Fantasy Football Tight End is like the beef brisket of fantasy positions. It’s not an exciting cut of meat. It’s not a particularly tasty cut of meat. But you can get it cheap and if you cook it slow and season it properly, your friends will think you’re a genius. Of course you need to know what you’re doing. Not just anyone can land a delicious piece of meat like Darren Waller in the 14th round. Just as some novice chefs are better off playing it safe and paying up for the prime rib, some fantasy managers are better ponying up for the peace of mind that comes along with a Travis Kelce. This is a the dilemma each fantasy chef must weigh for themselves. How confident are you in your slow cooking abilities? Anyway, here’s my top 10 tight ends for 2021 fantasy football:
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*Note: These rankings are geared toward half PPR scoring. Projections provided in this season’s rankings are NOT my own, they come from Rudy Gamble’s World Renowned 2021 Fantasy Football Projections. These preseason projections are available free of charge, while Rudy’s in season weekly projection subscription is currently available until July 31st at an early bird discounted price of only $17.99 for the entire season! These are the same weekly projections which have won Rudy Gamble the FantasyPros designation of “Best Bold Ranker” for the years 2017-2019 (and likely 2020!).
1. Travis Kelce – No signs of slowing down yet, best QB in the league, never misses games, very nice firm tight end. I don’t have much else to say, but just last week Bobby wrote up a few hundred words about whether it’s time to stop drafting Travis Kelce based on his analysis of the tight end aging curve. I agree with his conclusions.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 109 Receptions, 1,284 Receiving Yards, 9 Touchdowns
2. Darren Waller – Just because I drafted Darren Waller on every single fantasy team the past two years doesn’t mean I’m a tight end whisperer. It just means I draft my tight ends based on how they look shirtless while riding a stationary bike. Shirtless pics aside, the Raiders passing game runs through Waller and even if Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards make huge strides this offseason, I don’t see Waller’s volume taking much of a hit. If you’re paying up for a prime cut of tight end, I have no issues with the Waller premium.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 102 Receptions, 1,069 Receiving Yards, 8 Touchdowns
3. George Kittle – Remember when Kittle got hurt week 8 last season? That was my fault, I had just traded Myles Gaskin for him after week 7. There’s some short term uncertainty at the quarterback position in San Francisco with a Jimmy GQ/Trey Lance debate on the horizon, but elite tight ends like Kittle are somewhat immune to terrible QB play since they act as the ultimate safety blanket. All systems are go for a Kittle rebound and return to tier one glory in 2021, but I can’t promise I won’t trade for him midseason again.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 94 Receptions, 1,090 Receiving Yards, 7 Touchdowns
4. Mark Andrews – 2020 was a down year for MAndrews based on the consensus lofty expectations coming into the season. He still finished the year with 58 catches for 701 yards and 7 touchdowns, but it wasn’t the 1,000 yard 10 touchdown explosion everyone wanted. I was out on him last season, tempering expectations after a breakout 2019 which was heavily dependent on touchdowns. But now I’m back in. Remember Lamar Jackson struggled early, ran through a gauntlet of defensive matchups and missed time with COVID in 2020. Andrews STILL ended up as the #4 fantasy tight end and it feels close to his floor.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 65 Receptions, 773 Receiving Yards, 7 Touchdowns
5. Kyle Pitts – I dislike drafting rookie tight ends just as much as the next donkey. And to be fair, even with Pitts ranked #5 I’ll still likely be priced out with him usually off the board in the 5th round of early fantasy drafts. But the upside is undeniable for the receiving first tight end who was the earliest tight end to ever be taken in an NFL draft at pick 4. He’s a freak talent made in the Waller mold and there’s ample opportunity right away in Atlanta with Julio gone. The might be the rare case where the reward of a rookie tight end outweighs the risk, but the steep tight end learning curve still has me shying away this year.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 79 Receptions, 848 Receiving Yards, 5 Touchdowns
6. T.J. Hockenson – I’m a big fan of Hockenson the player, but not crazy about this Jared Goff led Lions offense. With the right QB I have no doubt Hock could be a tier one fantasy tight end. Goff is not the right QB and I don’t trust him at all to hit the ground running in a new system. I’m not looking to invest any significant draft capital in Detroit this season. Of course, as mentioned above, elite tight ends are somewhat immune to terrible QB play and Hockenson might be an elite tight end. So this is a bit of a hedge keeping him in tier 2.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 69 Receptions, 739 Receiving Yards, 5 Touchdowns
7. Noah Fant – Another offense, another uncertain QB situation and another tight end fringing on elite. There’s not many more naturally gifted receiving tight ends than Fant. Everything I said about Hockenson applies here also, regardless of whether it’s Lock or Bridgewater at quarterback. If either of these two talented big men fall in your draft they’re great upside gambles, they just aren’t players I’ll be reaching for due to situation.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 75 Receptions, 846 Receiving Yards, 5 Touchdowns
8. Logan Thomas – I mentioned this while discussing Terry McLaurin in my top 10 wide receivers for 2021 fantasy football: The Washington Football Team featured a combination of Dwayne Haskins, Alex Smith, Kyle Allen and Ed from Lion King at QB last season. For that reason it seems Logan Thomas’s impressive breakout season has gone semi-overlooked. There’s some shades of Darren Waller-lite in his game and I’m excited to see what he’s capable of with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm in 2021.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 64 Receptions, 650 Receiving Yards, 5 Touchdowns
9. Hunter Henry – At this point we know what Hunter Henry is: an injury prone tight end who produces back end TE1 numbers while he’s on the field. Yes, Jonnu Smith joins Henry in New England this year and yes, Cam Newton looks washed up. But we’ve seen Belichick utilize two tight ends heavily in the past and if Cam lasts the season as the starter I have to imagine heavy tight end usage will be a big part of the reason he does. Remember, Greg Olsen had several great seasons with Cam under center in Carolina. Granted that was a different Cam Newton, but he can still throw the ball 10ish yards—I think.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 52 Receptions, 527 Receiving Yards, 4 Touchdowns
10. Rob Gronkowski – I want to rank Gronk higher. In fact I was one of few analysts who was crazy enough rank him higher than this in his 2020 return season. After the very slow start and all of the “blocking tight end” media nonsense, he eventually rounded into form. But let’s face it, he’s not anywhere near the player he used to be and there’s tons of mouths for Brady to feed in Tampa still. I’m fine with grabbing him as a cheap TE1, just don’t expect consistency from him in that offense.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 37 Receptions, 523 Receiving Yards, 5 Touchdowns