Part of me wondered if anyone would even notice if I only ranked the top 10 tight ends for 2021 fantasy football. We all remember what Confuscious said, “If a fantasy football tight end ranking post falls in the forest and nobody’s there to read, then did it happen?” I believe Confuscious also told us to draft Darren Waller each of the last two seasons. Wait. No. That was Donkey Teeth. People confuse the two of us so often that sometimes I get confused myself. Identity crises aside, someone must rank the Irv Smiths and the Adam Trautmans of the world, so why not Confuscious Teeth? If you’re just looking for a plain old list of rankings without the fluff, you can stop right here and go check out my top 200 for 2021 fantasy football. Anyway, here’s my top 20 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 August 31st at an early bird discounted price of only $17.99 for the entire season! These are the same weekly projections that won Rudy Gamble the FantasyPros designation of “Best Bold Ranker” for the years 2017-2019 (and likely 2020!).
11. Rob Gronkowski – I want to rank Gronk higher. In fact, I was one of few analysts who were crazy enough to 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 are tons of mouths for Brady to feed in Tampa still. I’m fine with grabbing him as a cheap TE1, just don’t expect a ton of consistency from him in that offense, more boom or bust.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 40 Receptions, 540 Receiving Yards, 5 Touchdowns
12. Mike Gesicki – Will Tua take a massive leap forward in 2021? I’m banking on it since I own the entire Dolphins wide receiver corps on more than one team. Nice risk management! But as noted previously, tight end production isn’t necessarily dependent on their respective QB’s success. Many a terrible quarterback will lean heavily on their big men running short routes across the middle. Regardless, this could be the year we’ve all been waiting for from Gesicki if the storms settle down in Miami.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 55 Receptions, 668 Receiving Yards, 5 Touchdowns
13. Evan Engram – See two inches above. Everything I wrote about Gesicki applies to Engram. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from both of these guys but their body of work has also been about as consistent as a crack accident working a desk job. Let’s hope for less crack and more touchdowns in 2021.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 60 Receptions, 628 Receiving Yards, 4 Touchdowns
14. Irv Smith Jr. – 2021 feels like the year of Irv The Perv. That’s my cousin, he’s been down on his luck but really seems to have his life moving in the right direction. Irv Smith though, this guy also seems primed for an explosion with Kyle Rudolph FINALLY out of town and the Cook/Jefferson/Thielen trio drawing all of the opposing defense’s attention.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 55 Receptions, 631 Receiving Yards, 6 Touchdowns
15. Tyler Higbee – There are high expectations for Higbust in Hollywood this year with Gerald Everett finally out of the picture. I see the argument, but I’m not fully sold that Higbee will be more than a last resort for Stafford in a high-powered offense featuring Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson and a healthy DeSean Jacks7#n$. Was almost able to type that last part without busting out in laughter. Still, Higbee will probably be the fifth option in this offense at most times which I have a tough time getting excited about.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 49 Receptions, 541 Receiving Yards, 4 Touchdowns
16. Jonnu Smith – We know Bill likes to utilize the tight end position heavily and we also Hunter Henry has missed some important time in camp. Unfortunately, now Jonnu is banged up with an ankle injury himself. Last I read, Smith has no timetable for return and the injury “isn’t considered serious.” OK, so it isn’t serious but they can’t even give us a rough timetable? I don’t love the sound of this, but not moving Jonnu down too far just yet.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 52 Receptions, 575 Receiving Yards, 5 Touchdowns
17. 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.
UPDATE 8/14/21: Hunter Henry is hurt, shocker. The Pats’ big man has a shoulder injury and will miss very important reps while learning a notoriously difficult New England system. I’m moving him down a bit with this news.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 52 Receptions, 527 Receiving Yards, 4 Touchdowns
18. Cole Kmet – As a Bears fan, I watched enough of Kmet last year to be fully sold. I’m drafting him in every single deep league I can. Regardless of whether Andy Dalton, Justin Fields or the Hamburgler is at QB this season, Kmet should be one of the focal points of the passing game as he’s set to take the big sophomore tight end leap.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 52 Receptions, 524 Receiving Yards, 3 Touchdowns
19. Adam Trautman – The Trout Man is getting a ton of buzz this preseason and for good reason: there’s nobody else to catch passing in New Orleans. Michael Thomas’s injury and friction with the front office make us question if he’ll even play with the Saints at all this season. That leagues Marquez Callaway and Tre’Quan Smith to pick up the slack. Yikes. I don’t care who the QB is (that’s not true, I’m praying it’s Taysom because I’ve drafted him on a bunch of teams already), Trautman should see steady targets all year long.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 42 Receptions, 443 Receiving Yards, 4 Touchdowns
20. Austin Hooper – After dominating in 2019 with the Falcons, Hooper is now a bit of a forgotten man after a mostly lost first year in Cleveland where he suffered multiple injuries. If it weren’t for the presence of talented second-year tight end Harrison Bryant—and to a lesser extent David Njoku—I’d be all in on Hooper this year. But even with the competition, the Browns aren’t paying Hoop 14 mill over the next two seasons to play second fiddle. The real question is will Baker even be throwing the ball often enough to make Hooper fantasy relevant.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 53 Receptions, 528 Receiving Yards, 4 Touchdowns