What’s the easiest thing you can do to increase the odds of success for your fantasy football roster, no matter the type of roster you draft? Grab yourself a fine tight end. No, not that kind of grabbing; I don’t want you in jail. In most formats, fine tight ends are about as scarce as a workhorse receiving running back. Meet me after the jump and we’ll talk about some tight end options that you can target in your early drafts.
Fine Tight Ends
So, I was making my overall fantasy football rankings that I submitted to Fantasy Pros (see the first draft of my 2021 Fantasy Football Rankings), and one of the “features” that FP has is to show you where your rankings stand in comparison to the “expert consensus.” Now, my rankings are based on Rudy’s 2021 Fantasy Football Projections, although I valued the categories in a different way than he did. The result: I’m asking people to draft tight ends like Noah Fant and Evan Engram almost 60-80 places before their ADP. That got me asking: “Am I so wrong?” And like Principal Skinner from The Simpsons, I realized, “No, it’s the children who are wrong.” Let me explain why.
Chris Allen at 4For4 Football did a deep dive on win rates for tight ends in FFPC formats, which is tight end premium scoring. He found that almost all winning teams had one of the top 12 tight ends, and 50% of the winning teams had one of the “elite” options of Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and Mark Andrews. Of course, the two top options that bombed last year were Zach Ertz and George Kittle. Although Kittle lost most of the year to injury, Ertz was the “true” bust, who saw his target percentage cut nearly in half due to a floundering Eagles team. This information is a descriptive rather than proscriptive observation of tight ends: drafting a top tight end didn’t cause one to win the championship, but rather, the teams that won their leagues rostered these top tight ends. There are a ton of other players on a fantasy football team that contribute to success. However, given the “scarcity” of elite tight ends, we can see that it’s more effective and more efficient to draft fine tight ends than it is to go digging through the weeds to find your magic.
But do top tight ends contribute that much to success that you should be drafting them rounds early compared to their ADP? The answer is: the evidence says yes. The elite tight ends — like Travis Kelce and Darren Waller — have projected targets on par with top 15 wide receivers, like Adam Thielen and CeeDee Lamb. However, the “efficient frontier” of tight ends drops off precipitously after about TE8 — roughly the T.J. Hockenson / Logan Thomas range — where these last “fine” tight ends are projected for target shares more similar to the WR40 range, such as Will Fuller.
So, let’s do some reckoning math: in most standard fantasy football leagues, teams will draft about 3 starting WR each, so a 12-team league drafts 3 WR per team, for a total of 36 starting wide receivers. WR40 isn’t intended to start on your team in this kind of league, right? They are intended to be a bench player. Comparatively, TEs 8-12 are projected to get about the same amount of targets as wide receivers you would keep on your bench. By drafting one of these “lesser” tight ends, you’re following an inefficient mode of drafting: you could be taking all those bench WR as depth because their projections are all about the same. In Rudy’s rankings, WR39-WR54 are all projected for about the same score, with less than 0.5 points per game differentiating WR 39 from WR 54. In other words, there is no scarcity of usable wide receivers. However, TEs 8-12 are projected to score nearly 20-40% less than the top TEs. That’s quite the drop off, right?
Which Fine Tight End is Mine?
I’ll give you some of the Razzboi rankings for the finest tight ends, and you can decide which fine
behind ball-grabber utility blocker is right for you:
|Rudy||EverywhereBlair||The Joey Wright|
|TE1||Travis Kelce||Travis Kelce||Travis Kelce|
|TE2||Darren Waller||Darren Waller||George Kittle|
|TE3||George Kittle||George Kittle||Darren Waller|
|TE4||Mark Andrews||Noah Fant||Kyle Pitts|
|TE5||Noah Fant||Evan Engram||T.J. Hockenson|
|TE6||Kyle Pitts||Kyle Pitts||Mark Andrews|
|TE7||T.J. Hockenson||Mark Andrews||Dallas Goedert|
|TE8||Robert Tonyan Jr.||T.J. Hockenson||Noah Fant|
|TE9||Irv Smith Jr.||Logan Thomas||Irv Smith Jr.|
We’re still waiting for Donkey Teeth’s rankings, but the man is busy giving you dynasty content, so you’ll just have to deal with the other rankers for now. Obviously, the Travis Kelce / Darren Waller / George Kittle setup are the consensus finest tight ends. They are the most likely to return maximum value at the TE spot. You probably knew this and everybody in the world agrees: these guys are either the top receiving target on their team or at least the 1B to the 1A wide receiver.
If you don’t get one of the big three, you want to select a TE that will get targets and yards (this goes for WR, too). The TE 4-9 group will likely see 100+ targets, although they’ll have greater variance in their usage because they are not the primary (or 1A/1B) receiver for their team. If you’re in a weekly head-to-head league, you’ll likely want somebody like Mark Andrews or Kyle Pitts for the least amount of drama in your team. If you’re in best ball, you can easily get a combo of Noah Fant, Evan Engram, and/or T.J. Hockenson because their ADP is so low. All of these guys have the potential to be the primary pass catcher on their team for significant stretches of the season, and they have the highest potential to reach the coveted TE 1-3 group by year’s end.
As you go through draft season, you’ll want to diversify your exposure to these tight ends, so get a few of each of the TE 4-9 group. If you’re just in a friends and family league, do your best to get Travis Kelce or Darren Waller and have fun.
Grab a fine tight end! All the good teams are doing it. There are a ton of good wide receivers late in the draft, and not many upside tight ends. By taking a fine tight end sometime before round 6 — and preferably round 4 — you’re preventing yourself from making a desperation move later in the draft by grabbing a dumpy tight end that’s buried in the depth charts. No matter who you choose, you want a TE that will receive targets and gather yards for maximum upside.
What are your thoughts on the finest tight ends? Drop your opinions in the comments and let us know your thoughts!