Fanelli’s Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 12 Tight Ends

Fanelli’s Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 12 Tight Ends

by August 27, 2020 0 comments

It’s August, and that means the 2020 NFL season is just around the corner. The preseason and even the season won’t be the same as in the past thanks to Covid-19. However, as long as we have football, we have fantasy football. I recommend you wait to do your drafts for redraft leagues until the last possible moment because of Covid-19. But, for those of you who draft early, I offer my redraft rankings. Next up in the series, here are my top 12 tight ends.

Please note, all rankings and stats are based on PPR scoring.

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1) Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

It’s really hard to argue against Kelce being ranked as the TE1. He has the best quarterback in the NFL throwing to him and plays in a pass happy offense. Furthermore, Kelce is very consistent. He has finished as the TE1 in four straight seasons and should make it five in a row this year. During last year’s fantasy season (no week 17), Kelce finished as a top 12 tight end in 93.3% of his games, easily the highest in the league. He finished tied for first in fantasy points per game with 15.9 and had eight weeks finishing as a top-six tight end. Last year, Kelce had his third straight season with over 120 targets and 1,000 yards while averaging 15 or more fantasy points per game.

Not only has Kelce been the gold standard for tight ends over the last four years, but he also led the position in several stats last season. He was first in snap rate at 94.1%, route participation at 85.4%, and red zone target share at 30.2%. His 97 catches on 136 targets for 1,229 yards and 19 red zone targets also led all tight ends. Among tight ends with at least 110 targets, Kelce was the only one to post a 110 or better quarterback rating when targeted. Whether it’s in the middle of the field, on a deep target or in the red zone, Kelce is the best tight in the game with Patrick Mahomes throwing him the ball, that won’t change this season.

2) George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

While Kittle comes in second to Kelce in my tight end rankings but he’s the only to join Kelce in tier one. To me, barring an injury to both of these two, I don’t think any other tight end has a chance to finish the year as the overall TE1. If not for missing two games with an injury, Kittle would have finished the year as the TE1 as both he and Kelce averaged 15.9 fantasy points per game. Furthermore, despite playing in two fewer games, Kittle had the same number of touchdowns as Kelce (five) on 29 fewer targets. The concerns with Kittle come from his situation and not his play.

One, the lack of history compared to Kelce. Kittle has never had more than 88 catches or five touchdowns in any season. Meanwhile, Kelce had got over 88 catches in back-to-back seasons and has five or more touchdowns in five of his last six seasons. Two, unlike the Chiefs, the 49ers are a run heavy offense, and it limits Kittle’s upside. Kelce clearly has the better quarterback and weaker defense, meaning his team is more likely and more able to get into shootouts. Third, Kittle is arguably the best blocking tight end in the league and asked to block often. Kelce ran a route on 20.5% more of his snaps than Kittle. Both guys are elite, but Kittle doesn’t offer the same upside.

3) Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

Other than Kelce, no tight end has been as consistent as Ertz over the last several years. Last season, Ertz finished the year as the TE4, averaging 14.4 fantasy points per game. It marked the fourth straight season Ertz finished the year as a top-six tight end. A large part of his success comes from his high volume role in the Eagles’ offense. Last season he finished second in the league among tight ends with 135 targets. It marked the fifth straight season he finished the year with at least 105 targets. Ertz is just one of two tight ends to run a route on over 80% of their snaps last season. His 19 red zone targets easily led the Eagles and were tied for first among tight ends.

Some will argue Ertz isn’t a top-three tight end any more thanks to all the additions the Eagles made. I say otherwise. First off, Dallas Goedert is clearly the number two tight end on the roster. While he had a nice fantasy season, finishing as the TE10 and averaging 9.6 fantasy points per game, his 2019 stats don’t come anywhere near close to matching Ertz’s.

Targets

Target Share

Snap Percent

Route Participation

Zach Ertz

135

23.8%

90%

82%

Dallas Goedert

87

15.6%

69.3%

55%

Goedert is a very good young tight end, but last year he wasn’t in the same class as Ertz, and we should expect the same this season. While the Eagles finally wised up and added help at wide receiver, it isn’t enough to seriously impact Ertz’s fantasy production. Rookie Jalen Reagor has a lot of promise but has been hurt by the lack of offseason work. DeSean Jackson played a total of 67 snaps last year and has a long history of injuries. Alshon Jeffery was placed on PUP and may miss the start of the season. Marquise Goodwin understandably opted out for this season, and JJ Arcega-Whiteside had 10 catches as a rookie. Expect Ertz to be the focal point of the passing game once again this season.

4) Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens

With Lamar Jackson having an MVP season, Andrews was a big benefactor of his improvement in the passing game. After scoring just three touchdowns as a rookie, Andrews exploded for 10 last season. His 10 touchdowns, ranked first among tight ends and tied for second in the league overall. Despite finishing with under 100 targets, Andrews was the only tight end in the league to finish with 12 or more red zone targets, end zone targets, and deep targets. He led all tight ends in end zone targets and deep targets. His 15.6% touchdown rate was easily the highest among tight ends with at least 70 targets. While there should be some touchdown regression, Andrews has more upside this season than he did last year.

Last season, Andrews joined Kelce and Kittle as the only tight ends to have double-digit weeks finishing as a TE1. Furthermore, he had six games where he finished as a top-six tight end. What makes this even more impressive is Andrews’ played just 43.2% of the snaps and ran a route on just 55.1% of his snaps. Both of which were much lower than Kelce and Kittle last season. With Hayden Hurst being traded to the Atlanta Falcons in the offseason, it opens up the door for more snaps and targets for Andrews. Last season, Hurst played 39% of the snaps, had 30 catches on 39 targets, and scored twice. He also had eight red zone and four end zone targets that should go Andrews’ way this season.

5) Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders

After his breakout season, where he had 90 catches on 117 targets for 1,145 yards, Waller kicks off tier three. Waller finished the year as the TE3, averaging 13.8 fantasy points per game. He had nine games as a top 12 tight end and finished as a top 18 tight end in 87% of his games last season. Waller was just one of three tight ends to finish the year with a target share rate over 23% and double-digit deep targets. While everyone loved Waller last year, there are some concerns with him taking him at his current ADP.

In his first year as the full time starter, Waller was a target machine. His 117 targets finished third among tight ends and easily first on the Raiders. He had 46 more targets than anyone else on the team, yet despite the high target share (23.8%), Waller had only three touchdowns. In fact, Waller only scored in two games last season, Among the top 24 tight ends last season, Waller was the only one with a touchdown rate under 3.5%. Furthermore, as a rookie, Foster Moreau similarly performed as Waller in the red zone despite a much smaller snap percent and target share.

Darren Waller

Foster Moreau

Snap Percent

90.4%

58.1%

Target Share

23.8%

10%

Red Zone Targets

11

7

End Zone Targets

5

4

Touchdowns

3

5

Touchdown Rate

3.3%

23.8%

Normally, I would say Waller should improve on his touchdown production this season but the Raiders added many weapons in the offseason. Jason Witten will be used more as a veteran in the locker room, but he should steal a few end zone targets away. Hunter Renfrow and Tyrell Williams combined for 135 targets last season. Meanwhile, the Raiders used three of their top four draft picks on pass catchers. With all the weapons, combined with the below-average quarterback play from Derek Carr, Waller will likely not see the same target volume he did last season. Unless he can improve on his touchdowns and become more involved in the red zone, Waller won’t repeat as a top-three tight end this season.

6) Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams

The 2019 season was a wild one for Higbee. For several fantasy owners, Higbee was available on your dynasty league waiver wires at the midway point of the season. Over his first three seasons, Higbee never had more than 45 targets in a season or averaged more than 4.1 fantasy points per game. Over the first 10 games of the season (he missed week three with an injury), Higbee looked like the same old guy, averaging 5.3 fantasy points per game. However, over the last five games of the season, he exploded in every stat and averaged 21.4 fantasy points per game. In fact, Higbee scored 18 or more fantasy points in each of his final five games last season.

First 10 Games

Last 5 Games

Targets Per Game

3.3

11.2

Catches Per Game

2.6

8.6

Yards Per Game

21.2

104.4

Touchdowns

1

2

Fantasy Points Per Game

5.3

21.4

Games > 50 Receiving Yards

0

5

Games > 10 Fantasy Points

1

5

Over the last five weeks of the season, the Rams used more two tight end sets, something they are expected to do more of this season. Despite playing just 66.6% of the snaps and running a route on just 45.5% of his snaps, Higbee still finishes the year as a top 12 tight end in 36% of his games. Furthermore, over the last five weeks of the season, Higbee finished no worse than the TE7 in any week. He finished as the TE3 on average during that stretch. Last season, Higbee was tied for the league lead among tight ends with 19 red zone targets (joining Kelce and Ertz) despite having a much smaller snap percent, route participation, and target share than Kelce and Ertz.

Now with Brandin Cooks in Houston and Todd Gurley in Atlanta, Higbee should see an uptick in targets as well as red zone work. Last season, Cooper Kupp and Higbee were the Rams’ red zone guys. Now with Gurley gone, I expect some of his 59 red zone touches and 16 touches inside the five-yard line from last to go to Higbee. Without a doubt, if you draft Higbee you are hoping he plays closer to his end of season stretch than his career averages. However, after the top four tight ends, you should be looking for upside, and no one offers more upside than Higbee.

7) Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers

Henry has always been one of my favorite fantasy tight ends and he kicks off tier four. However, he comes with some injury risk. During his four year career, Henry has yet to play all 16 games in any season. Furthermore, he missed four games last year after missing the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL. However, Henry had a career year in 2019 with 55 catches on 76 targets for 652 yards and 12.5 fantasy points per game. Despite missing four games, Henry finished as the TE9 on the season. During last year’s fantasy season (no week 17), Henry finished as a top 12 tight end in 54.6% of his games.

Now with the change at quarterback from Philip Rivers to Tyrod Taylor, some may be concerned about Henry. However, there isn’t much to worry about. Henry and Mike Williams are the Chargers’ red zone weapons. Now Williams is injured and could miss the start of the season according to head coach Anthony Lynn. Last season Henry had 12 red zone targets, six end zone targets, and a 9.1% touchdown rate. Furthermore, he had an 18.1% target share and a 19.4% red zone target share. Outside of Keenan Allen, Williams, and Henry, the Chargers lack weapons at receiver. Given his role in the offense, Henry should be a solid mid TE1 for fantasy owners this season, no matter if Tyrod of Justin Hebert is playing quarterback.

8) Evan Engram, New York Giants

Much like Henry, Engram comes with injury risk. Engram has missed 13 of the last 32 games due to injury, and last season he played in just eight games. The good news is Engram was on pace for a career year as he averaged 13.7 fantasy points per game. Over a 16 game pace, Engram would have had 88 catches on 136 targets for 934 yards and six touchdowns. Despite missing half the season, Engram finished as the TE18 but as the TE7 on a point per game basis. Furthermore, during last year’s fantasy season, Engram finished as a top 12 tight end in 62.5% of his games. He also finished second on the team with 11 red zone targets (one behind Sterling Shepard) despite playing in just eight games.

Furthermore, Engram was just one of eight tight ends to have a 25% or higher red zone target share last season. Given the lack of red zone wide receivers on the Giants, fantasy owners should expect Engram to see plenty of red zone targets again this season. In addition, Engram joined Kelce and Ertz as the only tight ends to run a route on 80% or more of their snaps. While health as always been the concern with Engram, when he has been on the field, he’s been productive. If you want a swing for the upside tight end in the middle rounds, Engram should be your target.

9) Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts

Old man Doyle wraps up tier four for me. First off, he’s not that old. He is seven months younger than Kelce. Second, playing with Jacoby Brissett, an often injured T.Y. Hilton, and on an inefficient passing attack, Doyle still managed to have a solid 2019 season. Doyle finished the year as the TE15, averaging seven fantasy points per game. However, he finished as a top 12 tight end in 33% of his games. Doyle’s 72 targets were tied for the most on the team while his four touchdowns were second-most on the team. None of these numbers should overly impress you, but outside of the elite tight ends, how many would have had success in that Indianapolis Colts offense? Probably none.

The 2018 season wasn’t any better for Doyle as he played in just six games because of injury. So to get a real example of what Doyle can do without Ebron in the way you need to look at his 2017 season. That season Doyle had a career year with a 16 game pace of 85 catches on 115 targets for 736 yards, four touchdowns, and a 23.8% target share. Those numbers come out to 11.3 fantasy points per game, good for the TE5 on the season. What fantasy owners should take away from this is the 23.8% target share. Despite having Brissett throwing to him, Doyle was able to produce. Now he gets a future Hall of Famer in Rivers and his love for throwing to the tight end position.

Year

Target Share

Touchdown Rate

Hunter Henry

2019

17.1%

29%

Antonio Gates

2018

9.1%

6.3%

Hunter Henry

2017

12.3%

16.3%

Antonio Gates

2016

18.4%

24.2%

Antonio Gates

2015

18.7%

25.1%

Antonio Gates

2014

17.2%

38.7%

Over his last six season seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, Rivers has favored his tight end. Removing the 2018 season when a 38 years old Gates was signed late in the offseason to replace the hurt Henry, Rivers’ top tight end has had at least a 12% target share and a 16% touchdown rate. Furthermore, during Rivers’ 14 seasons as a starting quarterback, his tight end has finished as a top 13 guy on a fantasy point per game basis 93% of the time. Given Hilton’s history with injuries and Rivers’ history of using his tight end, Doyle is a steal at his current ADP.

10) Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins

This is where tier five starts. Everyone in this tier is a tight end with breakout potential for this season. Fantasy owners are hopeful these guys turn into this year’s version of Andrews or Waller. Gesicki kicks off this tier as he took a big step up from year one to last season. His fantasy points per game more than tripled and he finished second on the team with 89 targets. Gesicki finished the year as the TE12, averaging 8.5 fantasy points per game. He was inconsistent week to week as he finished as a top 12 tight end in just 26.7% of his games last season. However, every time he finished as a TE1, it was as a top-six guy. Now Gesicki enters year three and should see an uptick work in the passing game.

Last season, Gesicki had one of the highest route participation rates in the league. He ran a route on 71.6% of his snaps. He did that despite playing under 70% of the snaps. The Dolphins recently traded for former Chicago Bears’ tight end Adam Shaheen. While Shaheen will have no negative impact on Gesicki’s fantasy value, it’s a good sign for his route participation. Shaheen wasn’t added to be a pass catcher but rather to block on the line of scrimmage and allow Gesicki to run more routes. With both Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opting out this season, Gesicki will play even more in the slot with DeVante Parker and Preston Williams on the outside. With more snaps in the slot, Gesicki will obliviously be running more routes.

Furthermore, in addition to running more routes this season, Gesicki can be used in several situations. Last season he finished second on the team in red zone targets and touchdown rate. Further, Gesicki joins Andrews as the only tight ends with double-digit red zone targets, end zone targets, and deep targets. For fantasy owners looking for this year’s athletic tight end, Gesicki should be your target.

11) Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons

So far in his career, Hurst hasn’t done much fantasy wise. Last season he had one game has a top 12 tight end and finished the year averaging just 4.8 fantasy points per game. With the Ravens’ run first offense and Andrews clearly the team’s top tight end, it is understandable why Hurst didn’t produce. He played just 39% of the snaps while his route participation was just 32.5%. However, he was productive in the red zone in his limited snaps. Eight of his 39 targets (20.5%) came in the red zone. He also had a respectable 6.7% touchdown rate despite the very limited targets. Hurst also offered reliable hands, as he caught 76.9% of his targets last season. Now Hurst heads to Atlanta after an offseason trade.

Unlike in Baltimore, where they focus on running, Atlanta is a pass first offense. Hurst steps into a major hole that was created when Austin Hooper left in free agency. In each of the last two seasons, Hooper has finished the year as the TE6. During that span, he averaged five catches on 6.4 targets for 50 yards, 0.4 touchdowns, and 12.2 fantasy points per game. Outside of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, there isn’t a player on the Falcons’ roster who should challenge Hurst for Hooper’s 97 targets from last season. With plenty of available targets up for grab and a clear grasp on a full time role, Hurst has all the opportunity in the world to finish the season as a top 12 tight end.

12) Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys

Jarwin has been rising up fantasy rankings, including mine, over the last month or so for good reasons. Last season, as the Cowboys’ TE2, Jarwin had five games, 33% of his fantasy season (no week 17), where he finished as a top 12 tight end. That is the exact number of times Witten finished as a top 12 tight end despite playing 416 more snaps and seeing 42 more targets than Jarwin. The truth is Jarwin should have been the starting tight end for the Cowboys last season, not Witten, as he was much more efficient with his snaps than the old man.

In the offseason, both Witten and Randall Cobb left in free agency. They leave behind 166 targets between the two of them as each had exactly 83. Both Amari Cooper (119) and Michael Gallup (113) had over 100 targets and 1,100 yards last season. Fantasy owners should expect very similar numbers from both this season. While the addition of first-round pick CeeDee Lamb is a concern for the wide receivers and Jarwin’s upside, there are plenty of targets to go around on this offense.

Both last season in Dallas and historically during Mike McCarthy’s time in Green Bay, the fantasy production wasn’t spread out among several players. Cooper and Gallup both should get about the same targets as last season. That leaves the 207 targets from Cobb, Witten, and Jarwin last season to be split up between Jarwin and Lamb. Removing 30 targets for whoever the Cowboys’ TE2 is this year, that leaves 177 targets between Jarwin and Lamb. Even with giving Lamb 110 targets, which might be generous, that leaves 67 for Jarwin. Adjusting Jarwin’s 2019 production with 67 targets means he would have finished the season as the TE11 with 140 fantasy points. If you want to take a shot on a late-round athletic tight end, who has a secure volume, Jarwin should be your target.

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