In my latest edition of dynasty league fantasy football rankings, I will rank the top 10 tight ends with commentary and then 10 more guys that will help you win. I will also give three late-round flyers that can help you with bye weeks or injuries. For this discussion, I will not comment on rookies, although I do believe Kyle Pitts in the right spot will be a top 5 tight end. His film, size, and production all point toward him being dominant.
For now, I will stick to the vets and give a list of guys that help fill the merciless void known as fantasy football tight ends. This year saw two tight ends absolutely blow away the competition, you know, like the Unabomber. As you can imagine, Travis Kelce and Darren Waller are atop my rankings list. Much like quarterbacks, many guys will give you value. You can find good tight ends in the middle to late rounds, but only a few may make you a league winner. There simply aren’t enough dominant tight ends to consistently give your squad points week in and week out.
So What is Dynasty Really About?
Dynasty is really about two things, what is a guy now and what will a guy be for the next 3-5 years. In other words projection. We are willing to gamble on a guy that has had little production if we believe he is about to turn the corner next year or the year after. I am here to say, we just haven’t seen much of that with tight ends. Now, can a guy like Chris Herndon stay healthy, gain a more dependable quarterback, find stability and let his talent take over, sure. We just haven’t seen many cases of this. I say this not to scare you off from trying to find the next diamond in the rough but rather so that you weigh your options when it comes to the tight end position.
Grab em Great or Grab em Late – Tight Ends
In dynasty, I would have the best tight end over the best quarterback, running back, or receiver. Why? Because in the land of points, those who have guys that dominate their position over your competition are king.
For example, Travis Kelce was the most dominant tight end by a long shot this year. I mean my god, the guy was second in the league in receiving yards. If Stefon Diggs didn’t put up ungodly numbers of his own, Kelce would have been the first tight end in history to have the most receiving yards in the league by someone other than a wide receiver. It’s incredible. Kelce had 312 fantasy points (PPR), he averaged 21 points a game.
The next closest guy was Darren Waller. He was dominant as well. Waller had 278 PPR fantasy points and averaged 17.4 points per game. Both are astounding players and three points per game aren’t that much.
After Kelce and Waller, the next closest tight end was Logan Thomas. He had a great year for WFT, but he scored 176 fantasy points or 11 points per game. That is a touchdown off the weekly pace of the 2nd tight end and nearly 10 points off the pace of Kelce, the 1st overall tight end.
Best of the Rest
The 10th best tight end? That would be Hayden Hurst. Hurst didn’t have a great year but he did score 149 points for 9.3 points per game average which was only two points behind the third-best tight end but 12 points off the pace of the top tight end. That is a two-touchdown difference per game for the 10th guy vs. the 1st guy. My advice, grab Kelce, Waller, or Kittle early and if the cards don’t land right for you, then wait. Historically there isn’t much of a difference between the fourth tight end and the twelfth tight end.
Looking at tight ends vs quarterbacks, however, quarterbacks are fairly muddled together. Yes, there are top-tier guys, but in this same scenario last year Josh Allen was QB1 in fantasy football. He had 396 fantasy points for a 24.8 per game average. The next QB was Rodgers who had 383 for a 24 point per game average. The 10th best QB would be Lamar Jackson at 332 points for 22 points per game average (he only played 15 fantasy games). So where the first vs. the tenth TE was ten points off the mark, the first vs. the tenth quarterback was only two points per game off the leader.
With all that being said, here are my top 20 tight ends, the top 10 with commentary, the other 10 without. I’ll also discuss a few late-round gems. This article does not discuss rookies; that will be a discussion for a later date. For now, like Tom Brady often says, LFG!
Nothing more can be said for this first-ballot Hall of Famer. In his age 31 season, he had a performance for the ages. Statistically, Kelce had the second-best fantasy football season ever for a tight end. Number 1? Gronk in 2011, due to his dominance and his 17 touchdowns. Kelce in 2020 was a monster. He seemingly was targeted on every play that Tyreek Hill wasn’t targeted. Kelce gets volume, he has Patrick Mahomes, he feasts in a fantasy-friendly tight end system, and this is a team ready to rock for the next 3-5 years.
In other words, Kelce ain’t going anywhere. I have a hard time imagining Kelce dropping out of the top three at any point in the next three years. In 2023, he may very well slow down and it should be time to ship him out to a contender for a 2nd or 3rd round rookie draft pick. For now, he is hands down the best tight end in the league. He averaged 21 fantasy points per game. That is quarterback-level stuff folks. He runs the cleanest routes, he soaks up everything in the middle for a Chiefs team that looks deep first, then Kelce 2nd. The dude is a monster. With a 105 reception, 1,400 yards receiving, and 11 touchdown stat line, even if he regresses by 10 percent (he won’t) he would have still been fantasy football tight end 3 this year.
Lock him in your lineups and don’t look back. He will be a key piece of many fantasy football championships for years to come.
I love this guy’s story. There I go talking like Grudes again. But Waller’s story is fantastic. He is a recovering drug addict that was all but done with football and his own life. Waller recovered and now he dominates the gridiron. This year, he truly made a name for himself. My man Waller is the first look in Jon Gruden’s offense. Grudes knows he found a stud and as long as Waller stays healthy and stays clean he is going to be a fantasy dominator for the next half-decade.
Darren Waller is only 28 years old and this year he had 107 receptions on 145 targets. He had nearly 1,200 yards receiving and 9 splashdowns. He had a performance for the ages that likely catapulted many teams to the top of the fantasy standings especially in points. In week 13 against the Jets, Waller the Baller had 13 grabs, for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns. A whopping 45 fantasy points. That’s just insane. While that game may be an outlier, his dominating potential will have a solid 3-year run.
Kittle seems like an old man and for some reason, it seems like he has been around for a long time, but he hasn’t. George is only 27 years old and he has been beaten up a little in his career. 2020 was a tough season for George injury-wise, but don’t be fooled. The 49ers will be good again next year. At this point, I’m unsure of the QB situation but even if they have an average QB like Jimmy G. or Nick Mullens, Kittle will still produce. If the 49ers land a slight upgrade at QB via the draft, trade, or free agency, Kittle could easily be the TE1 next year.
Kittle had a game similar to Waller in week 4. After he came back from injury in week 4, Kittle went off. He had 15 grabs on 15 targets for 183 yards and a splash. When I see 15 grabs on 15 targets this means the dude was open. Through scheme and route running, Kittle is often a free man which still astounds me. He is a monster in a great spot with San Francisco. Even with the intriguing, high upside talents like Brandon Aiuyk and Deebo Samuel, Kittle is still going to be the top receiver option on most pass plays. Shanahan loves to run the rock and then scheme up Kittle. He is going to be dominant for a long time and he is worth you taking early in your startup leagues.
4. Mark Andrews
I say Mark Andrews bounces back in 2021. He is still a big body and talented target for Lamar Jackson. Lots of people were down on Andrews’s 2020 campaign but he was still the TE6 in fantasy points per game (PPR). Andrews didn’t play in two games, but he had 58 grabs for 701 yards and 7 scores. Not too shabby for a TE. Especially in a “down” year. He also had 88 targets.
The Ravens are going to run early and often, but, through the air, Andrews should get his fair share of targets. He averaged 9 targets per game in 2020 and even though the TD regression from 10 in 2019 to 7 in 2020. I still believe he can reach 8-10 tuds a year and even take another step toward a 100 reception year. Mark is still young, only 25, and should thrive in Baltimore for years to come. I see him as a Kelce light and if you miss out on the top 3, Andrews wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.
5. TJ Hockenson
Hock had a coming-out party of sorts. Catching the game-winning ball from Stafford against the Falcons with no time on the clock was a moment to remember. But Hock was good all year. After an injury-plagued rookie campaign, he played all 16 games and had a 67-723-6 stat line to show for his efforts.
I like the talent, love his speed for a big dude, but there needs to be more consistency and I am unsure of the QB situation with Jared Goff at the helm. I am guessing that Dan Campbell wants to run a bit more and use play-action with Goff. We have seen Goff target a tight end with excellent results before, and I think that with Jared headed to a new town, Hock could be his best friend. TJ finished as TE5 (PPR) in 2020 and I think he hovers between TE5 and TE7 for the next few years. TJ could crack the top five depending on the QB situation and the play-caller.
6. Noah Fant
Noah Fant is a damn good player. It’s always a shame to me when I see talent wasted. The Broncos have done an excellent job drafting but with little success to show for it. That’s because of the QB. If Noah Fant was playing with DeShaun Watson I’d move him up my board to TE4, maybe even TE3. Fant is a beast. He is exceptional in the passing game. He shreds defenses deep downfield as well as the short stuff underneath. He was TE8 with Drew Lock under center for Elway sakes! Fant has room to roam. Out of all TE’s on this list, IF the Broncos find stability at the QB position, I believe Noah can consistently climb the list inside the top 5 TE.
7. Dallas Goedert
There was a time when the Eagles featured a plethora of weapons that were supposed to dominate the NFC East. Big D, Dallas Goedert was supposed to be part of that attack. When Carson Wentz fell apart, Jalen must have Hurts Carson’s feelings because he was awful this past year. That destroyed any shot of the Dallas Goedert break out many expected.
Zach Ertz was still around soaking up looks as well. With Ertz’s inevitable departure it will be time for Big D in Philly. Goedert just turned 26 years old. If he stays healthy (he missed 5 games in 2020) he should own all of the tight end looks in 2021. With a young QB ready to take over in the city of brotherly love, look for Dallas to take the next step in 2021 and beyond.
8. Robert Tonyan
Is there a more controversial player in dynasty fantasy football than Big Bob Tonyan? He is coming off of a tremendous year. Rodgers can’t say enough good things about him but still, he has question marks. After plunging for three tuds, in week 4 against Atlanta, Big Bob sort of disappeared. The truth is the Packers are a 3 guy attack. Rodgers, Adams, and Jones. After that, it’s hit or miss.
Tonyan did show some consistency late in the year when he scored a touchdown in five straight games and six out of seven games to close out the year. He will be a low-volume, touchdown regression candidate but at only 25 years old and tied to one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, Tonyan will be an intriguing asset to use in prime matchups.
9. Irv Smith
Irv Smith Jr. quietly put together a solid sophomore campaign. While Justin Jefferson stole the show, Irv had a few games that showed why the Vikings took him in the 2nd round of the 2019 draft. He is an explosive athlete that may be unleashed in the Viking’s passing attack next year and beyond.
With Kyle Rudolph more than likely moving on this offseason, it will be Irv’s time to shine in Minny. Irv is only 22 years old and Cousins loves his tight ends down in the RedZone. With Minnesota’s defense still building and Kirk now in year four in Minneapolis, I’m looking for an Irv Smith breakout season in year 3.
10. Cole Kmet
I’ll be the first to admit I was disappointed in Cole’s first year as a Bear. Everyone understands that rookie tight ends rarely take the fantasy world by storm but with so few weapons on the Bears, I fully expected Cole Kmet to be featured much more than he was. It was encouraging to see Kmet get in the gameplan after the shellacking by Green Bay in week 12. It seemed like after that game, Cole became the featured tight end over Jimmy Graham and I can’t see any way that Jimmy is back for the Bears in 2021.
Cole is set to take over at the tight end in an offense that loves the tight end. Usually, year two is when star-tight ends begin to ascend. If it doesn’t happen after year two, history proves it rarely happens. So strangely enough this may be a now or never year for Cole. I think he has the talent to ascend. He is a big body with soft hands receiver that was open often. Kmet could have had a much better year statistically if not for the Bears’ terrible QB play. He has Kelce like traits, and much will depend on the quarterback the Bears deploy in 2022. No matter who is slinging the rock, I like Cole Kmet to take the next step in 2021 and solidify his role as a top-tier tight end in the NFL.
11. Mike Gesicki (Miami)
12. Evan Engram (NY Giants)
13. Hunter Henry (LA Chargers Free Agent)
14. Logan Thomas (Washington Football Team)
15. Jonnu Smith (Tennessee Titans – Free Agent)
16. Austin Hooper (Cleveland Browns)
17. Hayden Hurst (Atlanta Falcons)
18. Rob Gronkowski (Tampa Bay Bucs)
19. Tyler Higbee (LA Rams)
20. Adam Trautman (New Orleans Saints)
Three Late-Round Tight End Gems That Will Help You Dominate Your League.
I am still a Herndon truther. There is too much talent there to fade. With LaFleur coming over from San Francisco, I not only believe he revitalizes Sam Darnold’s career, but also Chris Herndon’s career.
Dawson’s Creek Knox may surprise people next year. He showed off his talent in the 2020 postseason and he is tied to an elite franchise QB in Josh Allen. At only 24 years old, he could be the under-the-radar TE2 you need to destroy your competition.
This is a long shot but I don’t see Jonnu Smith returning to the Titans. Firkser proved in limited action with Smith out he could produce. He had 39 catches and over 300 yards receiving. With Jonnu Smith likely on his way out, he should be the next man up in music city. If the Titans don’t address tight end in the draft and/or free agency, and Jonnu leaves, look for Firkser to become a 60 grab and 6 tuddy candidate.
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