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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Fantasy football 2021 rankings: Top 50 tight ends

Fantasy football 2021 rankings: Top 50 tight ends

Get your 2021 fantasy football draft right
Publish Date: 06/03/2021
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

For some sports fans, fantasy football has supplanted the NFL and college ball as their top connection to the football community. Fantasy football is a fun, growing industry that boasts millions of players and millions in revenue for companies like FanDuel and DraftKings. This article will help fans get their tight end position straight for the 2021 season.

I’ve broken down a list of the top 50 fantasy tight ends into seven tiers. These rankings are for standard leagues, but points per reception (PPR) rankings are also in the works. Consider looking into the other fantasy rankings already posted on The Grueling Truth.

Wide Receiver l Running Back

I’ll continue consistently releasing fantasy rankings throughout the spring and summer. Check my profile for all of the other articles.

*Rookie Tight End

Tier 1: Elite Fantasy Options

1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

2. Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders

3. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

Kelce finished second among all NFL players in receiving yards last year. The future Hall of Famer also caught 11 touchdowns. Kelce finished the season with the 31st most fantasy points among all offensive players and the ninth-most among all non-quarterbacks. Catching passes from Patrick Mahomes and playing alongside Tyreek Hill only boosts Kelce’s value.

Waller set career-highs across the board in 2020, hauling in 107 receptions for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns. He finished second among tight ends and 49th among all fantasy options. Kelce and Waller were the only tight ends to average over ten points per game last season.

Kittle ranked among the three best fantasy tight ends in 2018 and 2019, but the All-Pro missed eight games this past campaign. He still finished 19th in scoring and averaged the third-most points per game among tight ends.

Zach Ertz held a position among fantasy football’s prestigious tight ends over the past several years, but he’s no longer in this class.

Tier 2: Third-Round Fantasy Options

4. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens

5. T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions

6. Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons*

Despite never playing more than 60% of Baltimore’s offensive snaps, Andrews finished second among tight ends in points in 2019 and fourth in 2020. He’s a touchdown machine and Lamar Jackson’s most reliable target. I’d expect a slight improvement in Andrews’ production this year since Baltimore’s offense got healthier and deeper during the offseason.

Jared Goff doesn’t have many proven pass-catchers in Detroit. At least Hockenson can bail him out of some sticky situations. The third-year tight end ranked fifth at his position last season and should see even more targets in 2021.

Pitts is a generational talent with better pure athletic traits than any tight end in the past 20 years. However, he’s still a rookie. All young players undergo an adjustment period entering the NFL. While Pitts should dominate in the opportunities Matt Ryan and Arthur Smith give him, he might slide into a heavy workload gradually.

Tier 3: High-Volume Fantasy Options

7. Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins

8. Logan Thomas, Washington Football Team

9. Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles

10. Noah Fant, Denver Broncos

Even with Miami waffling between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa, Gesicki set career-highs with 53 receptions for 703 yards and six touchdowns. He finished sixth among tight ends in fantasy points. While Gesicki should still have a solid 2021 campaign, remember that Miami recently changed offensive coordinators and committed to Tagovailoa as the starter.

One man’s loss is another man’s gain. Thomas should benefit from playing with Fitzpatrick. The former college quarterback exploded onto the scene last season, playing over 1,000 offensive snaps and finishing seventh in fantasy points. Owners should feel less cautious about drafting Thomas than Gesicki.

Speaking of caution, Goedert’s potential 2021 quarterbacks include Joe Flacco and Jalen Hurts. Goedert finished 20th in points as a rookie, tenth in 2019, and 20th again last year. He’s an extremely talented tight end with top-six potential, but quarterback play could hold him back. Goedert missed five games last season.

Questionable quarterback play is a theme among the Tier 3 tight ends. Fant caught 62 passes for 673 yards and three touchdowns in 2020. He’s primed for another jump in production, but Denver’s quarterback room features Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock. That’s concerning, especially considering Fant isn’t a finished product yet.

Tier 4: High Volume, Average Production

11. Hunter Henry, New England Patriots

12. Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams

13. Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

14. Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots

15. Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers

16. Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns

17. Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings

18. Jared Cook, Los Angeles Chargers

19. Evan Engram, New York Giants

Henry and Smith joined the Patriots on two of the five largest contracts for tight ends in the NFL. While both flashed fantasy football potential in previous seasons, neither is an elite option. Henry has four top-15 finishes in points during his five seasons, but he’s only cracked the top ten once. The former Charger has 13 touchdowns in the past four years.

Smith rose to prominence over the past two seasons, finishing 17th and ninth in points. However, he relied heavily on touchdowns to earn that ranking in 2020. Smith doesn’t have a season with at least 45 receptions or 450 receiving yards on his résumé.

Higbee scored the ninth-most fantasy points at his position in 2019 before poor quarterback play and fewer targets held him to 16th in 2020. With Matthew Stafford at the helm and Gerald Everett heading to Seattle, Higbee should see more action this coming season.

It’s weird to think of Gronkowski as an “old reliable” tight end, but that’s what he’s become. The 32-year-old has seven top-ten finishes in his career, including last season, when he scored the eighth-most points by a tight end. So long as Tom Brady is throwing him the ball, Gronkowski should remain a fantasy commodity.

Tonyan scored nearly 125 points last year, which ranked third among tight ends. However, most of those points came from 11 touchdowns. That makes Tonyan a prime candidate for regression. It’s also unlikely that Aaron Rodgers matches his historic MVP campaign.

After scoring the seventh-most points for a tight end in 2018 and 2019, Hooper got lost in the shuffle with Cleveland. He finished 22nd, partially because he missed three games. Hopefully Hooper’s health and fantasy relevance return in 2021.

Smith only played about 60% of Minnesota’s offensive snaps as a rookie and 50% of them in 2020. Kyle Rudolph departing for New York opens plenty of targets and reps for the 22-year-old Alabama product.

Cook is on his fifth team in the past six years, but hopping around hasn’t bothered his fantasy production. The two-time Pro Bowler has four consecutive finishes among the 15 best fantasy tight ends. He’s also cracked the top 20 in eight of the past ten seasons.

Engram arguably belongs in Tier 5. The former first-round pick opened his career with four consecutive top-20 finishes, but he drops too many passes, struggles to stay healthy, and only has seven touchdowns since the start of 2018. Kenny Golladay, Rudolph, and Kadarius Toney joining the Giants could enhance or tank Engram’s value.

Tier 5: Are You Feeling Lucky?

20. Gerald Everett, Seattle Seahawks

21. Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys

22. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

23. Anthony Firkser, Tennessee Titans

24. Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers

25. Jimmy Graham, Chicago Bears

26. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

27. Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears

28. Adam Trautman, New Orleans Saints

Everett finished among the top 30 tight ends in fantasy points in each of the past three seasons despite starting behind Higbee. The former backup joined Seattle this offseason, where Will Dissly is his biggest competition for snaps. Everett should win the job and enjoy the statistical boost that comes with playing for an elite quarterback.

Ertz and Jarwin suffered from injuries last year. Jarwin missed almost the entire season, while Ertz missed five games and never looked like himself. As of now, both players are returning to their NFC East teams. However, Jarwin has to contend with Dalton Schultz, who had over 600 yards in 2020.

Ertz is on the trade block and coming off his first season outside of the top 20 fantasy tight ends. The former Pro Bowler is 30 years old.

Ebron finished 14th in points last year and has five top-15 finishes in his seven-year career. Unfortunately, the former 10th overall pick never got over his issue with drops. Ebron should see plenty of targets in 2021, but Pat Freiermuth could begin cutting into his totals.

Firkser is in the opposite position of Ebron. The 26-year-old is a fantasy breakout candidate because of Smith’s offseason departure. Smith saw 65 targets last year compared to Firkser’s 53. Wide receivers Corey Davis and Adam Humphries also vacated significant targets. Firkser finished 32nd in points last year and has top-20 potential for 2021.

Graham and Kmet are an interesting pairing. Graham is 34 years old and coming off a season where he totaled his third-fewest receiving yards in his career. However, the 6-7 target caught eight touchdowns and finished among the top ten tight ends in fantasy points for the seventh time in his 11-year career.

Kmet played just over 50% of Chicago’s offensive snaps as a rookie and finished 43rd in fantasy points at the position. I believe he’ll see a larger share of targets in 2021.

An NBC Sports article by Alex Shapiro highlighted how often Chicago deployed its tight ends simultaneously.

“In the first half of the season, the Bears used two tight ends on the field 21.4% of the time. But in the second half of the season, the Bears were deploying two tight ends 29.4% of the time. In Week 15, that number peaked, as the Bears ran two-tight end sets for exactly half of all their offensive plays.”

Shapiro also quotes Chicago tight ends coach Clancy Barone saying the team would like to use both tight ends more often. Barone also confirmed that the Bears have no interest in moving on from Graham this offseason.

Trautman is a volume selection. The second-year Dayton product finished 59th in fantasy points last year, but New Orleans parted ways with Cook and Josh Hill during the offseason.

Howard knows tight ends benefit from catching passes from Jameis Winston. The former 19th overall pick had two top-20 finishes in points with Winston at the helm. Gronkowski prevents Howard from becoming a breakout fantasy option. However, the Alabama product averaged 6.7 points per game during his four appearances in 2020.

Tier 6: Occasional TE2 Options

29. Dan Arnold, Carolina Panthers

30. Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons

31. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts

32. Christopher Herndon, New York Jets

33. Jordan Akins, Houston Texans

34. Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills

35. Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers*

36. Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys

37. Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts

38. Kyle Rudolph, New York Giants

39. Drew Sample, Cincinnati Bengals

40. Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Arnold finished 23rd among tight ends in fantasy points last year. Despite Arizona’s offense not placing much emphasis on throwing to tight ends, Arnold caught 31 passes for 438 yards and four touchdowns. He should play significantly more snaps for Carolina than he did with the Cardinals.

Doyle and Hurst are starting-caliber tight ends, but they’re losing snaps. In his 14 appearances last season, Doyle only played roughly 50% of Indianapolis’ offensive snaps. Hurst played about 70% of Atlanta’s offensive snaps and finished 11th in fantasy points, but the Falcons drafted Pitts.

Akins, Herndon, and Knox are all talented tight ends, but they play in offenses they haven’t emphasized using them consistently. Herndon has the most room for growth in 2021 because of Zach Wilson’s arrival.

Akins was the most productive of the trio in 2020, and he should see more snaps now that Darren Fells is in Detroit. However, the quarterback room raises plenty of questions in Houston. Knox is a consistent producer, but Buffalo’s passing game revolves around featuring three or four wide receivers. There aren’t many targets left for Knox.

The Steelers will use two tight ends more often this coming season, which gives Freiermuth fantasy value. The second-round rookie could steal significant reps from Ebron if the veteran continues dropping catchable throws.

Schultz filled in for Jarwin last year. The former fourth-round selection finished 17th among tight ends in fantasy points. While Jarwin should reclaim most of those snaps in 2021, Schultz proved he can perform at a high level when given the chance.

Alie-Cox and Rudolph are the second tight ends on their respective teams, but they should see significant playing time in 2021. Alie-Cox began taking snaps away from Doyle last season, and that trend could continue. Meanwhile, Rudolph joined New York this offseason. Unlike Engram, the 31-year-old former Pro Bowler rarely drops passes.

Sample was a second-round pick in 2019. In the absence of C.J. Uzomah, he ranked 39th among fantasy tight ends. A full year with Joe Burrow should help Sample set new career highs.

Brate is a risky selection. Despite Howard missing significant time, last season was Brate’s least productive campaign since 2015. He finished 38th in points.

Tier 7: Priority Free Agents

41. Nick Boyle, Baltimore Ravens

42. Ian Thomas, Carolina Panthers

43. Tyler Conklin, Minnesota Vikings

44. Harrison Bryant, Cleveland Browns

45. Jacob Hollister, Buffalo Bills

46. Maxx Williams, Arizona Cardinals

47. Will Dissly, Seattle Seahawks

48. David Njoku, Cleveland Browns

49. Hunter Long, Miami Dolphins*

50. Foster Moreau, Las Vegas Raiders

Boyle missed seven games last year, which led to some fantasy owners forgetting his peak 2019 campaign. During Lamar Jackson’s MVP season, Doyle finished 38th in points. He was on pace for nearly 42 points last season before getting injured.

Some analysts view Thomas as a fantasy breakout candidate, but the Indiana product hasn’t asserted himself over the past three years. Meanwhile, Arnold more than tripled Thomas’ yardage output last season. Thomas should open 2021 as Carolina’s backup.

Minnesota gave Rudolph and Smith at least 50% of the team’s offensive snaps over the past two years. Rudolph’s departure clears the way for Smith, but it also means that Conklin should improve on his 2020 56th place finish.

As a rookie, Bryant played more of Cleveland’s offensive snaps than Njoku, and he scored more fantasy points. Even if the Browns don’t trade Njoku, the former first-round pick is no longer in favor. Bryant finished 40th in points last year, while Njoku ranked 45th.

Hollister fits the mold of a larger wide receiver. He joined a Buffalo team this offseason that doesn’t feed its traditional tight ends many targets. However, Hollister has the build and skillset to create a unique role in Brian Daboll’s offense.

Dissly and Williams are two NFC West tight ends that haven’t met expectations yet. Dissly showed promise as a rookie but hasn’t stayed healthy. Williams is Arizona’s top tight end and a fantasy breakout candidate, but he’s never shown the skill to hold down a starting job.

Long is too talented not to see some snaps as a rookie. However, the Dolphins didn’t utilize their backup tight ends much in 2020. Long’s path to the field is also tricky considering Miami’s depth chart features Gesicki, Adam Shaheen, and Durham Smythe.

Moreau only saw nine targets in 2020, but he finished 33rd in fantasy the previous season. The 24-year-old caught 82.4% of his targets since entering the NFL.

Unranked Rookie Watch List

John Bates, Washington Football Team

Luke Farrell, Jacksonville Jaguars

Noah Gray, Kansas City Chiefs

Brevin Jordan, Houston Texans

Tre’ McKitty, Los Angeles Chargers

Tommy Tremble, Carolina Panthers

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