The TE position has undergone a bit of an evolution over the past decade. Gone are the days of TEs spending the majority of their time blocking; these dual-threat beasts are now a common and vital part of passing games around the league.
Overall, TEs as a whole has been on the up-and-up for the last 10 years when it comes to fantasy production.
Basis roster construction varies, but for most season-long leagues we have one QB, two RBs, two WRs, another 1-2 FLEX positions ... and almost always just one TE. Since 2009 there have been an average of 10.8 TEs per season to score at least 150 PPR, indicating that there's typically been enough players at the position for almost every fantasy manager in an 8-12 team league to roster a fairly high-scoring option at TE.
The 2020 class of players in particular looks like another example where fantasy drafters can safely pick from several high-upside options if they don't manage to get one of the position's studs. What follows is a quick overview of this year's group of TEs and what to expect in their respective offenses.
Note that this is before free agency, so the likes:
... among others could potentially throw a wrench into things. Still, historically teams that sign high-priced TEs in free agency haven't typically seen solid returns on their investment.
Note that the following TEs are broken up into tiers and not listed in any specific order.
TEs with a legit chance to be their offense's No. 1 or No. 2 pass-game target (8)
- Chiefs: Travis Kelce has led the team in targets in four consecutive seasons. Even 16 games from Tyreek Hill wouldn't relegate Kelce to anything worse than Patrick Mahomes' No. 2 receiver.
- 49ers: George Kittle has led the team in targets in back-to-back seasons. The stud 26-year-old TE is entering the prime of his career and continues to see little competition for targets on the roster.
- Eagles: Zach Ertz racked up 156 targets in 2018 – the highest mark ever by a TE. His 135 targets in 2019 still easily led the team, although third-year talent Dallas Goedert is proving plenty worthy of extra attention himself. There isn't a more-valuable handcuff at the TE position than Goedert.
- Giants: Evan Engram is reportedly a candidate to be traded, but his average of 7.7 targets per game with Daniel Jones under center in 2019 was just below Golden Tate (8.4) and Sterling Shepard (8.3).
- Ravens: Mark Andrews had a team-high 98 targets in 2019. He's a "TE", but is used more as a true WR. Overall, the second-year talent lined up in the slot or out wide on 61% of his snaps last season.
- Chargers: Hunter Henry is reportedly expected to be franchise tagged. There's so much uncertainty under center in this Chargers Offense, although Henry deserves the benefit of the doubt. His average of 8.95 yards per target is the eighth-highest mark among 52 TEs with at least 100 targets since 2016.
- Raiders: Darren Waller had a team-high 117 targets in 2019. Derek Carr has now enabled high-end fantasy TEs in back-to-back seasons between Waller (PPR TE3) and Jared Cook (PPR TE5 in 2018). Talented second-year TE Foster Moreau (5 TDs on 25 targets in 2019) joins Goedert as a truly talented backup that could thrive with a full-time role.
- Broncos: Noah Fant flashed down the stretch as a rookie, particularly when it came to creating after the catch. Overall, only A.J. Brown (8.8 yards after the catch per reception) and Deebo Samuel (8.5) were more efficient with the ball in their hands than Fant (8.5). This offense is expected to add a receiver, but Fant has more than enough talent to break out in his second season.
Talented TEs that appear to be locked in as their offense's No. 3 pass-game option (8)
- Buccaneers: O.J. Howard ranked 25th in targets at the TE position in 2019, although his average of 8.7 yards per target trailed only Jared Cook, George Kittle, Darren Waller, Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews among 27 TEs (min. 50 targets). The talent is still there, but it remains to be seen if there's enough volume in this Tampa Bay passing game to enable anyone other than Chris Godwin and Mike Evans.
- Saints: Jared Cook did nothing except ball the hell out as the Saints' No. 3 pass-game option behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Overall, he finished as the PPR TE8, TE11, TE3, TE12, TE3, TE11, TE4 and TE11 in eight games after Drew Brees returned from injury. Only Mecole Hardman had a higher playmaker rate (weights big plays and touchdowns) than Cook in 2019.
- Dolphins: Mike Gesicki is a WR; he lined up in the slot or out wide on 77% of his snaps last season. The talented 2018 second-round pick possesses the type of size (6-foot-6 and 247-pounds) and speed (4.54-second 40-yard dash) to continue to thrive as an offense's big slot.
- Jets: Chris Herndon never quite got healthy last season, leading to veteran Ryan Griffin playing a near full-time role. It remains to be seen how much the front office will address this passing game, but the talent is there. Herndon is one of just 10 rookie TEs to average at least eight yards per target since 2000.
- Bills: Dawson Knox had an up-and-down rookie campaign, typically making at least one spectacular play as a receiver or blocker per week, but also struggling with consistency and drops. Still, there's a hole in this passing game after John Brown and Cole Beasley, and Knox boasts the type of big-play ability (13.9 yards per reception) to make a limited role count in a big way.
- Browns: David Njoku was on the verge of stardom in 2019. The former first-round tight end has a ridiculous amount of athleticism (82nd-percentile SPARQ-x score) for a 6-foot-4, 246-pound man. He ranked among the league’s top 10 tight ends in catches (56), yards (639) and touchdowns (four) in 2018 at 22 years old. Alas, it remains to be seen if he'll 1) Be back with the Browns and 2) Carve out a starting role.
- Titans: Jonnu Smith ranked among the league's top-eight TEs in yards per target (No. 2), yards per rush (No. 1), yards per route run (No. 8) and yards after the catch per reception (No. 2) in 2019. The biggest obstacles in his path are the potential return of Delanie Walker and whether or not this run-first offense can consistently enable anybody other than A.J. Brown.
- Colts: Jack Doyle finds himself as the clear-cut No. 1 TE on a team with few proven pass-game options beyond T.Y. Hilton. This was also the case in 2017 ... and Doyle finished as the PPR TE7 with Jacoby Brissett under center. There are sexier options than the Colts' soon to be 30-year-old TE, but Doyle has historically always gotten the job done (job done) with enough targets.
Crowded situations that might not lend themselves to consistent TE production (10)
- Vikings: Kyle Rudolph (39-367-6) was more productive than Irv Smith (36-311-2) last season, but Rudolph (48 targets) was barely more involved on a per-pass basis than Smith (47). Ultimately, it's tough to expect much from either as long as they're splitting snaps and all but certain to work behind the likes of Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook in this run-first offense.
- Lions: T.J. Hockenson is undoubtedly talented. Still, he gained more than 50 yards just once in 11 games following his electric 6-131-1 career debut. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are clearly Matthew Stafford's top-two receivers. Even Danny Amendola (6.5 targets per game) worked well ahead of Hockenson (4.9). Fantasy football is about chasing opportunity, not talent.
- Rams: Tyler Higbee balled out in the second half of the 2019 season, posting 7-107-1, 7-116-0, 12-111-0, 9-104-0 and 8-84-1 lines in his final five games. And yet, Gerald Everett played just four snaps during that stretch. The likes of Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp as well as potentially Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks are going to be heavily involved in this passing game.
- Seahawks: Russell Wilson has shown the ability to enable numerous TEs throughout his career. He's now graced with both Greg Olsen and Will Dissly, who are each expected to see fewer targets than Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf when the season is over. Only the Ravens and 49ers ran the ball more than the Seahawks in 2019.
- Bengals: It remains to be seen if Tyler Eifert will be back in Cincinnati. Either way, C.J. Uzomah figures to again see the majority of the position's snaps and a handful of targets. Expect Joe Burrow to focus the majority of his target share on the likes of A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Auden Tate and Joe Mixon.
- Steelers: Pittsburgh added Nick Vannett to the equation shortly into the 2019 season, setting up a two-TE committee with Vance McDonald. It's clear the latter TE is the superior pass-game option, but there are always injury concerns with McDonald. Both players (if Vannett is re-signed) are expected to work behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and James Washington in Ben Roethlisberger's pecking order.
- Texans: Houston figures to again rotate Darren Fells (if re-signed) and Jordan Akins. The former TE was the more-productive player in 2019 and is a talented option in the red zone. Still, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Kenny Stills are the top receivers in this passing game.
- Panthers: Ian Thomas is a contender to leap into the above group, although it seems like a bit of a reach to expect too much. Yes, Thomas has posted legit top-10 fantasy production when Olsen missed time over the past two seasons. Also yes, each of Christian McCaffrey (142), D.J. Moore (135) and Curtis Samuel (105) demanded triple-digit targets in 2020.
- Cowboys: Blake Jarwin has flashed during his short career, particularly against the Giants for whatever reason. The potential absence of Jason Witten could lead to a near full-time role for Jarwin, although he'd still likely be the passing game's clear-cut No. 3 option behind Michael Gallup and Ezekiel Elliott even in a best-case scenario where both Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb don't re-sign with the Cowboys.
- Jaguars: Josh Oliver was getting some mid-season hype in 2019, as the coaching staff is reportedly high on the ability of the team's third-round pick. Still, there's basically zero on-field evidence that Oliver is capable of legit production at this level, and the likes of D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley and Leonard Fournette each figure to work ahead of the TE in this run-first offense.
Unproven or ineffective TEs that don't figure to have relevant pass-game roles (6)
- Redskins: Jeremy Sprinkle is tentatively expected to start in 2020 assuming Vernon Davis doesn't re-sign with the squad. He failed to surpass 40 yards or catch more than three passes in a game despite playing 63.8% of the offense's snaps on the season. It wouldn't be shocking in the least to see Washington attempt to address this position in a big way through the draft or free agency.
- Bears: Trey Burton figures to be with the Bears for another season, but they'll be able to save $7.1 million against the cap by cutting him before June 1, 2021. He averaged a horrific 3.5 yards per target in 2019 and lost plenty of reps to 2017 second-round pick Adam Shaheen. No group of TEs gained fewer receiving yards than the Bears (325) last season.
- Packers: Everyone's favorite free agency destination for Austin Hooper is expected to bring in a new starter in some form for next season. The likes of Jimmy Graham, Martellus Bennett and Jared Cook have all failed to work out as meaningful contributors in this offense. Jermichael Finley (767) is the only Packers TE to gain more than 700 yards in a season since Aaron Rodgers took over in 2008.
- Cardinals: Coach Kliff Kingsbury started the season with a four-WR offense, but eventually went on to feature either Charles Clay or Maxx Williams on the majority of the offense's snaps. It remains to be seen whether or not Kingsbury envisions the former or the latter plan as his base offense, rendering this group a stay-away unit.
- Falcons: The expected departure of Hooper would seemingly elevate Luke Stocker to TE1 duties. A full-time role remains unclear. There's room behind Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley for someone else to get some production on this pass-first team, but we shouldn't assume this offense wants to enable a TE. At least 50% of Hooper's career production in targets (52%), receptions (55%), yards (53%) and TDs (50%) occurred while trailing.
- Patriots: Nobody devoted fewer dollars to the TE position in 2019 than New England. Perhaps they enter next season with Matt LaCosse as the starter, but Bill Belichick and company need to add more pass-game options around Tom Brady (or whoever). It's unfair to expect anybody to replicate Rob Gronkowski, but adding a true threat to the middle of the field would certainly help this offense.