While tight end is traditionally a thin position and no rookies from the incoming class look especially ready to contribute right away, I’m here to argue it’s currently such a crazy deep position that you’d be doing a disservice if your league didn’t require starting two of them.
My ranks basically say there’s a “Big Three” followed by a huge tier of similarly high-upside options.
George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
He has the most receiving yards by a tight end (including the most yards after the catch by any receiver ever) in a season in NFL history. Kittle also owns the highest career yards per route run mark ever and is arguably the league’s most dominant blocker while just finishing as PFF’s highest-graded player in 2019. Kittle is the No. 1 option on a team with a terrifically schemed offense that finished second in scoring last year but should regress on defense and in the run game, leading to higher pass volume. He has top-10 fantasy upside.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
The first tight end to ever record four straight 1,000-yard seasons is in his prime and in the NFL’s best offense with Patrick Mahomes throwing to him. Kelce was third last season among all receivers in target share in the red zone.
Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
Scored 10 touchdowns as a sophomore over just 15 games while playing hurt and is set to see an increase in target share (with Hayden Hurst gone) from a QB who throws to tight ends the most frequently in the NFL.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
One season removed from setting NFL record with 116 catches by a tight end and remains the top option in a potent offense.
Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints
After a slow and injured start with his new team last year, Cook had 537 yards and seven touchdowns over the final eight games after New Orleans’ bye and remains one of Drew Brees’ top targets in 2020.
Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
Averaged 11.2 targets, 8.6 catches, and 104.4 receiving yards over the final five games last year, and the Rams have since lost Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley while continuing to see their defense take a step back. The NFC West should feature a bunch of shootouts.
Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
Was fourth in air yards and third in end-zone looks among tight ends last season as a sophomore, when he also averaged 7.7 targets and scored five touchdowns over the final six weeks. Gesicki’s workout metrics are off the charts, and this is a thin Miami offense outside of DeVante Parker that added three linemen and a potential star at QB in the draft (and no receivers until Round 7).
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
Another terrific athlete and former top-10 pick who went off for 131 yards and a score during his NFL debut in Week 1 last season. Tight ends rarely produce as rookies, but Hockenson is ready to break out as a sophomore in an offense that features a QB in Matthew Stafford who was getting a whopping 8.6 YPA with 19 TD strikes over eight games in Detroit’s new scheme before going down with an injury.
Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
Another sophomore with just ridiculous metrics that has him in the 96th percentile or above in the 40, Speed Score, Burst Score, Agility Score, and Catch Radius while dominating in college and breaking out before age 20. Fant had the second-most yards per catch among tight ends last year when he also forced as many missed tackles as Zach Ertz on 48 fewer receptions while finishing with one of the five best yards per target marks by a rookie TE since 2007. This potential monster doesn’t even have an ADP inside the top-10 tight ends.
Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
An athletic freak who just recorded 90 catches and 1,100+ yards during his first real opportunity. Waller remains one of the Raiders’ early options in the passing game.
Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
One of the best tight end prospects in recent memory, Goedert had 55 targets compared to Zach Ertz’s 60 after Philly’s bye last year. The Eagles also still lack an alpha at wide receiver.
Evan Engram, New York Giants
Once looking like a future star after a strong rookie season, Engram is yet another athletic freak who’s a member of a young Giants offense with a bunch of intriguing parts. Health is a major issue, but there’s a ton of upside here.
Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
Ranks top-10 among tight ends in PPR scoring, yards per game, and yards per route run while playing through injuries over the last three seasons. He can fill the huge red-zone void with Melvin Gordon gone.
Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans
Yet another (you guessed it) athletic freak with a SPARQ-x in the 93rd percentile, Smith finished top-three per target in fantasy points, yards, separation, and YAC among tight ends last season. A tackle-breaking machine, Smith is also all set for a greater role with Delanie Walker gone.
Chris Herndon, New York Jets
Only Rob Gronkowski and Mark Andrews finished with higher yards per target marks as rookie tight ends than Herndon, who not long ago was the league’s next big thing at the position. Herndon has an admittedly big hurdle to clear in Adam Gase but also the talent to overcome such an obstacle, and otherwise finds himself in a pretty good situation on a team with arguably the thinnest WR group in football and a still-22-year-old QB (younger than Joe Burrow) with a top pedigree.
Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys
Quietly finished top-10 in yards per route run among tight ends last year (and was top-20 the year before) and is set to take over for Jason Witten’s carcass as Dallas’ starter on an offense that averaged the most yards per play (by a wide margin) last season. This team is a major threat to lead the NFL in scoring in 2020.
Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
Frank Reich teams are routinely among the league leaders in tight end target share, and new QB Philip Rivers loves throwing to the position as well. Rivers owns a career 8.0 YPA indoors (all road games), and the Colts have a strong offensive line with a thin/young receiving corps that just lost Eric Ebron. Speaking of which ...
Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers
Former top-10 pick who’s one season removed from scoring 13 touchdowns and is joining a Steelers team in need of TE and RZ help, and one getting a healthier Ben Roethlisberger back. The match should be as harmonious as Thom Yorke’s recently dropped record.
Ian Thomas, Carolina Panthers
He too has strong workout metrics and is looking at a much bigger role with Greg Olsen gone. Thomas will likely be a frequent target of new QB Teddy Bridgewater, whose average intended air yards (6.2) was the lowest in the NFL last season.
Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
Drafted ahead of Lamar Jackson by the Ravens, Hurst takes over as Atlanta’s TE1 for the departed Austin Hooper, who was among the league-leaders in red-zone and end-zone targets in the same role last season.
Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns
Broke out with nearly 800 yards and six scores over 13 games last year and signed a big deal in Cleveland, which addressed its offensive line during the offseason and possesses a couple of wide receivers and running backs who will demand defenses’ attention.
Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I personally think Gronkowski’s early ADP and aggressive rankings by some are insane, but for the purpose of this exercise, he certainly adds another option to the position as arguably the best TE ever returning with a fresh body after a season off and still just 30 years old. Tom Brady will be throwing to him on an offense that also features Chris Godwin and Mike Evans.
Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings
A recent second-round pick out of Alabama, Smith Jr. took over as Minnesota’s primary tight end down the stretch last season as a rookie, and he’s looking at a much bigger role now with Stefon Diggs gone (the Vikings curiously drafted Justin Jefferson as a replacement, who’s most comfortable in the slot like Adam Thielen).
If that’s not enough, I’ll end with a speed round, making this list 30+ tight ends deep (and I’m confident in my ability to have missed one or two as well). Hopefully, I’ve convinced you by now this position has suddenly become incredibly deep with interesting options like never before.
Greg Olsen is the new starter in Seattle, where he’ll have one of the league’s best players throwing to him in an offense that features the tight end heavily … C.J. Uzomah is now the starter in Cincinnati, who suddenly has a major upgrade at QB and a bunch of other weapons on offense, while Dawson Knox is in a similar situation in Buffalo … I drafted O.J. Howard too high in approximately all of my fantasy leagues last year, and yet his upside still exists despite my bitterness … Gerald Everett has legitimate top-five TE fantasy potential, while Jace Sternberger is a sleeper as the new starter on a Green Bay team lacking options beyond Davante Adams … Jordan Akins finished top-five in YAC per target last year and could easily emerge as Houston’s TE1 in an offense with Deshaun Watson missing DeAndre Hopkins … And finally, Dalton Keene is a dynasty sleeper after being drafted by the Pats — not just because all Daltons are badasses.