Everyone seems to have their own strategy when it comes to tight ends. Taking a pair of high upside tight ends in later rounds has been a popular strategy in recent years. However, this year, I feel that it is crucial to secure a reliable tight end early in your draft.
In 2020 PPR leagues, the tight end position was very shallow. Travis Kelce dominated with 312.8 points, and Darren Waller was the TE2 with 278.6 points. After Kelce and Waller, the next best tight end was Robert Tonyan Jr., at just 176.6 points.
There was a 102 point drop-off between Kelce and Waller at the top and the next tier down, headlined by Tonyan.
Teams who had Kelce or Waller last year held a huge positional advantage at tight end. Kelce and Waller were not only the top two tight ends by a good margin, but they were also extremely consistent compared to other tight ends.
Owning one of these two tight ends truly made a difference. According to Alex Cates, Kelce was a member of a top 4 playoff seed in 59.3% of ESPN leagues (2nd highest among all players). Waller, meanwhile, was on 21.7% of ESPN championship rosters (also 2nd highest).
The tight ends behind Kelce and Waller had their boom weeks, but were often highly TD dependent. Kelce and Waller received consistent targets and volume, something not many tight ends receive.
I feel that Kelce is worth the investment around the 1-2 turn, as is Waller in the early 3rd round. George Kittle has also received a consistent workload when healthy, so like many, I’m willing to draft him as part of that same tier.
While I do tend to draft those currently elite tight ends on a lot of my rosters, that is not the only thing I look for in a fantasy tight end. The #1 thing I do look for in a fantasy tight end is volume. In every draft, I look to either secure a tight end who already receives consistent volume or has the opportunity to receive consistent volume.
The only tight ends who have already received enough consistent volume to be fantasy relevant on a weekly basis are those elite tight ends. However, not everyone can have Kelce, Waller, or Kittle. That leads us to the other category, tight ends who have a clear opportunity to receive consistent volume.
It is true that many tight ends have upside. Maybe there will be another Darren Waller style breakout tight end this year, and that’s something a lot of people try to look for by drafting multiple tight ends late. However, the vast majority of late round tight ends will end up being weekly boom or bust options.
Teams that go with this strategy often find themselves struggling with who to start while their opponent holds a huge positional advantage with a guy like Kelce or Kittle. The tight ends that are more likely to break out and have much safer floors are in offenses with vacated targets.
The following are the 5 offense with the highest % of vacated targets:
New Orleans Saints
In Cincinnati, Ja’Marr Chase is in line to receive most of the vacated targets, leaving no room for tight ends. I was intrigued by Anthony Firkser early in the offseason but the Titans bringing in Julio Jones cancels out most of Firkser’s upside.
Adam Trautman is an intriguing later option, but a Trautman breakout is far from a given, so he’s best as a TE2.
In my eyes, the two tight ends most likely to capitalize on vacated targets are T.J. Hockenson of the Lions and Kyle Pitts of the Falcons. Hockenson showed flashes of upside last year, especially with Kenny Golladay injured.
Now, Golladay and Jones have left, leaving Hockenson as the most talented receiving option in Detroit.
He could be in for a monster year. Pitts is a rookie, so like Trautman, hasn’t shown much at the NFL level. However, I feel he’s a generational talent. He’s the best tight end prospect in years and the highest drafted tight end of all the time: the Falcons didn’t take him 4th overall to ride the bench.
He has looked amazing in training camp and has a good chance to be the rare rookie tight end to breakout in year one.
Hockenson and Pitts come with a higher price than those late round guys. They are both going around the 5th or 6th round. However, I’d much rather a high floor, high ceiling tight end in the 5th than a couple of boom or bust guys in double digit rounds.
Hockenson and Pitts round out my top 5 tight ends alongside Kelce, Kittle, and Waller. In every 2021 redraft league, I am doing my best to end up with one of these five tight ends.
I expect there to be a huge drop off at the position behind these five, as no other tight ends are locked in for enough volume to be fantasy relevant on a weekly basis.
It’s possible that another surprise breakout player joins these five on the right side of the drop off, but predicting the next Darren Waller is a difficult task, even for the best of fantasy players.
If I absolutely had to predict the next breakout tight end, it would be Adam Trautman due to the vacated targets in New Orleans, and if I somehow miss out on the top five Trautman is my target.
However, I suggest you save yourself a headache by securing one of these top five guys. You’ll thank yourself later.