Tips for Drafting a Tight End

Ready to win your
Fantasy League?

Tips for Drafting a Tight End
American Football player illustration

Strategy for drafting at TE

Drafting a good tight end to your fantasy roster is one of the most crucial positions to hit on.

It can be one of those make or break things in your fantasy season. You can take one of the few top, consistent TE’s and be set for the season.

You can try your luck with a mid-tier tight end, or you can roll the dice on. By waiting to draft a tight end and wait for the scraps.

People have had success with each of these strategies.

And don’t sleep on the last strategy of waiting for the tight ends scraps.

TE Tiers

There are some real diamonds to be found this year as the tight end spot is the deepest in recent memory.

Tight end is interesting because there are only a handful of guys you can be sure will be great. After this shortlist, another group will be good but shouldn’t be expected to be great.

Then the rest are just an absolute graveyard of tight ends. Where you desperately hope to get 1 redzone catch for a 5-yard touchdown to save your fantasy week.

We’ll get into these 3 tiers of tight ends. We’ll try to scrounge up some guys you can take a shot on who could be fantasy gold.

To start it off, let’s go easy with the top guys. You have Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller.

They should be considered tier 1. Kelce may even be in a tier all by himself.

Should you take Kelce in the first round?

If you want to consider Kelce, look to get him in the late first round, anywhere from pick 8 to 12.

Kelce averaged 3.5 more fantasy points per game last season than the 2nd guy Darren Waller.

He rarely had a bust kind of game, with his worst game being 3 catches for 31 yards, 2nd worst being 3 for 70 and 3rd worst was 6 for 87.

Not to mention that he scored at least one touchdown in 10 of 15 games.

Darren Waller should still be the 2nd best tight end option this season. However, he shouldn’t be considered until at least pick 20.

Waller has the same upside as Kelce but is far less consistent, making Kelce the clear choice.

George Kittle is the last of tier 1 and should be considered anywhere after pick 25.

Kittle or Waller?

Kittle is more injury prone than both Kelce and Waller, and sometimes the 49er’s run the ball all game. Especially when they are winning a lot of games which they could be this year.

This hurts Kittle’s fantasy value as they use him as a blocker in this scenario. Meaning he doesn’t get as many targets which makes him more inconsistent than the other two.

If you look at the targets in each of their last full seasons, Kelce and Waller both had 145 last year. Kittle only had 107 in his entire 2019 season.

You can’t go wrong with any of these guys, but you have to sacrifice a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd round pick to do so.

Tier 2 TE’s

The next crop of tight ends at tier 2 is the middle of the road guys.

This group will get you reasonably consistent production, but most have limited upside.

They should start to go off the board at around pick 45 to 50 in most drafts.

The rankings after 3 are all over the place on tight ends.

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.

Should you draft Andrews or Hockenson?

TJ Hockenson should also be considered with the Lions losing weapons Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. Hockenson could be the go-to guy and be even better than last year.

Hockenson was pretty consistent last year and had 9 more catches than Mark Andrews and 22 more yards.

With him in line for even more work, Hockenson seems like a good pick as the 4th or 5th tight end.

The TE Middle Tier Danger or Deadzone?

Next in the middle tier, you have Logan Thomas, Noah Fant, and a surprise in Irv Smith.

Thomas was heavily targeted last year, but with new QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, he may regress, but the 6th tight end would be solid.

Noah Fant had a great year in 2020. Fant should have an even better one this season for the Denver Broncos.

Irv Smith comes out of nowhere as he comes in ranked as high as the 7th tight end in some expert’s rankings.

Smith might have had a fluke year last season. He was helped by some garbage time touchdowns where he had 2 in a 20 point loss and 5 overall in 13 games.

Irv Smith seems to be ranked too high. In 12 of 13 games, he had 5 targets or less, with 5 games under 4 targets.

The Vikings still have Tyler Conklin on the roster as well. Conklin will eat up some tight end snaps and targets. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he expects an increase in workload for Conklin.

This may mean that the departure of Kyle Rudolph doesn’t mean much more work for Smith. Just more for Conklin, and they will see a more even split of production.

Undervalued Mid-Tier TE’s

Some undervalued mid-tier tight ends in the 9 to 13 range are Dallas Goedert, Tyler Higbee, and Evan Engram.

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.

Sign up to the Fantasynomics Newsletter

Join 1,000's and stay ahead of your fantasy football league this season.
Tips for Drafting a Tight End