Hopefully you are still playing at this point in the season. If you are, best of luck! Let’s go get those ‘ship! Whether your trophy is more of a dingy or a yacht, go get that boat!
This will be the last TE rankings post of the season, so, if you don’t listen to the podcast, I wish you a Happy Holiday season.
There’s not much left to do in the way of 2020 ROS rankings, so, let’s ask Doc Brown to fire the DeLorean up to 88 and look ahead to 2021 TE rankings. As it is an early list, wanted to note that I tended to lean on the cautious side for free agents and didn’t rank them too highly. Tight ends are more situationally dependent than maybe any other position in our game, so, where they end up can vastly alter their value.
The midnight ball drop and a fresh slate in a new year. Why does it happen on the arbitrary date that is January 1 rather than some other date? Stop overthinking it. It’s a New Year. Speaking of, what in the actual hell is anyone supposed to be doing for NYE?
The TEs worth taking early on in your 2021 drafts. Each of them can put up 15 points a game for your team and none of them should be going anywhere.
- Travis Kelce will turn that dangerous TE drop off age of 32 during the 2021 season. While the mid-season birthday gives some leeway, there has been only one TE to ever post a 1000 yard season in their age 32 season (Tony Gonzalez). With that in mind, I did consider dropping Kelce behind the other elite options, but I can’t bring myself to put him lower than 1 as he’s on pace to break the single season yardage record at the position. Kelce has 5 years left on his deal, but the Chiefs have an option in his contract after next season to get out of his deal for free at any point. So, while I have Kelce as my #1 TE in redraft for 2021, if you’re in a rebuild phase in your keeper/dynasty leagues, I think this offseason is likely your time to move him.
- George Kittle’s time for the #1 TE spot is coming, but it’s not here yet. The talent is obvious and I’m not willing to say he’s injury prone after one bad season (especially since that season is 2020). The biggest question for Kittle entering 2021 will be his QB. Will it be Jimmy G (probably not as the 49s can cut him for under $3 mill or pay him $26.4 mill)? A rookie? Some traveling FA QB? I’ve even seen Carson Wentz’s name thrown in that bucket (by a complete idiot, but it’s been mentioned nonetheless). Kittle is under contract for 5 more years in San Francisco, and while the team has an out after 2022, I can’t see him going anywhere.
- Waller flirted with the elite tier for redraft tiering purposes all season, but ultimately, it’s all about Travis Kelce this year. However, a 200+ point season from the TE position is nothing to scoff at and he’s earned his spot among the top guys. He’s under contract for 3 more seasons. While the Raiders could cut him at any point because he has no dead cap on his deal, I don’t expect him to leave. How they got Waller to agree to a deal with no dead cap? Your guess is as good as mine, but maybe it has something to do with his checkered past. Regardless, I’d be happy to grab Waller as my TE1 next year.
The Week Between Xmas and NYE With No Work
If you’re at work, hopefully it’s slow, and with no vacation, many of us are likely putting 0 hours on the clock over the transition week. Especially with the calendar lining up so nicely to get Thursday and Friday off leading into the weekend. Remember when 2020 was going to be awesome because the calendar lined up perfectly for every holiday. HAHAHAHA…that was fun!
Back to the tight end position, looking at it here in week 15, I wouldn’t mind having any of these guys as my TE1 if I didn’t want to pay up for the top options.
- Hockenson had the targets and snaps all year. He was as consistent as anyone at TE with only 3 true dud games to this point. He may deserve his own tier between this one and the elites, but this is one where being at the top of the tier matters. So, if he deserves that separation, why not put him in the elite tier? Well, he lacks some amount of true upside. He only has one game on the year over 70 yards (5 for 89 against the Texans). He also didn’t have any multi-TD games, but that’s a pretty fluky event anyway. For dynasty, I would likely go ahead and give him the bump up to the top tier.
- Dallas Goedert was a tight end 1 when he was on the field in 2020. His current pace over 16 games would’ve been 69 receptions (nice), 795 yards, and 5 TDs. BTW, that’s 14 yards, 2 receptions, and 2 TDs off of Hockenson’s current 16 game pace. With the Eagles having an out in Zach Ertz contract after this year, we could be looking at a situation where Goedert steps into one of the most TE friendly offenses by himself next year.
- Mike Gesicki is a physical freak (even by NFL TE standards). He’ll have the same QB end this year and play all of next year (barring injury). Tua and Mike have gotten on the same page in the last couple games with 17 targets, 14 receptions, 153 yards, and 3 TDs. Assuming he finishes this year in a similar manner, he’s starting to look like the TE I thought we were going to get this year. Even this year, he’s on pace for 54 receptions, 741 yards, and 7 TDs, which aren’t bad numbers, but it was extremely hit and miss early followed by a lot of just, miss, in the middle of the season.
- Mark Andrews is 2nd on the Ravens in targets even missing 2 games. Unfortunately, the Ravens/Lamar Jackson haven’t shown the same pass efficiency he did last year. What that meant for Andrews is he became a more TD dependent option at a position dominated by TD dependent options. The good news, Andrews is the 1A/1B in the passing offense with Marquise Brown averaging just .15 less targets per game than the WR. He’s under contract for one more year on his rookie deal, so, his role should be in tact for 2021.
- Evan Engram looked a little sluggish out of the gate this year, but has looked more like himself in the 2nd half, coinciding with the Giants usage of Engram increasing. The Giants have made a concerted effort to get the talented TE involved and he’s been a top 10 TE the 2nd half of the season.
- Noah Fant is another athletic freak at the TE position. He started the season hot with consecutive weeks with TDs, but hasn’t had one since then. Being on the 4th lowest scoring offense with a banged up QB isn’t exactly helping his cause either. However, I’m keeping the faith because I believe in the skills. Whether it’s Drew Lock or somebody else leading the team next year, Fant will have a role in the offense. He is tied for 2nd on the team in targets behind only Jerry Jeudy, and offensive coordinator, Pat Schurmur’s system is one that has proven to be TE friendly.
- Hunter Henry will be the top TE on the free agent market this off-season. Of course, there’s a chance that the Chargers franchise tag Hunter, which is protected to be just under $10 million for ’21. Over the 2nd half of the games played to this point, Henry has been a top 10 TE. Despite only 4 TDs on the season, he’s tied for 5th in red zone targets. If I had to guess, it’s more than a 50% chance he’s back with the Chargers either on the tag or getting a new deal to play alongside their new franchise QB.
- The 29 year old break out doesn’t happen often, and even less often, does it then repeat. He’s always been the back up or 3rd string TE, and has shined this year when he was finally given a chance. Well, he’s shined as much as one can in the WFT offense. Only 3 players on the WFT offense have more than 40 targets on the year, Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas, and JD McKissic. We don’t know who will be starting at QB for the Washington team next season and Logan has a team opt out in his contract after this season. The opt out would drop his $3.6 million salary to the $1.1 million they’d pay against the dead cap. I wouldn’t expect them to cut Thomas, but the uncertainty about the QB plus that opt out is enough to drop him outside the top 10 in my initial 2021 rankings.
- Dalton Schultz took over after Blake Jarwin went down in week 1 and I actually prefer what I saw from Schultz this year to the tape we have on Blake Jarwin. Jarwin may be a little more explosive in the open field, but that may be the only area I’d give him the leg up. One also has to believe that Schultz has earned his spot on the field after this season. As of now, it sounds like the Cowboys are expected to franchise tag Dak if they can’t work out a deal, so, we can likely get rid of that concern at least.
- Other than a 4 week stretch from games 6 to 9, Hurst has been a roller coaster ride, along with the rest of the Falcons offense. Following said 4 game stretch was when the Falcons O collapsed in on itself, so, I’m extrapolating a bit here to say the offense rebounds somewhat in 2021. The TE position has been one that has performed positively under Matt Ryan when the offense is strong, which I know, sounds a lot like what you heard coming into this year. The difference, he now has a full season working with Matt Ryan and a Dirk Koetter firing is likely to benefit everyone. There is some risk that Hurst could be cut as he has no dead cap on his contract for next season, but he’s only due $1.9 million, so I’d expect he’s back.
- Robert Tonyan came out of nowhere and is now the 4th highest scoring TE on the season. He’s given Rodgers a consistent 2nd target with Allen Lazard injured for multiple weeks and Rodgers on and off again relationship with MVS. I was ready to put Tonyan up into the tier above, but he’s a restricted free agent entering the 2021 season. They have first rights to put a qualifying offer on the TE, but that’s not a certainty he ends up as a Packer.
- Eric Ebron has been a consistent target getter in the Steelers offense all season, even if the fantasy production hasn’t always followed. He had 1 TD in the first 7 weeks and 3 scores since then. JuJu is an UFA after this season, which could lead to an upgraded role next year. A couple of concerns for Ebron, first, Ben Roethlisberger could just call it quits. He’s hinted at it already in the past and it may depend how the Steelers playoff run goes. Second, Ebron has a team opt out in his deal after this year that would drop his $8.5 million salary to only the $2.5 million dead cap number.
- Austin Hooper was the big TE free agent signing of 2020, and it hasn’t quite worked out as expected. In weeks 4-6, Hooper looked like he was getting on track right, which of course, happened right before he got injured. There are many rumors that OBJ has played his last game in Cleveland. OBJ’s injury clause means that he’s not a free cut for the Browns, but it is less than his current salary due, or they won’t have to worry about any of that if they can find a trade partner. If OBJ is gone, it could open an easier path to targets for Hooper on the 2021 Browns .
It Could Be Worse
|21||Irv Smith Jr.||32.2||47.2||15||182||2||23|
- The best thing going for Tyler Higbee entering 2021, Gerald Everett is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. After Higbee dominated the end of the 2019 season, some had him pegged as the next great thing at the TE position. Well, he went back to splitting work with Everett in 2020 and both became inconsistent fantasy options. In those last 5 games of 2019, Higbee had 522 yards, which is more than he’s on pace for over the course of this full 16 game season. If Higbee takes sole command of the receiving work for the Rams, that would be interesting. I will say, Higbee has an opt out in his contract after this year as well where his dead cap would be $2.5 million rather than the $8.5 million he’s due.
- After the Bears took Kmet in the 2nd round this year, he played 2nd fiddle to Jimmy Graham as he learned the ropes this year. The last 4 weeks, Kmet has surpassed Jimmy Graham in snap count and in the last 2 weeks, Kmet has 7 targets in both games. Cole Kmet seems to be the future at TE for the Bears, but that still leaves a lot of questions for the young TE entering 2021. Big questions, like, who will play QB and who will be the coach? While I’m cautiously optimistic about Kmet, there’s just too much unknown to throw him much higher.
- I know that Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. have essentially negated their respective fantasy value in 2020, but there is some hope for ’21. Mainly that Kyle Rudolph could be gone. While Kyle is under contract, he’s due $9.5 million in 2021 while he can be cut and his dead cap number is only $4.3 million. We’ve only seen brief glimpses into what Irv can bring, but I have him in basically the same athletic tier as guys like Evan Engram and Noah Fant.
- Rob Gronkowski could just retire after this year. He’s already done it once and we’ll have to see how he feels. If he comes back, it’d be hard to see him going anywhere other than back with TB12. The Bucs and TB12 have been inconsistent, but not without upside. Gronk will be 32 entering next year, and as discussed with Kelce, that’s a bit of an age marker for TEs.
- Full disclosure, I wasn’t much of a Jonnu Smith fan entering the season. I see him as a system TE that has to be schemed open rather than being able to win 1 on 1 matches. Well, I stand by my statement and also acknowledge I was wrong on Jonnu’s fantasy value. If I’m willing to admit I was wrong about it this year, why so low for next season? Well, Jonnu is an unrestricted free agent, so he could be in a completely different scenario entering ’21. The salary cap figures can always be moved around, but the Titans are fairly low on cap space with just south of $4 million available.
- If Gronk does retire again after this season, it will be back to Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard at TE for the Bucs. Both are under contract in 2021, but both also have no dead cap to protect them from being cut. Additionally, there’s also the idea that TB12 himself could retire. All of that mystery and I’ll let this situation shake out before I commit to bumping either of the Bucs TE any higher.
- At one point it looked like MAC was becoming the primary TE in the Indianapolis offense, that didn’t happen over the long run and the Colts continue running out a 3 headed attack at TE. MAC is a restricted free agent, which allows the Colts to make a qualifying offer on him if they want. I was impressed by what we saw from MAC in his brief time as the primary TE and I’d be at least somewhat interested in him depending on his landing spot.
- A.J. Green is an unrestricted free agent and it’s hard to see him re-signing back with the Bengals. It’s clear that Boyd and Higgins are the future at WR for the Joe Burrow Bengals. Drew Sample was a clear 4th receiving option this season behind the big 3 WRs. With AJG likely out of the picture in ’21, I think Sample could move up into a more prominent role. I don’t view Sample as a special TE from a skill or athleticism perspective, but he can get the job done.
- Remember how I said the drop off at TE was 32, well, it may have come a couple years early for Zach Ertz. Ertz did not look like the previous, good, version of himself this year. He was sluggish and it didn’t help that every Philly pass catcher got injured leaving him out there facing double coverage. Zach Ertz has an opt out in his deal after this season where the Eagles could save about $5 million on his $12.5 million salary. With the regression we saw from Ertz, I’m not overly excited about his prospects leaving the Eagles offense.
- We’ve reached the point in the list I just threw 2 of my guys in to see if anyone would notice. I truly believe Chris Herndon could be an effective TE if he wasn’t on the sh** show that is the NYJ. I mean, COME ON! He got the first target of the game last week and then didn’t get another one the entire rest of the time.
- Kahale Warring was my last round flyer all over this year. I thought he was going to take over the Houston TE position. He’s a former multi-sport athlete that I thought would be part of the Texans plan to replace DHop with 4 other guys. Well, Kahale got hurt early on, again, and hasn’t been given much of a chance. He was activated 3 weeks ago, so, I’m hoping they find some excuses to work him in the rest of the way out because Jordan Akins and Darren Fells ain’t it.
- As previously discussed, Gerald Everett will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. I like Everett as a solid TE option that could be good in the right system, but not one that will likely be able to overcome an offense that is less TE friendly. Worth monitoring to see where he ends up, but not exciting.
- Trey Burton has taken over as the lead TE in the 3 way that the Colts have used at TE this season. I’d have him higher on the list if he was staying with the Colts, but he will go back in to free agency after this year. It’s possible the Colts bring him back with MAC on the way out too, and that would likely be one of the best cases for Burton.
The Rest of the Story
- Jimmy Graham has an opt out that the Bears can trigger following the season to get rid of his $10 million salary in favor of just $3 million in dead cap. Couple that with the rise of Cole Kmet and it’s pretty safe to say that Jimmy G will not be in Chicago next year. If he wants to play, he’ll likely sign on somewhere, but he may no longer be considered a primary TE option for teams moving forward.
- Jared Cook will enter the ’21 season as a free agent at 34 years old. It’s looking as though Drew Brees may not be back either, which changes the offense around completely and makes it more unlikely that he’s back with the Saints in my opinion. The Saints are WAY over the cap number already for next year, so, we’ll wait and see if and where Cook lands. I was never a fan of Jared Cook, but he’s found himself in a couple of beneficial situations to wrap up his career, which may land him one more deal.
- I mentioned old catch and fall Kyle Rudolph’s contract when I discussed Irv Smith Jr. above. Rudolph is a decent real life NFL TE that can do a little bit of everything, but a less than explosive TE entering his age 32 season isn’t something I want to be chasing.
- Will Dissly is the only TE on the Seahawks roster currently that is signed for 2021. Both Hollister and Olsen will be free agents, and there are worse situations for a TE to be in than catching balls from Russell Wilson with no clear competition (at this point).
- Like Dissly, Doyle is the one TE on the Colts offense that is due back in ’21. The offense could be significantly different with Rivers, Hilton, Burton, and MAC all set to hit free agency.
- Blake Jarwin is under contract with the Cowboys next season, but he may have lost his primary TE duties to Dalton Schultz. I wasn’t a big Jarwin supporter, so, he’ll have to earn his spot back before I buy back in, even on a utilization perspective.
- Anthony Firkser is set to take over as the Titans TE. We’ve seen Firkser do alright when Jonnu has been absent from the lineup, and he could step in to take over the somewhat TD dependent TE role in Tennessee.
- Harrison Bryant has developed into a 2nd TE option for the Browns. While I expect Austin Hooper to maintain his primary TE role, one could see the Browns moving to a more 2 TE approach in 2021, especially if OBJ is heading out of town.
- Albert O showed a brief glimpse of upside when given the opportunity, but he also suffered an ACL injury, which is likely to cost him some of next season. I still envision this as Noah Fant’s job, but there is a world where both TEs could be useful in a prime Ertz/Goedert type of manner.
To provide a glimpse into 2021, there are a few rookies to keep your eye on. I’ve started my 2021 rookie film review, but have not gone into full depth yet, so, I reserve the right to make some adjustments, but wanted to let you know what I’ve seen so far. Rookie tight ends are not typically difference makers at the position, but these 3 are worth monitoring. This is one of the best TE classes, especially among the top 3, that we’ve seen.
Kyle Pitts – 6’6″ 240 lbs. – Pitts is an elite TE prospect that has everything you want from a pass catching TE. He is quick enough to make real cuts in his routes and has the long speed to get deep on defenders or take one to the house. He’s got strong hands that he can use to go up over a defender, reach outside his body for a ball, or go down and grab one off the turf. His blocking is a bit suspect. He can give a chip block or a strong shove to move a defender, but doesn’t engage well.
Brevin Jordan – 6’3″ 245 lbs. – Similar terrific athleticism to Kyle Pitts, but less polished. His routes aren’t as crisp as he’s more of the rounded route runner that you more typically see at the TE position. Hands are a benefit, but prefers the body catch and isn’t as strong outside his frame receiving the ball as Pitts.
Pat Freiermuth – 6’5″ 260 lbs. – More polished in recognition and deception than the other 2 TEs I’ve listed, and a much better blocker, but also, slightly less athletic. I could see him being the most well rounded of these 3 for real NFL purposes, but prefer the other 2 right now