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Fantasy Football ADP: Starting & Backup Tight Ends Breakdown

A closer look at fantasy football's tight ends draft value, potential, average draft position and outlook for the 2021 NFL season

One of the better positions to gain an edge over your competition can come from the tight end position. To get a feel for the recent history of fantasy points in PPR leagues, a fantasy owner will have to look no further than my tight end target fantasy points article. 

ADP Breakdowns
QB1 | QB2 | RB1 & RB2 | RB3 & RB4 | WR1 & WR2 | WR3/WR4/WR5 | TE

TE1 (Ranked 1st to 12th)

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When deciding between an elite tight end and a second-tier wide receiver, a fantasy owner must understand the gaps in value and the price point for both positions in each draft. A drafter can select a top tight end ahead of a WR2 due to more outs at wide receiver later in drafts than the tight end position.

Tight End Studsville

Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

Travis Kelce Score

Kelce has been the top tight end in PPR leagues in each of the previous four seasons while delivering WR1 stats (234.50, 295.60, 255.30, 313.80 fantasy points). Kelce should be considered the top receiving option in the Chiefs’ offense (145 targets – Tyreek Hill – 135 plus some rushing attempts). Five wide receivers had more chances than him in 2020 (Stefon Diggs – 168, DeAndre Hopkins – 160, Allen Robinson – 151, Davante Adams – 149, and Keenan Allen – 147).

In 2020, he set career highs in catches (105), receiving yards (1,416), and touchdowns (11), thanks to the electric Patrick Mahomes. As a result, Kelce remains one of the most secure investments in fantasy football. He now sits in the first round in most fantasy formats, inviting questions about building a winning team with a tight end as a foundation first player at 31 (He turns 32 in October).

Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders

Over the past two seasons, Waller scored 222.20 and 280.60 fantasy points in PPR leagues, leaving him 66.30 fantasy points behind Kelce over his past 32 games (2.07 fantasy per game). He finished last year one more target than Kelce while being a beast over his final five games (13/200/2, 7/75, 9/150/1, 5/112, and 9/117/1 – 26.48 fantasy points per game). He’ll enter the year at age 29 with a more favorable ADP (23.6). On the rise, but owning players after career seasons tends to lead to regression. An edge is an edge, but a fantasy owner still needs to build strength in his running backs and wide receivers.

Runner Up Prize

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

In 2018 (88/1,377/5) and 2019 (85/1,053/5), Kittle ranked third and second in tight scoring. His success over eight games (48/634/2) put him on a path for similar success. The 49ers’ offense has a much better wide receiver corps in 2021 than his best two years, but San Francisco may end up starting a running quarterback. The chance at lower passing attempts by the 49ers and a three-way split for targets brings in questions about his ceiling in 2021. With an early fourth-round ADP (37.9), Kittle gives a fantasy owner a better chance of developing the front of his roster at running back and wide receiver.

Fact or Fiction

Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons Kyle Pitts

Pitts comes to the NFL with immense talent, leading to the Falcons selecting him four overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. After dominating in touchdowns (12) and big plays (17.9) over his final eight games for Florida, Atlanta needs him to fill some of the void in the passing game after trading Julio Jones this spring. He looks dynamic with two successful seasons on his resume (54/649/5 and 43/770/12) over 21 games. His ADP (63) looks easier to digest in this format as a fantasy owner could add a second tight end of value a few rounds later for insurance. For me, he would only come into play when the wide receiver inventory slips below the 200 fantasy point range in PPR leagues.

Minor Nicks

T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Tigers

The Lions have Hockenson listed on their injury report in the latter third of August with a minor undisclosed injury). He had a progression season in 2020 (67/723/6 on 101 targets), but Hockenson failed to score over 17.00 fantasy points in any week in PPR leagues. However, a change at quarterback hasn’t slowed down his momentum in drafts (ADP – 66). Detroit has a questionable wide receiving corps, plus Jared Goff picked the pace in his tight end usage in 2019 (110/1,168/4) and 2020 (90/1,008/6). Compared to Kyle Pitts, Hockenson has an established season in the NFL to help evaluate his projected opportunity in 2021.

Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens

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Ravens Mark Andrews

Despite an increase in snaps in 2020 (58.1 percent – 41.2 in 2019), Andrews fell short of his breakthrough season (64/852/10) in 2019 in all areas (catches – 58, yards – 701, and touchdowns – 7). He did miss a pair of games while averaging 6.3 targets. Baltimore wants to rotate tight ends depending on game score and their position on the field. They don’t have an elite receiving corps while also being a high-volume run offense. Andrews has 200+ fantasy point upside while remaining the Ravens' top scoring threat in the passing game. He also had an undisclosed injury in late August that appears to be minor. Most fantasy owners debate Pitts, Hockenson, and Andrews in the sixth round in this format.

Philly Tight End Debate

Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles

In the 2020 fantasy draft season, Zach Ertz came off the board as the fourth tight end (ADP – 59) after five impressive seasons (78/853/2, 78/816/4, 74/824/8, 116/1,163/8, and 88/916/6). He averaged 9.4 targets over 31 games in 2019 and 2020.

After an injury-plagued season last year (36/335/1), Goedert gets the assumed TE1 role for the Eagles this season based on draft value (seventh tight end drafted). He played well as their TE2 in 2019 (58/607/5) while showing following through last year (46/524/3 over 11 games). However, even with success, Philly only looked his way 65 times (5.9 per game).

Philadelphia featured their tight end in their offense over the previous six seasons. A change at quarterback, coaching staff, and an expected heavy run offense does invite fewer passes. I don’t expect Ertz to go away without a fight. Goedert has the tools to push higher up the tight end rankings, but a 20 percent jump in targets would be a lot to ask.

On the Rise

Noah Fant, Denver Broncos

Despite making strides in his sophomore season (62/673/3 – 66.7 percent catch rate), Fant gained only 10.8 yards per catch (14.1 in 2019 and 13.9 in college). Last year, he finished eighth in tight end scoring, with the best results in three matchups (Week 1 – 5/81/1, Week 2 – 4/57/1, and Week 15 (8/68/1). In his other 12 starts, Fant scored fewer than 10.0 fantasy points in 10 games. The Broncos have two talented wide receivers, setting the stage for an improved all-around offense. In addition, he has a first-round pedigree (20th overall selected in 2019), pointing to further growth this year.

Touchdown Machine

Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers

Packers Robert Tonyan Fantasy Football

After receiving minimal chances in 2018 (4/77/1) and 2019 (10/100/1), Tonyan became a waiver wire gem last season. He finished with 52 catches for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging only 5.4 targets per game. Tonyan finished the year with a score in seven of his nine games. However, the Packers didn’t give him more than seven targets in any contest and five or fewer chances over the final 11 weeks.

In essence, Tonyan is a big wide receiver (6’5” and 235 lbs.) who can create mismatches. The Packers’ tight end coach gave him high praise in training camp in mid-August. Green Bay doesn’t have a clear-cut WR2, giving Tonyan a window to improve his output. Owning a productive piece of Aaron Rodgers tends to be a wise investment, and touchdowns lead to winning fantasy scores.

TE2 (Ranked 13th to 24th)

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Preseason Scare

Adam Trautman, New Orleans Saints

An injury to Michael Thomas created a possible improved window in targets for Trautman. The Saints gave him a minimal opportunity in his rookie season (15/171/1) after shining in 2019 at Dayton (70/916/14). He suffered a foot or ankle injury in the Saints preseason game against the Jaguars. The last report suggests that Trautman avoided a significant issue.

The Best Backup Tight Ends

Evan Engram, New York Giants

The second grouping of tight ends has some upside names, but I see more cloudiness than attraction. Engram stands out as a tight end with a proven resume. Over 50 career games, he caught 216 passes for 2,420 yards and 14 touchdowns or 4.3 catches for 48.4 yards and 0.28 touchdowns per game (10.82 fantasy points in PPR leagues). His career production paints him as a top seven tight end over the past three seasons. Engram projects as a value/cheat tight end while also making him an attractive TE2.

Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins

In his third season with the Dolphins, Gesicki set career-highs in catches (53), receiving yards (703), and touchdowns (6). Over his previous 31 games, he averaged 5.6 targets. Miami has a developing quarterback, and their overall receiver corps is much improved in 2021. A bump in targets looks minimal if all their wideouts stay healthy, but lengthier drives and a higher scoring rate points to more growth for Gesicki. He finished 12th and 7th in TE scoring over the past two years.

TE1 & TE2 ADP Final Thoughts

My goal is to find a tight end that has a chance to score 200-plus fantasy points, which entails about 70-plus catches for 850-plus yards and eight touchdowns. The need for depth at wide receiver will lead to viable tight end options sliding to a fair price in many drafts. With this in mind, I would try to take what the draft gives me to solve the tight end position.

The backend tight end inventory will move up and down with any injury update and team news. Therefore, a fantasy owner will need to pay close attention to the value of a targeted player. If you wait at the tight end position and miss on a player of interest, it will force you in another direction while possibly leaving you weaker than expected.

A fantasy owner must be aware that some owners like to double up at tight ends, making it tough to finesse the position if you wait too long. The free-agent inventory may have a couple of outs early in the season, but it will be challenging to find a steady option as the season moves on.

The rest of my insights on the tight end pool in 2021 can be found on each team’s outlook page.

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Senior analyst Shawn Childs is a multi-sport, high-stakes fantasy legend with lifetime earnings in the high six-figures. He has been providing in-depth, analytical break downs for years all while helping his subscribers to countless titles and winnings across season-long & DFS. An inaugural inductee of the NFBC Hall of Fame, Shawn can teach you how to prep like a champ!

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