With a vast majority of fantasy football formats starting one tight end and plenty of NFL starting tight ends going undrafted in typical depths, the ability to find a streamer or quality starter in the final round(s) of a draft is present. Here are the preferred tiers if taking a late-draft shot on tight end with an eye towards an early-season hit at tight end:
*Using tight ends outside the top-150 in Average Draft Position by Footballguys consensus at the time of publication*
Adam Trautman barely qualifies outside the top-150, making him the most expensive on this list. However, his formula for a breakout season aligns with many historical markers for a top-12 season. Trautman has minimal depth chart competition, Day 2 pedigree, enters Year 2, a questionable wide receiver corps (lacking a WR1, pending Michael Thomas' return), and Jameis Winston has used tight ends well over his career.
Jared Cook continues to land in optimistic locales during his nomadic later years in the NFL, now paired with Justin Herbert and the Chargers. Cook has eight top-20 seasons in his career, including TE5 and TE9 aPPG finishes within the past three seasons. While the Chargers have a go-to WR1 (Keenan Allen) and elite pass-catching running back (Austin Ekeler), the rest of the passing game is a question mark. Chargers' tight ends totaled a robust 137 targets a year ago, and Hunter Henry vacates 93. Outside of Donald Parham surging up from his 20 targets to form a committee, Cook is a good bet for a top-20 season, with upside from there, yet again in 2021.
Eric Ebron is similar to Jared Cook on this list - consistently underrated and typically a top-20 finisher. Ebron has been top-20 each of the past six seasons in aPPG, including a TE4 career-high mark. The passing game is crowded in Pittsburgh with a trio of strong receivers plus the addition of Najee Harris as the biggest reason for Ebron being Tier 2 instead of joining Trautman and Cook atop the list.
Anthony Firkser has been in the NFL for four seasons, posting a pair of TE30-40 aPPG finishes. Firkser was taking opportunities away from Jonnu Smith in 2020, who was paid handsomely in free agency (New England) this offseason as a vote of fantasy confidence. The signing of Julio Jones hinders Firkser's upside as Jones likely sees more than the 92 targets of Corey Davis a year ago. However, Jones' health has become more of a management question mark in recent years.
Gerald Everett has had his two best NFL seasons in back-to-back years but were a modest TE20 and TE31 aPPG finishes with the Rams. Seattle offers a clean slate and no Tyler Higbee on the depth chart. Seattle does have two high-level wide receivers to dominate the passing game, plus a hodge-podge of interesting tight ends if Everett is more of an ancillary piece (Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson).
The Dallas depth has Blake Jarwin returning from injury after being a projected breakout candidate in 2021. This fueled a mid-TE2 finish by Dalton Schultz in relief, even without Dak Prescott healthy for most of the season. The upside is strong here IF there is clarity with a clear starter. A committee in Dallas could mean both are outside the top-20 on the season if snaps are 40-60% for each.
2-TE FORMAT SPECIALS
This collection is more towards the deep roster or 2TE formats.
Cincinnati is the broke man's version of Dallas' depth chart. The upside is limited here, but a question mark on how the snaps will break remains. Uzomah has had cross-sections of his career as a streaming special. Sample has Round 2 pedigree and more overt athleticism than Uzomah. However, he has not shown much to date. Add a strong wide receiver corps to the murky depth chart, and the upside is limited here to mid-to-low TE2 standing even if a clear starter.
Jack Doyle is a couple of seasons removed from his two-year run as a volume-infused top-10 fantasy producer. He has slowed since with injury and was never more than a middling mover for the position anyway. Mo Alie-Cox and Kylen Granson are both likely to have roles on the depth chart, plus an upside question mark for the Colts passing game overall make Doyle a 2TE special only.
Dan Arnold has flashed in his career but not more than in the TE25-35 range for a single season yet. The move to Carolina likely maintains a sturdy snap share for Arnold. Still, the strong wide receiver corps (and a question mark at quarterback) are negative factors historically to predict a top-12 season.
Chris Manhertz leaves Carolina after largely being a blocker early in his career. Finding an open Jacksonville depth chart was close to a best-case outcome considering the lagging level of competition. With a rookie quarterback and a strong collection of receivers (plus multiple running backs), Manhertz's upside is limited even if the clear starter.