It's draft season and that means you are scrambling to collect every shred of information in order to make the 15 most important decisions of your life. 15 choices provide the foundation of your self-worth for an entire year. 15 choices determine whether your significant other will leave you OR tolerate your addiction for another season. Every draft pick counts. But have no fear. I have assembled the most perfect tiered fantasy rankings that you will ever see in your entire life. These tiers are derived from a projection model that implements all the necessary factors of fantasy evaluation: Coaching Tendencies, Career Efficiency Data, Injury Risk, Strength of Schedule, Calf & Thigh Girth, and Astronomical Analysis. Behold, the 100% accurate 2020 Tight End Tiers.
There's only been one tight end to finish at the top of his position four seasons in a row. One.
George Kittle may be the most complete tight end in football (and the highest paid), but his range of outcomes is less trustworthy than Kelce due to his responsibilities as a blocker and San Francisco's commitment to the run game. Very excited to see how he matches up with Jamal Adams and Isaiah Simmons. The NFC West is going to continue to be high-quality TV. He's been a low TD scorer through the first few years of his career (2, 5, 5), but so was Kelce (5, 5, 4). Look for Kittle to make a positive regression in the endzone department due to a rich target share opportunity.
Kittle carries an underappreciated injury risk following last season, where he sustained an avulsion fracture in the ankle and a torn labrum in his shoulder. He's tough as nails and has likely recovered from the ankle injury, but the shoulder, which he did not have surgery on, presents as a yellow flag. The labrum helps provide stability for the shoulder joint and could be an issue down the road if he's unable to properly compensate. I obviously haven't read the MRI report, but this particular injury is more noteworthy because of the jarring contact he'll be taking over the duration of the season while blocking. If Kittle starts having issues with dislocation, then he'll be a candidate for season-ending surgery.
Oddly enough, there's a sect of Twitter that continues to doubt Darren Waller following his breakout season. There's no viable reason to dislike the guy. Adding weapons will help him in the same way that Tyreek/Mecole/Sammy help Kelce. Waller crossed a significant threshold when he passed the 1k yardage mark last season, I don't care if it may have been related to a lack of other options. New options will create more total passing volume and he'll stay on the field due to the scheme flexibility he offers.
Waller is appropriately priced according to his positional rank, but people often view him as less than elite. If he falls too far, locking up a top 5 asset at a shallow position might be too good to pass up.
At this time of year, my injury risk optimism is at an all-time high. First of all, the greatest tight end to ever play the game has reunited with the greatest quarterback ever. He's 31 years old. The same age as Travis Kelce. I'm not worried about OJ Howard. I'm not worried about Peter King. When Rob Gronkowski is healthy and on the field, I expect him to be the same hilariously destructive sledgehammer he was in the past. Last season, with Howard and Brate, the Bucs ran the 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE) at the 7th highest percentage in the league. Despite the narrative that Arians doesn't use the tight end, there's certainly a base-layer infrastructure for Gronk and Howard to get plenty of reps, and I expect the well-rested and refreshed WWE Champion to return to form. Possibly better than ever.
Gronk's current ADP allows for one of my favorite draft day strategies this season. In Round 7, you can grab Elite PPG upside at a position lacking true difference makers and pair him with any of the TEs in the tier right underneath this group (most of whom are available in Rounds 12-14). We may only get 11-12 games of Gronk, but the injury risk is easily covered with a Jonnu Smith/Blake Jarwin/Chris Herndon caliber player.
The same exact strategy applies to uber-talented Giants TE Evan Engram. Although Engram has never played a full 16 games, his PPG value has always been TE1 worthy (2017-2019 PPG Rank: TE4, TE7, TE7) and that shouldn't change this season with the Giants returning the same receiving corps from 2019. Young QBs often rely on their TEs to keep the ball moving and without a true alpha for Daniel Jones to rely on, I've projected Engram with a 22% target share, 80 receptions, 852 yards and 6 TDs. For both Gronk and Engram, the injury value is already cooked into the ADP. If I'm satisfied with my team after starting the draft by taking six straight RBs, I'll make sure to grab one of these elite playmakers who also invaluable in establishing the run.
Usable Starter Tier
If I'm not able to grab one of the top 7 TEs, I'm making sure to get at least two from this tier. Even if I were able to grab one of the Elite TEs, I'd still be grabbing one of these guys. The ADP depth of this crop basically spans the entire draft from the 8th round to the 17th. There's no reason to walk away from a draft without a nice double TE stack.
Although I'm pretty loose with the specific ranks across this cohort, I'm a particularly big fan of Jonnu Smith this season. We know that efficiency begets volume, and after posting the 6th best tight end Points Per Opportunity over the last 3 seasons, I'm projecting a significant volume bump. Titans OC Art Smith is the former Tennessee tight ends coach and has worked with Jonnu first hand. More importantly, he's seen Delanie Walker thrive in a featured role. Five of the top seven fantasy tight ends belong to receiving corps without a fantasy WR1. The best options at TE frequently come from shallow pass catching groups. No one behind AJ Brown is inspiring and the game scripts may regress a bit, forcing the Titans to throw more. Jonnu will have an opportunity to become the next Delanie Walker. Last season was a fun preview with Jonnu grabbing one-handed snags and banging out 50 yd rushes from the tailback position. I've projected a near-doubling of his targets, moving from 44 last season to 80 in 2020. If that he can carry some of his efficiency and prowess after the catch (2nd best YAC per catch in the NFL) with him, he'll return amazing value on draft day. Because I see little separation in this tier, I recommend taking each player close to their ADP. There's no reason to force anything when 11 players all carry similar risk/reward. I'm waiting on Jonnu, taking him a round ahead of current Round 14 ADP and making sure to pair him with another TE.
Jack Doyle and Jared Cook provide exciting draft day value because they are boring picks. No one wants reliable veterans paired with quarterbacks who have a history of dominating with a dependable tight end. They want the next big thing, they'd rather roll the dice on projecting the next breakout (like Jonnu Smith). Both of these vets are near TE1 locks in my book, providing middle of the field outlets to Pro Bowl passers who know how to use them. Even if Drew Brees and Philip Rivers' arms fall off, Phil will still be able to use his bread-loaf throwing motion to get Doyle the ball 6 yards down field on 3rd & 10. And although we didn't get to see a full season of Brees and Cook together, their connection will continue to be highly valuable in relation to Sean Payton's game plan.
The rest of the cohort is chock full of explosive athletes ready to take the next step. Most of them will have significant competition for targets. So while I can appreciate the upside for the rest of the group, I think it's necessary that fantasy owners platoon the players in this tier. It costs nothing. While your Zero RB leaguemates are caught in the very tough decision-making process of choosing between Alexander Mattison or Darrell Henderson as their RB2, you can easily go back-to-back with any two TEs in this category and have a very realistic shot at landing a legit fantasy starter. Being a backend TE1 is not hard, just need to see a bit of volume and land some nice TD luck.
Jets TE Chris Herndon sticks out to me for the same reason I like Jonnu Smith. That whole team is going to be absolute trash this year, but we like athletic weapons in ambiguous receiving groups. Herndon fits the bill. I'm making sure to grab Darnold's middle of the field weapons.
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Hayden Hurst is going to hit. Mostly because he has #ArrogantHands. Matt Ryan and the Falcons made Austin Hooper, not the other way around. Hurst should fill those desirable might-be-a-top-5-TE shoes just fine.
While I like TJ Hockenson as a sleeper, his ADP has significantly outsized where I want to be taking him. Most of that price is a derivative of his status as a top 10 NFL draft pick. A quick look at the game logs will tell you, he only had one good game last season. In Week 1, he torched the Arizona Cardinals for his coming out party, and had you standing on your couch calling him the next George Kittle. He then proceeded to throw up 11 useless fantasy games, struggling with injury down the stretch. The Arizona Cardinals, however, proceeded to give up absolutely absurd points to the TE as an auto-smash matchup allowing players like Ross Dwelley and Ricky Seals-Jones to plunder the scoreboard. So although I like Hock as a draft prospect, I'd like to see some productivity before paying that draft capital markup for a Stafford TE.
FFA's Jason Sarney (@OrangeAquaman) dropped an awesome outlook vid highlighting why he thinks Gesicki is the next big TE breakout
Dart Throw Depth Tier
Committee tight ends aren't really my thing. Dallas Goedert's production matched his talent last season when he finished as the 10th best TE, but I wouldn't be surprised to see his volume dip in his 3rd year now that the Eagles have focused on getting real outside weapons for Wentz. I loved him as a prospect, but hated the idea that he had to share the field with Ertz. He falls into this true fantasy backup group.
I love Eric Ebron's potential as a sleeper. His confidence has grown a lot as a player and I like the Pittsburgh system fit. He might be the most physically gifted tight end that QB Ben Roethlisberger has played with. The presence of Vance McDonald and questions about Big Ben's elbow do enough to keep him as just a sleeper for me, but I think the upside is definitely worth a play.
As with Goedert, I expect veteran incumbent Kyle Rudolph to be a nuisance to Minnesota TE Irv Smith's upside. Love the individual talent, but Irv will likely be fighting for 3rd option passing looks on a team that only threw 444 times last season. While that number should adjust upward into the low 500s, expecting Irv to take over completely is too much of a reach in the eyes of my model.
Backups to Your Backup Tier
I do not think it is dishonorable to like both Gronk and OJ Howard. OJ was one of the worst non-injury fantasy busts of all-time last season with a TE5 ADP and an embarrassing TE29 finish. In order to get excited after that vanishing act you have to be anticipating a massive bump in OJ's confidence and overall development. Brady can do it. There's no shot at a Gronk/Hernandez type fantasy season with the presence of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but he's worth a cheap bet if you're soft on Gronk's prospective health.
I honestly have no idea what to do with Gerald Everett or Tyler Higbee. After selecting him in the 2nd round ahead of Cooper Kupp, it was clear that Sean McVay had plans to mold Everett into a Jordan Reed-type player. Now, it's a mess. Take a gamble on Everett's discount and he'll likely outperform his cost as your TE3.
Perfect PPR Tiers for the Top 25 Tight Ends
Trust the stars. Win your league.