Fantasy Football 101: Tight End Strategies

Having a dominant tight end may carry more of an advantage than any other position in fantasy football. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a look at the difference in PPR points between the best at their position to the end of the first tier of players in 2020.

PositionPlayersPoints per game (1/12)Point Differential
QuarterbackJosh Allen / Matt Ryan25.3 / 18.37.0
Running BackAlvin Kamara / Mike Davis25.2 / 13.811.4
Wide ReceiverDevante Adams / A.J. Brown25.6 / 7.78.3
Tight EndTravis Kelce / Hunter Henry20.9 / 10.410.5

Looking at the difference in average PPR points from the overall best player their position and 12th best, it seems like Alvin Kamara or the running back position is more valuable than the tight end position. However, the drop-off from Kamara to the 3rd best running back is 4.4 points per game, while the drop-off from Kelce to the 3rd best tight end is 9.9 points per game!

Having a top-three player at your position is supposed to be a bragging right among your peers, but for the tight end position, it was the top two and everyone else. From the TE3 last year (Robert Tonyan) to the TE12 (Hunter Henry) was 0.6 points per game. Now, Henry missed 2 games so Tonyan put up more points total, but the advantage of a healthy tight end outside of the elite players at the position is almost negligible. Why draft a tight end in the middle rounds if you can pick up someone off the waiver wire and just stream the position? Let’s check out who you should be reaching for in your drafts early and often.

Travis Kelce:

Travis Kelce has finished as the best tight end in fantasy since 2016. That is five straight years of pure dominance, and he’s only gotten better with age. Entering his age 32 season, there is little to be concerned about with Kelce’s overall production. Last year was the most productive one of his career, and not much has changed on the Chiefs’ offense to make you think otherwise.

Below is a list of tight ends who have posted at least 80 catches and 1000 receiving yards for five consecutive years in NFL history:

  • Travis Kelce (2016 – 2020)

That’s the end of the list. Nobody else in today’s game can match his upside at the position until he shows signs of slowing down, which won’t be in 2021. Playing him in your lineup gives you almost a 10 point advantage at the position compared to anyone else in your league, and there’s no other position in fantasy that you can say that about. After the first few running backs go off the board I’m okay with grabbing him at pick 1.06.

Darren Waller:

Darren Waller was on quite a few championship rosters in 2020 because of the value he became. While he didn’t outscore Travis Kelce, he was far and away the second best tight end in the league last year and you could draft him 4 rounds later. Unfortunately, the cat is out of the bag and everyone is aware of how good Waller can be.

In 2019 he enjoyed a break-out year with 90 receptions for 1,145 yards. A player with that kind of production should have been drafted much higher the following year, but the problem was his lack of touchdowns. In 2019, he only found the end zone three times. This increased to nine touchdowns in 2020 thanks to the second-most red-zone targets only behind Davante Adams.

While I don’t think there is much room for his per-game production to increase, Waller still offers an advantage over most of your matchups. Even if the Raiders decide to spread the ball around more to their wide receivers, this does not change the fact that the wide receiver room as a whole is unproven. With the game on the line or a first down needs to be picked up, Waller is the most reliable option they have. The Raiders defense made marginal improvements in the off-season and will still need to pass heavily the ball to stay in the game. Enter Darren Waller.

George Kittle:

Arguably, George Kittle is the best tight end in the NFL due to his ability as a receiving weapon and being such a vicious blocker. After an injury-packed 2020 season, he is almost being disrespected. He is still going off the board as the TE3, but it feels like he is being treated as damaged goods in my opinion.

The truth is that he is only entering his age 28 season and still has several years of dominance ahead of him. He is as explosive as ever and averaged 13.2 yards per reception in 2020. In 2019, Kittle had 602 yards after the catch which was good enough for third in the entire league. He also did this in only 14 games. In 2018 he led the entire league in yards after the catch.

What Kittle has going potentially against him that the other tight ends don’t is the looming change at the quarterback position. The truth is that there is no guarantee he is more productive just because he plays with a more talented quarterback. The 49ers are one of the league’s most run-heavy teams, and if Trey lance uses his legs more often than Jimmy Garoppolo did, this may mean that are fewer targets to go around with newly established wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.

The lack of potential targets is not meant to scare you off drafting Kittle, to me, this is just more of a separator from the top two tight ends. Kittle’s ability after the catch in one of the league’s most exciting offenses is still enough to get me excited on draft day. Ultimately, Kittle is still their most talented pass catcher and he will receive more volume than most.

Plan B:

You’re starring at your draft board, and the top three tight ends have already been selected. This doesn’t mean you need to punt the position as a whole, but don’t reach for any either. The next few tight ends are generally some order of Kyle Pitts, Mark Andrews, and T.J. Hockenson.

I do like all of these players, however I would not be the person to start a run on these tight ends. Let others in your draft panic about needing to fill a roster spot and taking any of these guys ahead of their consensus ADP. Remember, you read earlier that in 2020, the difference from TE3 to TE12 was almost none, so why reach the position when you can wait until near the end of your draft? It’s not that I’m not going to end up with any of these guys on my roster, but I would rather draft other players that fall down the board because tight ends are being reached for.

If you miss out on one of the better tight ends in your draft, the best-case scenario is that your team will be stacked at other positions and there is an opportunity to acquire better depth. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? What you need to do is look for these players later on.

Logan Thomas:

Logan Thomas is not a household name. When you draft him, you may get a few odd looks, but don’t worry, you know what you’re doing. The Washington Football Team did add to their receiving room, but they also added the YOLO arm of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Thomas was extended this offseason, which tells me they plan on keeping him as a focal point of their offense.

Tyler Higbee:

Tyler Higbee had a rough 2020 season after expectations were raised due to his scorching hot finish to 2019. Unfortunately for fantasy managers, Gerald Everett returned healthily and the rams also drafted Brycen Hopkins. Combined with some poor play from Jared Goff, Higbee didn’t stand much of a chance.

Entering the 2021 season his biggest competition, Gerald Everett, now plays for another NFC west rival and the quarterback play should take a massive step forward with Matthew Stafford. Higbee is free and will allow you to acquire more depth elsewhere while finding an impact player.

Jonnu Smith:

The Patriots uncharacteristically spent a ton of money in free agency. One of their biggest moves was bringing in Jonnu Smith on a 4 year 50 million dollar deal. To me, this is a simple case of following the money. Even though the Patriots also brought in Hunter Henry, I believe Jonnu is a better talent.

The rest of the receiving core will not exactly keep defensive coordinators up at night. What they will be worried about is how the patriots will scheme touches up for Jonnu while trying to get him in space and let him do what he does best. With a lack of proven receivers, I like Jonnu’s chances to lead his team in targets.

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