Here are my top 5 winners and losers at the tight end position for the 2021 fantasy season. For the sake of brevity, I’m only highlighting 5 winners and 5 losers while also specifically avoiding rookies (though I did take into consideration whether one was drafted). Picking the right tight end is critical for your fantasy team as there are only a small handful that can be truly relied on, far less than a typical fantasy league. Being able to leverage that positional superiority can be key to winning your entire league.
Trautman could sneakily be amazing this year. He graded out in the 97th percentile in college dominator rankings and now finds himself as the starting TE with Cook on the Chargers. Regardless of who starts at QB for the Saints, the WRs not named Michael Thomas failed to break out with a Hall of Fame caliber QB in Drew Brees, so I don’t expect them to with less skilled QBs. This opens the door for Trautman to come in and dominate. He was quiet as a rookie (16 targets, 15 receptions, 171 yards, 1 TD), but I expect him to have a much bigger role this year and could be poised for a breakout. Grab him in dynasty for next to nothing now and look for him late in redraft and best-ball leagues.
Even without the Eagles trading away Zach Ertz (not as of this writing anyway) Goedert will still be the number 2 receiving option for this team behind only DeVonta Smith. In the three games he played with Jalen Hurts as the starting QB, Goedert was targeted 17 times (11 receptions) for 120 yards and 0 TDs. That puts his 17-game pace at 96 targets, 62 receptions, 680 yards, and 0 TDs. Those aren’t spectacular numbers by any means, but that’s only a 3-game sample size in what was a VERY confusing QB room in 2020. With a full off-season and training camp to build chemistry with Hurts and the new coaching staff, I fully expect those numbers to be closer to what Ertz was for the Eagles in years past. He’s a safe option in the 9th round if you’re waiting on TE. He has top 6 potential and one of the TEs you can be comfortable having in your starting lineup all year long.
Tyler Higbee came into the fantasy spotlight in late 2019 when Gerald Everette went down. During that 5 week stretch, he was the #1 scoring TE in fantasy. Those last 5 weeks saw fantasy performances of 23.7 points (TE1), 18.6 (TE5), 23.1 (TE3), 19.4 (TE7), and 22.4 (TE1). During that time he averaged 11.2 targets, 8.6 receptions, 104 yards per game with 2 total TDs. Why is this important? Because Gerald Everette is no longer on the team making Higbee the only real receiving option at TE for the Rams. Stafford is also on the team, the same QB that just got done turning Hockenson into a proverbial superstar TE. With defenses forced to pay close attention to Akers, Kupp, Woods, Jackson, and Van Jefferson, Higbee could sneakily find his way into the top 8 TEs this year. He’s being drafted in the 13th round as of this writing, making him a great late-round value if you’re waiting on TE.
The Lions are in shambles having lost all relevant WR options. Even with Golladay and Jones Jr. on the team last year, Hockenson was poised for a breakout and not that he is the only real viable receiving option for the team, he should be absolutely peppered with targets. On top of that, this defense is bad and the team will almost certainly be always playing from behind, increasing Hock’s opportunity beyond that of most TEs outside of the clear studs. Additionally, Goff under center helps tremendously. Over his last two years, Goff ranked fifth in passing yards (2,102) and total attempts to TEs (264). This is the same QB that turned Higbee and Everette into potential breakout candidates, only now he has a true TE powerhouse to throw too. All that combined spells great things to come for Hockenson. If you don’t get Kelce, I’d wait until late in the 5th round to grab Hock.
Did you know in Irv’s final college season he had 44 receptions for 710 yards and 7 TDs? Not impressive you say, well what if I told you that was while playing alongside Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris, and Damien Harris all at the same time? Or that those stats were on-par with a 2021 draft darling Terrace Marshall (48 receptions, 731 yards, and 10 TDs)? Thielen is getting older, Jefferson is already entering star status, and Dalvin Cook is Dalvin Cook. Who else is going to take targets from Irv? No one. Irv was top-ten efficiency, 2nd in QB rating when targeted, and 2nd in the most fantasy points per target in 2020. He will quietly find himself amongst the likes of Goedert, Hockenson, Andrews, Fant, and Pitts this year and no one seems to be talking about him. Grab him while you can ‘cause he won’t be off the radar long.
Rudolph went from having a nice contract and target share with the Vikings to playing second fiddle to Engram in what looks to be a crowded receiving corps. He could replace Engram if he continues to drop passes and be inefficient, but probably not worth the stash in the hopes it happens. He’s just waiver wire bait at this point.
Hunter Henry/Jonnu Smith
Jonnu was a sleeper last year and broke out well enough to land a decent contract with the Patriots. Under normal circumstances this would be great for him, buuuuut they also went out and signed Hunter Henry. Separately these guys were solid TE streamers in 2020. 2021 is a different story in what has become a crowded Patriots receiving corps. I don’t trust either to be more than a DFS/bestball darling once or twice this year. If I had to choose one to roster, it would be Jonnu based on the differences in their contracts (50 vs 37.5 mil. This also puts Jonnu just behind Kelce and Kittle in terms of contract money). Oddly enough, both ESPN and the Patriot’s site unofficially list Henry as the TE1. Great real-life football duo, not great for fantasy.
Kyle Pitts. Also, the Falcons declined Hurst’s fifth year option, so it’s just a matter of time before he’s gone. Julio is gone, so there may still be a little goodness to Hurst, but I doubt it. The team isn’t going to waste any time getting the Pitts unicorn involved. There is the possibility that Pitts just slides into Julio’s role but with TE next to his name and Hurst keeps playing the TE position, but I’d rather take a shot on Kmet, Trautman, Hooper, Herndon, or Irv Smith (among others) should that be the case as Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus are still there, and both have proved fantasy and real-life viable when one of Julio or Calvin were out.
Baltimore did what Baltimore said it would do and gave their WR corps a boost by signing Sammy Watkins and drafting Rashod Bateman. This team is still a run-first team, but I expect them to throw more this year with the added weapons available and I do expect Andrews to still be the number 1 targeted player. Unfortunately, his opportunity will decrease more than I would like for what’s already going be a team that throws less than the league average. On any other team, we’d be hyped for Andrews like we are Hockenson this year. I still like him and will have shares of him, but there are better values on the board.
Evan Engram and the dropped pass. In 2020 he tied his rookie season with 11 dropped passes on 109 targets: that’s a 10.09% drop rate. In his rookie season (2017) he also dropped 11 passes but on 6 additional targets… (9.56% drop rate). In 2018 and 2019 he dropped a combined six passes… 2020 also brought career lows in catch percentage (57.8%), receptions per game (3.9), receiving yards per game (40.9), and passer rating when targeted (55.4). Also notable are the career-worst 6 interceptions when targeting Engram (none in either 2018 or 2019). While he is poised for a statistical improvement in 2021, the team brought in Golladay, Rudolph, drafted Toney, and Saquon comes back from his huge injury. There are far higher-caliber mouths to feed than previously, so Engram’s target share is likely to drop considerably. He’s also a candidate to be entirely phased out if he keeps dropping passes and completely replaced by Rudolph.
– Thrasher | Dad Bod Fantasy
Featured image from Atlanta Falcons.