Some have Mark Andrews or TJ Hockenson at 4 but a guy to look out for here is the rookie Kyle Pitts.
Pitts was drafted to Atlanta at pick 4 in the 2021 NFL Draft and should be a focal part of their offense with Calvin Ridley.
The Falcons haven’t had a consistent running game since anyone can remember. Atlanta love to throw the ball with decent production from their tight end. Last year in Hayden Hurst ended with 571 yards and 6 touchdowns. Perhaps there’s enough to go around in 2021 for Hurst and Pitts to be viable fantasy options.
Pitts has the upside to having big games like the tier 1 tight ends but is just an unknown at this point and could be a risk that pays off huge.
This is where you are trying to find last year’s TJ Hockenson.
You can get one of these guys after everyone has already taken their first tight end.
Arguably all 3 of these tight ends could be ranked 8th, but some rankings have them as far down as 15.
The favourite out of this bunch has got to be Tyler Higbee of the Los Angeles Rams.
With Gerald Everett in Seattle, Higbee will be the go-to tight end.
Higbee was a monster last year, sharing snaps and targets with Everett as they combined for 938 yards at the tight end spot. Now he should see an increase in his 60 targets to upwards of 80 or 90.
Goedert, Higbee or Ertz?
Higbee is probably the best sleeper tight end as you can get him as late as 140th in drafts. Not bad for a guy who has the path to be a top 5 tight end by year’s end.
Dallas Goedert of the Eagles is in somewhat of a similar situation as Higbee. In that he has a clear path to more targets with Zach Ertz kind of falling out of favor in Philadelphia.
Goedert is a guy that can be picked up in a similar range as Higbee, if not later.
Evan Engram of the New York Giants was a disappointment last year. His drafting ADP had him as high as the 4th tight end off the board.
Still, he didn’t have a terrible year but infamously dropped many open passes and ended the year with just 1 touchdown.
With Kenny Golladay now in New York. Engram won’t have to be the team’s only severe threat and should have some pressure taken off him.
Yes, the Giants were using their tight end last year as their main deep threat.
Deep Sleepers at TE
Now let’s take a look at some deep sleepers in tier 3. Tier 3 is guys ranked about 15 to 22, and you can draft them as late as picks 160 or later.
Hopefully, you have a tight end by now as 15 or more tight ends have already been drafted. This tier has solid backups. The TE’s we will mention should have high upsides.
With high upside, this late into the tight end crop comes with low floors as well.
Gerald Everett for the Seahawks is right on the cusp of tier 2, but many have him ranked 15th or later.
He has been a beast for the Rams but shared snaps with before mentioned Tyler Higbee in Los Angeles.
Now, with the Seahawks, he will look to be Seattle’s first 400-yard receiving tight end since 2017 when Jimmy Graham did it.
The Seahawks obviously haven’t featured their tight ends much. This season they should have a clear number 1 guy with Everett, and he could easily be a top 10 tight end.
Another guy is Robert Tonyan, who connected with Aaron Rodgers for Green Bay last year.
Tonyan was a big red zone target and had 11 touchdowns. This is confusing as to why he is ranked as low as the 19th tight end on some tight end positional ranking lists.
Tonyan could blow up again next year, especially if he starts to get more involved outside of the red zone.
Going even deeper at TE
There is so much upside with some of these low ranked guys, and another is Jared Cook. Cook, who signed with the Chargers, is replacing Hunter Henry, who left many yards and targets for Cook to fill. Last year was Cook’s worst year statistically since 2016, but they still managed 504 yards and 7 touchdowns. He is rated as low as the 30th tight end on some draft rankings, which means he would go undrafted in many leagues.
Henry is coming off of back to back 600+ yard seasons with the Chargers. Cook could make it the 3rd year in a row of 600+ yard receiving tight ends for the Chargers. You can pick him up with literally the last pick in your draft as a sleeper who may turn into your starting tight end.
What is alarming about the tight end rankings is the severe overvaluing of some of these unknown guys.
These guys are going around the tier 2 range of 7 to 11 in drafts. When there are lower ranked guys we have discussed that seem to be in better situations or are already proven.
Besides the doubts that could be had about Irv Smith going as high as 7, there are even more overvalued tight ends.
Is Trautman the next elite TE?
One that comes to mind, or doesn’t because I barely have heard of him, is Adam Trautman of the New Orleans Saints. Trautman is getting drafted as high as the 10th overall tight end.
He was obviously behind Jared Cook last season. He will have an opportunity this year but didn’t show much in his rookie year.
Trautman had 15 catches, 171 yards, and 1 touchdown in 15 games last season, with his best game being 3 catches for 39 yards and a touchdown in a 30 point win.
Not that combine results say it all, but top tight ends Kelce and Kittle ran 4.6 and 4.5 40 yard dashes, and even Jared Cook ran a 4.4, while Trautman ran a 4.8.
Trautman may surprise some people but doesn’t seem to have the same athletic ability as other dominant tight ends.
Another thing that could hurt him is if the Saints go with Taysom Hill over Jameis Winston.
Will the Patriots be a good fit for Jonnu Smith?
One other overvalued tight end is Jonnu Smith.
Smith signed with the Patriots this year after a great year with the Titans.
He would be a good fantasy tight end if he went somewhere without competition, as the Patriots also brought in Hunter Henry.
The Patriots will likely be near last in pass yards per game, with not many great wide receiver targets and Cam Newton likely to start at least some of the games.
Expert rankings have Smith as high as 11 on some tight end ranking lists.
With these tight end rankings seemingly all over the place, let’s look at the 3 draft strategies for tight ends that we mentioned earlier.
How to decide on your TE strategy
The first strategy is to go for a tier 1 tight end. You are using your first pick on Kelce or 2nd or 3rd on Waller or Kittle, but that secures the position with a high upside and a low downside.
There’s nothing wrong with taking one of these guys. However, you will have to find value later for your running backs and wide receivers. Making this draft strategy tough to pull off.
If using this strategy, definitely don’t also take a top tier quarterback. You will be hurting at the leading point-scoring positions, running back and wide receiver.
The last thing about taking an early tight end is you don’t even need to draft a backup. You could go with a Jared Cook in the previous round or someone like that with a high upside later.
Tier 2 TE strategy
The 2nd strategy is to take a tier 2 tight end. Again, waiting until the last couple of rounds to get your backup tight end would be a good idea here.
Your tight end position could look like getting TJ Hockenson with a pick in the 50’s in round 6. Then snagging another tight end with a high upside in Higbee at pick 145.
This way, you can secure 2 running backs, 2 wide receivers, and flex before even using a pick on a tight end. You potentially could be drafting a top 4 player at the position.
You could still get a good quarterback after your first tight end in round 6 as Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, and Justin Herbert come in around round 7 and pick 60 to 75.
Touchdown TE strategy
The 3rd strategy is to completely punt the tight end position and load up on running backs, wide receivers, and a quarterback.
Then wait to get a guy like Higbee at 145 who has the potential to be a top 5 tight end. Drafting your next tight end would be a safer pick but still with upsides like Jared Cook or Robert Tonyan.
Big touchdown catchers are great to have as backup tight ends because if they need to fill in, they need 1 catch 5-yard catch for a touchdown. Quickly getting them to 7.5 points in PPR leagues.
Tonyan had 11 touchdowns in 16 games last year.
Final TE strategy
The last strategy seems to be the best this year with how deep the tight end position is.
Load up on the big point-getters with your early picks. Then you can still find value with your tight ends way later in the draft.
These TE’s should be good for a consistent 10 to 12 points per week with the ability to get 20.
With so many good tight end options this year, it isn’t necessary to go for a top 3 guy or have to be aggressive and draft an unknown player too high.