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Early 2021 PPR Rankings Analysis - Tight End

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The tight end position has been top-heavy for many years and it's no different in 2021. Travis Kelce and Darren Waller have led their respective teams in targets the last two seasons, while George Kittle has averaged 8.1 targets per game the last three seasons.

Meanwhile, Kyle Pitts out of Florida has already been dubbed the next best tight end by the fantasy football community before even taking a single NFL snap.

Since these are PPR rankings, guys who project for more targets carry more value than touchdown-dependent, low-volume tight ends. If you're playing in a standard (non-PPR) league, check out RotoBaller's analysis of early 2021 standard rankings at tight end.

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RotoBaller's Early 2021 TE PPR Rankings

Pos. Rank Pos. Tier Player Name Overall Tier Overall Rank
1 1 Travis Kelce 2 12
2 1 George Kittle 3 23
3 1 Darren Waller 3 29
4 2 Mark Andrews 5 59
5 2 Kyle Pitts 5 62
6 2 T.J. Hockenson 5 63
7 2 Dallas Goedert 6 75
8 2 Noah Fant 6 79
9 3 Robert Tonyan 7 95
10 3 Logan Thomas 7 102
11 3 Mike Gesicki 7 110
12 3 Irv Smith Jr. 8 112
13 4 Evan Engram 8 123
14 4 Rob Gronkowski 8 126
15 4 Tyler Higbee 8 130
16 4 Hunter Henry 9 135
17 5 Gerald Everett 9 142
18 5 Jonnu Smith 9 144
19 5 Cole Kmet 9 147
20 5 Blake Jarwin 9 150
21 5 Anthony Firkser 10 157
22 5 Jared Cook 10 160
23 5 Austin Hooper 10 166
24 5 Zach Ertz 10 167
25 5 Eric Ebron 10 170
26 6 Adam Trautman 11 180
27 6 Hayden Hurst 12 210
28 6 Dan Arnold 13 231
29 6 Chris Herndon 14 252
30 6 Dawson Knox 14 266
31 6 O.J. Howard 15 275
32 6 Jack Doyle 15 280
33 6 Jimmy Graham 15 284
34 6 Jacob Hollister 15 288
35 6 Mo Alie-Cox 15 296
36 7 Kyle Rudolph 15 309
37 7 Dalton Schultz 16 315
38 7 Albert Okwuegbunam 16 327
39 7 Jordan Akins 16 332
40 7 Pat Freiermuth 16 338
41 7 Harrison Bryant 16 339
42 7 Hunter Long 16 343
43 7 C.J. Uzomah 17 346
44 7 Tyler Eifert 17 348
45 7 David Njoku 17 351
46 7 Donald Parham Jr. 17 356
47 7 Will Dissly 17 357
48 7 Brevin Jordan 17 359
49 8 Drew Sample 17 366
50 8 Ian Thomas 17 368
51 8 Cameron Brate 17 369
52 8 Adam Shaheen 17 371
53 8 Geoff Swaim 17 379
54 8 Jace Sternberger 18 387
55 8 James O'Shaughnessy 18 388
56 8 Tyler Conklin 18 389
57 8 Ryan Griffin 18 390
58 8 Foster Moreau 18 391
59 8 Hunter Bryant 18 392
60 8 Brycen Hopkins 18 393
61 8 Richard Rodgers 18 394
62 8 Tyler Kroft 18 395
63 8 Darren Fells 18 396
64 8 Trey Burton 18 397
65 8 Kahale Warring 18 398


Tier 1

In PPR leagues, this tier belongs to just two players - Travis Kelce and Darren Waller. Both guys averaged over nine targets per game in 2020. To put that into perspective, just eight wide receivers averaged 9.0 or more targets a season ago. They're also both utilized heavily in the red zone, Kelce with 20 red-zone targets and Waller with 22 red-zone targets last season. Only Davante Adams (28) had more targets inside the 20-yard line than Kelce and Waller.

Both Kelce and Waller should be in consideration as late first, early second-round picks this season due to the positional advantage you'll have by rostering these guys. For me, especially in PPR formats, George Kittle drops down into Tier 2, and I'll explain why below.


Tier 2

For me, George Kittle is in this tier all by himself. Sure, he led the 49ers in targets in both 2018 and 2019, but that was before San Francisco had an alpha WR1. In 2018, his competition for targets was Kendrick Bourne, Pierre Garcon, Dante Pettis, and Marquise Goodwin. In 2019, it was Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders. In 2020, the 49ers drafted that alpha wide receiver in Brandon Aiyuk. Kittle still averaged 7.9 targets per game last season, but it's likely that's his ceiling moving forward due to being flanked by two elite wide receivers. He's a yards after catch (YAC) monster, however, as evidenced by his 13.9 yards per catch average the last three seasons.

For comparison, Waller averaged 11.9 yards per catch the last two seasons, while Kelce averaged 13.1 yards per catch the last three seasons. Kittle finds himself alone in Tier 2 with a very high ceiling, but a slightly lower floor than both Kelce and Waller in 2021.


Tier 3

Tier 3 is a mixed bag that includes T.J. HockensonMark Andrews, Kyle Pitts, Dallas Goedert, and Noah Fant. All these guys could finish close to one another when all is said and done in 2021.

Hockenson went from averaging 4.9 targets per game his rookie season to 6.3 targets per game in 2020. He's primed for a breakout season as the Lions' number one pass-catching option with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones no longer in Detroit. It's not unreasonable to think Hockenson sees eight targets per game in 2021.

Andrews has been top-five in red-zone targets amongst tight ends and has scored 17 touchdowns the last two seasons. In standard scoring, he's likely in a tier above some of these other guys, but in PPR, his fewer targets have him in the same tier.

Pitts could line up all over the formation for the Falcons this season. With Julio Jones in Tennessee, it's not unreasonable to think Pitts could have the second-highest target share after Calvin Ridley. He's got the highest ceiling, but also likely the lowest floor of the bunch.

If Zach Ertz would just be traded already, Goedert would become one of my favorite tight ends to break out in 2021. His biggest competition for targets is rookie DeVonta Smith and second-year man Jalen Reagor, who played sparingly last season. According to Zach Berman of The Athletic, new head coach Nick Sirianni plans to "feature" Goedert this season. The sky is the limit.

Fant showed some promise last season, catching 62-of-93 targets for 673 yards. He scored just three touchdowns, however, the same number he scored his rookie season. He's got a lot of potential but is also competing with a number of guys for targets, specifically Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. For that reason, he's at the bottom of this tier but remains a step above the guys in the next tier.


Tier 4

This tier includes Logan Thomas, Tyler Higbee, Irv Smith Jr., and Robert Tonyan.

Thomas caught 72 balls last season on 110 targets. He also scored six touchdowns. The large target share was likely a result of the Washington Football Team not having a clear WR2, however. This season, they have Curtis Samuel to fill that void. They also signed slot receiver Adam Humphries. Don't expect another 110 targets, but it's not totally outrageous to think he could see close to 100 targets again in 2021.

Higbee is an interesting case. He's never been the only tight end in Los Angeles, except for five games at the back end of the 2019 season when Gerald Everett was inactive. Take a look at what he did in those games:

Higbee is one of my favorite targets in this tier and has a real chance to finish as a top-seven TE this season with the upgrade of Matthew Stafford at quarterback for the Rams.

Irv Smith Jr. no longer has to fend off veteran Kyle Rudolph, but Tyler Conklin isn't going anywhere. That said, Smith is the guy with the highest ceiling. Per Player Profiler, Smith ran an average of 33.7 routes in Weeks 15 through 17 last season without Rudolph compared to just 18.4 in nine games played with Rudolph. While likely the third option in the passing game, that could net him 90 or so targets in 2021.

Because he's not a high-volume guy, Tonyan's value is suppressed in PPR leagues compared to standard leagues. He was targeted a ton in the red zone last season and had 11 touchdowns to show for it. But he saw just 59 targets. He saw five or fewer targets in all but two games in 2020. I'll likely be avoiding Tonyan in PPR leagues as his value lies in his ability to catch touchdowns.


Tier 5

This tier consists of Jonnu Smith, Evan Engram, Rob Gronkowski, and Mike Gesicki.

Smith was prioritized by Bill Belichick in free agency and was gifted a four-year, $50M contract. There's a strong chance the Patriots utilize him all over the formation, giving him a very high ceiling. Just don't expect him to see 100 or more targets as that's not really the kind of player he is. He's never topped 65 targets in any one season in his four-year career.

Engram saw 109 targets last season, but 2021 could be different. The Giants brought in Kenny Golladay and now have Saquon Barkley back from a torn ACL. They also added another tight end in Kyle Rudolph. He's ok in PPR leagues because I don't expect too big a drop-off, but temper expectations for the fifth-year tight end.

Gronk had a pretty good season in 2020, catching 45-of-77 targets for 623 yards and seven touchdowns. He remains one of Tom Brady's favorite red-zone targets. Nevertheless, O.J. Howard didn't play most of the season in 2020. In fact, when Howard was healthy in Weeks 1-4, Gronkowski averaged just 3.5 targets per game. Temper expectations on Gronk if Howard is a full-go to start the season.

Gesicki is ranked a little high for my liking, so I've dropped him down a bit, especially in PPR. He's a very solid receiver but has yet to top 90 targets in any one season. The Dolphins also added Will Fuller V and Jaylen Waddle in the offseason, which likely eats into Gesicki's target share in 2021. He could still catch five to seven touchdowns but don't expect an increase in targets.


Tier 6

This tier consists of Hunter Henry, Gerald Everett, Cole Kmet, and Blake Jarwin.

Henry, like Jonnu, was given a nice contract by the Patriots. It's unclear how the targets will be distributed, but Henry and Smith could certainly lead the Patriots in targets this season. Henry was paid a little less and was signed after Smith was, so he's ranked a little lower. He also goes from a high-octane passing offense in Los Angeles to a much more balanced attack in New England, thus lowering his overall appeal.

Everyone keeps talking about Everett as a breakout candidate this season. Even if that's the case, he's still behind D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in the pecking order. He's not really a "sleeper" any longer, but he's worth taking a shot on if you're looking to strike gold with a late-round tight end.

Kmet just needs veteran Jimmy Graham to get out of his way. He averaged 6.0 targets per game last season after taking over as the "starter" in Week 13. If Graham for some reason does get cut before the season, Kmet will go skyrocketing up draft boards, especially considering he could be getting a big-time QB upgrade in Justin Fields in the near future.

Jarwin was everyone's favorite sleeper in 2020, but then he went down with a torn ACL in Week 1. He's still atop the Cowboys' depth chart at tight end, but he'll have to fend off Dalton Schultz, who had a pretty decent 2020 season. Any part of this Cowboys offense is a good thing though, so Jarwin is worth a shot at this price point.


Tier 7

This tier consists of Adam Trautman, Anthony Firkser, Jared Cook, Austin Hooper, and Zach Ertz.

Trautman is a favorite of many after Jared Cook signed with the Chargers. But pump the brakes just a bit as this team is likely to funnel targets to Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Even if he's the number one tight end, the volume just may not be that high for Trautman.

Firkser is the man in Tennessee now that Jonnu Smith is in New England. He was high on people's boards prior to the Julio Jones signing, but people seem to have cooled on him a bit. He's still worthy of a late-round selection though, as the one game Jonnu played less than 40% of the snaps, Firkser went off for 8-113-1 against Houston.

Cook is the guy now in Los Angeles with Hunter Henry in New England, but much like Trautman, he'll be down the list on the pecking order after Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, and even Mike Williams. He's a better option in standard leagues as a big-time red-zone threat for Justin Herbert.

Hooper is the TE1 in a very crowded tight end room in Cleveland that consists of Harrison Bryant and David Njoku. He saw just 5.4 targets per game in his first season with the Browns compared to 7.5 the previous season with the Falcons. Expect that number to remain similar or even drop in 2021 with the emergence of Bryant in his second season.

Ertz has been linked to Buffalo, but that hasn't happened yet. If it does, he's worth a shot this late as he would likely sit atop the tight end depth chart catching passes from one of the league's best quarterbacks in Josh Allen.

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