Tight ends can be a game-changer in fantasy football. Well, about two or three of them anyway.
The tight end position featured two players who finished in the top 40 overall in fantasy points scored (half-point PPR) last season, per FantasyPros: Travis Kelce at No. 23 and Darren Waller at No. 36. After that duo? You have to scroll all the way down to 99th to find the next tight end, Green Bay's Robert Tonyan.
George Kittle was on pace to crack the top 40 before his midseason injury, but the point is that fantasy tight ends continue to be feast-or-famine. Kelce, Waller and Kittle put up numbers that would make a Pro Bowl wide receiver blush, while the rest of the group posts stats you'd actually expect from a traditional tight end.
So, the question becomes whether you should burn an early-to-mid-round pick on Kelce, Waller or Kittle or target a bargain option in the later rounds. That's where we come in.
Here are our rankings of the top 15 TEs in fantasy entering the 2021 season -- a list rounded out by a former Patriot and a pair of tight ends New England brought in to try to replicate his success.
1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs (Bye Week: 12)
How long until Kelce gets wide receiver eligibility? The Chiefs “tight end” has led Kansas City in receptions in three consecutive seasons and has seen at least 117 targets in each of the last five seasons. If he’s healthy, expect another year of WR1 numbers from Kelce, which makes him the clear-cut TE1.
2. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (Bye Week: 6)
The only concern with Kittle is his health after he missed eight games in 2020 due to a broken foot. The 27-year-old amassed 2,430 receiving yards over his previous three seasons, though, and all signs point to him being ready to roll for rookie QB Trey Lance in 2021.
3. Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders (Bye Week: 8)
Waller had 51 more receptions than the next-closest Raider last season, with 107 to Hunter Renfrow’s 56. Nelson Agholor’s departure should ensure Waller receives a lion’s share of Derek Carr’s targets in 2021, so you could make the case for Waller ahead of Kittle if you're worried about the latter's health or don't trust Lance.
4. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens (Bye Week: 8)
There’s a pretty steep drop-off after the top three. Like Waller, Andrews has been Baltimore’s primary target in each of the past two seasons but with 122 receptions total in that span compared to Waller's 197. He’s a touchdown machine, though – 17 TDs in his last 19 games – and should see plenty of action despite the Ravens’ additions at wide receiver.
5. T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions (Bye Week: 9)
Hockenson was the fifth-best tight end in fantasy last season, and that was with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola on the roster. Jared Goff targeted Rams tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett a total of 122 times last season, so Hockenson seems poised to improve from his 2020 Pro Bowl campaign.
6. Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons (Bye Week: 6)
There’s a reason the Falcons traded Julio Jones and made Pitts the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history in the same offseason. New Falcons head coach Arthur Smith used his tight ends liberally in Tennessee, and he should throw Pitts right into the fire as Matt Ryan’s No. 2 target behind Calvin Ridley.
7. Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles (Bye Week: 14)
You wouldn’t be hearing the Zach Ertz trade rumors if the Eagles didn’t believe in Goedert, who caught at least four passes in eight of 11 games last season despite splitting reps with Ertz in a struggling Philly offense. A shift to Jalen Hurts at quarterback and the potential of an Ertz trade make Goedert a top-10 tight end in 2021.
8. Noah Fant, Denver Broncos (Bye Week: 11)
That Fant caught 62 balls for 673 yards last season with Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien under center is pretty impressive. Teddy Bridgewater should be an upgrade over all three, and there’s always the possibility Denver wins the Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes.
9. Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers (Bye Week: 13)
Tonyan scored more fantasy points last season than every tight end not named Kelce or Waller. He has the tight end job locked up in Green Bay. Alas, we still don’t know whether Rodgers will be his quarterback. Even if Rodgers returns, expect a regression from Tonyan’s 11 TD catches.
10. Logan Thomas, Washington Football Team (Bye Week: 9)
The converted quarterback emerged as a top-10 fantasy tight end last season, finishing strong with 38 receptions and 342 yards over his final five games. Curtis Samuel and rookie Dyami Brown could cut into his targets, but there should be more receptions to go around with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback.
11. Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings (Bye Week: 7)
It’s easy to get excited about the 22-year-old Smith following Kyle Rudolph’s departure. But he’ll probably be fourth fiddle in the passing game behind Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook, who caught 16 more balls than Rudolph last season. The 6-foot-2 tight end has some red zone upside, though.
12. Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins (Bye Week: 11)
Gesicki has improved every year and was a solid TE1 in 2020 with 703 yards and six touchdowns. Jaylen Waddle may cut into his targets, however, so he’ll likely fall outside the top 10 unless Tua Tagovailoa has a breakout season.
13. Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Bye Week: 9)
The big guy’s still got it. After serving as a virtual blocking tight end for the first five weeks of 2020, Gronk scored a touchdown in seven of his last 11 games. He’s unpredictable and touchdown-dependent in the Bucs’ loaded offense, but if you’re looking for a TE2 with high upside, Gronk is your man.
14. Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots (Bye Week: 14)
What to do about the Patriots’ tight ends? There’s a world in Josh McDaniels funnels the ball to Henry and Jonnu Smith in a return to the Gronk-Aaron Hernandez era of the early 2010s. But can you trust Cam Newton – who averaged 177.7 passing yards per game in 2020 – to supply either guy with enough volume? Smith is the more dynamic route runner of the two and is worth a flier in two-tight end leagues.
15. Hunter Henry, New England Patriots (Bye Week: 14)
See above. If you’re drafting Henry or Smith, your ideal scenario is Mac Jones winning the starting QB job and making the two tight ends his top options as security blankets in the passing game. If one of these guys misses any time due to injury, you’ll want to have the other.
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