If there’s a statistical "ugly duckling" among rookie offensive skill positions, there's no doubt it's the tight ends. Typically, they don’t make much of a fantasy impact. Case in point: The 2020 class didn’t have a single player who scored more than 62 points. Dating back to 2016, the lone rookie player at the position to score more than 130 fantasy points is Evan Engram. He scored nearly 174 points back in 2017.
Since 2000, we’ve seen just three tight ends (including Engram) score more than 150 points in their rookie campaigns. That’s not good. What’s more, the top-10 point producers at the position during that time include guys like John Carlson, Timothy Wright, Jermaine Gresham, and Tony Moeaki. That’s not exactly an elite list.
The 2021 class of tight ends isn’t deep and likely won’t curb this trend outside of one potential star: Kyle Pitts. So, for those fans looking to get a head start on doing their due diligence at the position, here’s my (short) look at the top tight ends for 2021.
Note: Age listed is at the start of the 2021 NFL season.
Kyle Pitts, Florida
- 20 years old, 6-foot-6, 246 pounds
2020 Stats: (8 games) 43 receptions, 770 yards, 17.9 YPC, 12 touchdowns
Pitts is considered one of the best tight end prospects to come out of college in the last decade or more. The word “generational” is often used to describe him, and comparisons to Tony Gonzalez and Travis Kelce aren’t uncommon. In his final season at Florida, Pitts led all tight ends with 770 yards and scored 12 touchdowns.
A big target at 6-foot-6 and 246 pounds, Pitts is a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. He’s athletic, possesses good route-running skills and hands for a player of his size. He’s a versatile receiver too, lining up in-line, H-back, inside the slot, and outside. Pitts was so good in college that he earned a 96.1 grade from Pro Football Focus. That’s the best grade their scouting department has ever given a tight end.
Possible destinations: Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles
Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
- 22 years old, 6-foot-5, 258 pounds
2020 Stats: (4 games) 23 receptions, 310 yards, 13.5 YPC, 1 touchdown
Freiermuth was on pace to produce strong numbers this past season, but an injured shoulder that required a surgical procedure ended his campaign after four games. He is expected to be fine for the start of the 2021 NFL season, and the ailment isn’t going to keep him from being one of the first tight ends picked in the upcoming draft.
Freiermuth, nicknamed "Baby Gronk" due to his similar skill set, can be a real playmaker on the next level. He scored eight touchdowns as a freshman and found the end zone 15 times in his first 25 games at Penn State. He was also tough to bring down in his final full season of 2019, breaking nine tackles on his 43 catches. He could turn into a true fantasy football star, in time, at the next level.
Possible destinations: Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans
Brevin Jordan, Miami
- 21 years old, 6-foot-3, 245 pounds
2020 Stats: (8 games) 38 receptions, 576 yards, 15.2 YPC, 7 touchdowns
Jordan enjoyed a productive 2020 campaign, ranking tied for 12th in targets, tied for eighth in catches, and sixth in receiving yards among tight ends. He also led the position in yards after the catch and averaged an impressive 9.3 yards per reception. His skills as a playmaker in the passing game make him intriguing in fantasy land.
Jordan thrived in the slot, ranking first in yards per route run from that spot on the line of scrimmage per Pro Football Focus. He has some work to do in terms of his in-line blocking, so I’d project him to be used primarily as a pass-catcher who can create mismatches at the next level. The Hurricanes have also produced more than their share of productive NFL tight ends, making Jordan even more attractive.
Possible destinations: Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans
Hunter Long, Boston College
- 22 years old, 6-foot-5, 253 pounds
2020 Stats: (11 games) 57 receptions, 685 yards, 12.0 YPC, 5 touchdowns
Long is coming off an impressive 2020 campaign that saw him lead all tight ends in targets (89) and catches (57) while also ranking second behind Kyle Pitts in yards (685). He was especially productive when Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec took over as the Eagles’ quarterback, but Long does have questions at the next level.
While he’s a nice route runner with good hands who did well against man coverage, Long is not on an elite level when it comes to his athletic prowess. He also broke just three tackles on his 57 receptions in 2020, and he’s not what you would call a matchup nightmare like Pitts. Long is a good blocker, though, and he should be a solid addition at the next level. Whether he can be a fantasy star is in question.
Possible destinations: Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for all of the latest breaking fantasy football news and the best analysis in the business!