Instead of just ranking the tight ends for 2020, I decided it would be more beneficial to group them into categories that illustrate the floor, upside, and risk that each player provides. This is not a ranking list and just because a player is in a different category does not necessarily make them a better or worse player.
Elite Weekly Studs on Prolific Offenses
- George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
- Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Not much needs to be said here. Kittle and Kelce are basically top 15 receivers that you get to play at the tight end position. If you believe in your ability to hit on running backs and receivers in later rounds, the positional advantage gained by drafting one of these two guys greatly increases the overall upside of your team.
High Volume Studs
Ertz and Waller both have elite snap and target shares in their offenses. Neither plays for an elite offense, but the consistent weekly volume makes them reliable starters whenever they are on the field. In previous years, Ertz was alone in this category, but Waller showed in 2019 that he will be the focal point of the Raiders passing attack for years to come. I tend to only target these guys if they become a significant value in drafts or if I don’t like the options at other positions.
Lower Volume Players on Prolific Offenses
These are the players I tend to most heavily avoid unless they go very late in drafts. The guys in this category are never the same year to year. Last season people drafted the likes of Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald as top eight tight ends and they both had very disappointing seasons. I prefer to use late round picks on the players that can ascend into this category instead of using premium draft capital on a player that probably won’t be in this category a year from now.
Many people project Mark Andrews to take another step forward this year due to the departure of fellow tight end Hayden Hurst, but fail to realize that it was their other tight end Nick Boyle that led the unit in snap share in 2019. Boyle is still in Baltimore and is a superior run blocker to Andrews, who is thus unlikely to see the snap increase that so many seem to project.
The reason this category is so volatile is mainly because it is hard to predict which offenses will be great and how many of the touchdowns will go to the tight end. If Lamar Jackson were to get hurt, the Ravens offense might become below average and Andrews could be borderline unplayable. I don’t want to spend an early pick on someone whose success is so dependent on things outside of their control. This touchdown dependency of these players also makes them very volatile on a week-to-week basis.
Red Flags With Major Upside
- Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
- Evan Engram, New York Giants
- Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
- Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns
I’d consider any of these guys for the right price. Whether it’s a troubling injury history, small sample size, bad offense, or volume or talent concerns, these players all have one or more factors that make them very risky options. However, the upside is high enough that any one of them could finish in the top five at the position at year’s end.
Young Potential Breakouts
- Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
- T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
- Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
- Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
- Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans
- Chris Herndon IV, New York Jets
This is my favorite range to draft tight ends. If you take two of these guys, there’s a decent chance that at least one of them pans out. Last year, I nabbed Darren Waller and Mark Andrews in the final rounds of my drafts, and the previous year I capitalized on the breakout season of Ebron.
Both Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson were first round picks in 2019 and have the talent to ascend to the upper echelon of tight ends in 2020. Hurst should have a massive snap share for the Falcons and Jonnu Smith, who has shown flashes of brilliance in limited snaps for the Titans, finally has the starting job to himself. Chris Herndon IV and Mike Gesicki also both have the physical profiles and talent to break out in 2020 despite being on suspect offenses.
However, even if neither of the tight ends you pick pan out, streaming tight ends has never been more viable. If you play the match-ups well, you should get roughly top eight tight end production over the course of a season. Instead of paying premium draft capital for risky tight ends and sacrificing value at other positions, take some late fliers and use your earlier picks to bolster running back and receiver depth.
Lastly, even if you draft a top tier tight end and have the position locked down, consider taking a late pick on tight end anyway. The chance of hitting on a late tight end is higher than hitting on a third string running back that you’ll probably drop after Week One, and that tight end could have major trade value. In a couple leagues this season, I just loaded up on tight ends late knowing that I’ll probably drop most of them, but may find some diamonds in the rough.