England in free agency. The depth chart is completely bare beyond Firkser. The addition of Julio Jones is a strain to Firkser's target upside as Jones and A.J. Brown should be focal points of the passing game, with Derrick Henry as the centerpiece of the run-centric Titans.
Dawson Knox qualifies for his Day 2 pedigree and entering a critical Year 3, plus being attached to Josh Allen. However, Jacob Hollister is a noteworthy veteran addition to the depth chart, and Buffalo added Emmanuel Sanders to Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and Gabriel Davis of the robust wide receiver corps. Knox's athleticism is intriguing from a best-case scenario.
Ryan Griffin has benefitted from the bumpy early-career road of Chris Herndon before. Griffin has five top-36 aPPG seasons in his career with a TE23 career peak. Outside of Herndon, there is little on the depth chart to prevent Griffin from being fantasy-relevant yet again. Just like Corey Davis of the Jets' wide receivers, playing out the scenario of "What if Zach Wilson is an offensive difference-making quarterback out of the gate?" can point to Griffin having a career-best season.
Jordan Akins is coming off his best season (TE28). Houston lacks at wide receiver behind Brandin Cooks with an eroding-for-years Randall Cobb, newly added Anthony Miller, third-year Keke Coutee, and rookie Nico Collins of note. The lynchpin is Deshaun Watson's status and games played. Without Watson, the entire offense takes a step back (or two). If Watson plays a majority of 2021, the upside returns for all Houston offensive pieces.
Cole Kmet is a sub-optimal breakout candidate without Jimmy Graham missing extended time. Graham is one of the strongest tight end producers over the past decade and had more targets than Kmet in 2020. Even if Kmet surpasses Graham in a changing of the guard in 2021, Graham will have a role. Kmet flashed as a rookie and possesses a Round 2 pedigree. However, in addition to Graham, Kmet will also have the variable of an unsettled quarterback situation between Andy Dalton and the variance of rookie Justin Fields.
2021 Rookies: Best Bets
Rookie tight ends are historically poor bets for a top-12 finish with no singular draft round have a greater than 5% odds of a TE1 seasonal debut. Here are the notable players and situations for a Year 1 splash:
Kyle Pitts is by far the most expensive tight end of this listing. Sturdily in the upper half of TE1 of fantasy for cost, Pitts has elite pedigree, rare physical traits for an incoming prospect, and Julio Joens departing Atlanta post-NFL Draft for good measure. Outside of Calvin Ridley (and probably a requisite number of targets for Russell Gage), there is little holding back Pitts from a quality target load. Matt Ryan threw more passes than any other quarterback a year ago.
Kylen Granson has a Jonnu Smith-like prospect profile from early Day 3. The good news situationally is Jack Doyle is a middling athlete, even for an older veteran, and Mo Alie-Cox are far from depth chart stalwarts if Granson offers the most receiving upside in training camp and the preseason. While unlikely to emerge early in the season without at least one injury, Granson is the type who can emerge as the season progresses on a passing game without a dominant WR1 presence.
Darren Waller took an extended amount of time to emerge due to off-field issues, plus changing teams and positions as a wide receiver prospect even after selection. Jacob Harris is the closest prospect in recent memory to a Darren Waller-like trajectory. Harris, a collegiate wide receiver, was drafted early on Day 3 by the Rams, and the team immediately stated Harris would be a tight end for the team. Harris should have more initial allegiance with a higher draft pedigree and no positional ambiguity. Rookie tight ends, especially Day 3 options, are dart throw bets for early impact, but Harris has a rare combination of traits and circumstances, plus a Rams offense primed for a 2021 rebound and uptick.