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Tight End Best Ball Tiered Rankings and Analysis

Tight end isn't everyone's favorite position in fantasy football. Beyond the top tier, we encounter uncertainty, frustration, and the need to stream. There is no such option in best-ball leagues, though. Securing a high-end TE, especially in an FFPC format that uses TE-Premium scoring, is very appealing but not everyone can have Travis Kelce, nor is spending a first-round pick on a tight end always the best choice.

For that reason, we're sharing our staff best-ball rankings at the tight end position with analysis on each tier to help you through draft season. Of course, you can find our frequently updated best ball rankings for every position live on RotoBaller throughout the preseason.

After you're done here, catch up on RB rankings analysis part one and part two for best ball formats.

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TE Best-Ball Rankings

Position Rank Position Tier Player Overall Rank Overall Tier
1 1 Travis Kelce 10 2
2 1 George Kittle 24 3
3 1 Darren Waller 36 4
4 2 Mark Andrews 52 5
5 2 T.J. Hockenson 59 6
6 2 Dallas Goedert 73 6
7 2 Noah Fant 75 7
8 3 Robert Tonyan 85 7
9 3 Logan Thomas 99 8
10 3 Kyle Pitts 101 9
11 3 Mike Gesicki 104 9
12 3 Irv Smith Jr. 112 10
13 4 Hunter Henry 115 10
14 4 Jonnu Smith 118 10
15 4 Rob Gronkowski 121 10
16 4 Evan Engram 128 10
17 4 Austin Hooper 130 10
18 5 Zach Ertz 145 11
19 5 Tyler Higbee 146 11
20 5 Anthony Firkser 151 12
21 6 Cole Kmet 160 13
22 6 Eric Ebron 166 13
23 6 Blake Jarwin 167 13
24 7 Hayden Hurst 169 13
25 7 Gerald Everett 178 14
26 7 Jared Cook 188 14
27 7 Dan Arnold 205 15
28 7 Kyle Rudolph 216 15
29 7 Pat Freiermuth 220 15
30 8 Dawson Knox 223 16
31 8 Chris Herndon 225 16
32 8 O.J. Howard 232 16
33 8 Donald Parham Jr. 233 16
34 8 Adam Trautman 236 16
35 8 C.J. Uzomah 238 16
36 9 Jack Doyle 243 16
37 9 Jimmy Graham 244 16
38 9 Tyler Eifert 266 18
39 9 Brevin Jordan 280 18
40 9 David Njoku 281 18
41 9 Will Dissly 285 18
42 9 Dalton Schultz 286 18
43 9 Albert Okwuegbunam 297 18
44 9 Ian Thomas 307 19
45 9 Jordan Akins 319 20
46 9 Harrison Bryant 323 20
47 9 Richard Rodgers 332 20
48 9 Trey Burton 341 20
49 9 Cameron Brate 342 20


Tier 1

Does Travis Kelce belong in a tier by himself? Based on last year's stats, yes. But three years ago, George Kittle set the record for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,377 (until Kelce broke it last year). Now he has a new quarterback that is presumably an upgrade over Jimmy Garoppolo. The only issue with Kittle is health, seeing as how he missed half of last season. The optimistic view is that he will be fine and his offense will be better, cementing him as the No. 2 tight end.

Kelce is simply a machine, playing all but two possible games in the last seven years while averaging 101 receptions and 1,307 yards the past three seasons a.k.a. the Patrick Mahomes era. It's impossible to argue against Kelce in round one of any draft, but he is a potential top-five pick in FFPC formats that utilize TE premium scoring. Kittle can be considered in round one of FFPC leagues based on upside.

In FFPC leagues, Darren Waller has a higher ADP than Kittle, going on average as the ninth player selected overall. Kittle's ADP has remained fairly constant but drafters seem to be picking up interest in Waller as usurping him for the TE2 spot.

image taken from RotoViz FFPC Dashboard

The fact that the Raiders didn't do much to their receiving corps other than swapping Nelson Agholor for John Brown might make the tight end look like a safer option whereas we don't quite know what to make of San Fran's offense going into 2021. In early best-ball drafts and mocks, I've seen these two swapped interchangeably depending on format. In FFPC, don't expect any of these players to last beyond the first 15 picks.


Tier 2

If you want a productive, high-end tight end without spending a first or second-round pick, Hock it. The Lions won't be a dynamic offense but that might work in the favor of T.J. Hockenson. Like Waller, teams without great receiving options tend to target the tight end more frequently. Hockenson was already rock-solid last season with 67 receptions, fourth among all tight ends. The move from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford can't be played off as an improvement but it's not a rookie at QB either.

The biggest difference is that Stafford had options like Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, neither of which are in Detroit any longer. No offense to the current WR corps, but the talent level has taken a huge step down. Tyrell Williams was last seen putting together a third straight mediocre season after moving to Oakland in 2019 and then opted out of 2020. Breshad Perriman joins his fifth team in the past five years in a continued attempt to justify his first-round selection. Amon-Ra St. Brown is a fourth-round pick with unspectacular measurables who will try to make an impact. Hockenson could very well lead the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. He should be taken within the first five rounds in best ball with a move up to the fourth or late third in FFPC formats.

Noah Fant has as high a ceiling as any player at this position. The question is who will be throwing him the ball in 2021? Drew Lock might get another shot but Teddy Bridgewater is waiting to take over snaps. Then there's the Aaron Rodgers saga that keeps linking him to the Broncos...

Regardless, Fant will be heavily involved but may not be as consistent as Hockenson. Fant was second on the Broncos with 93 targets last year, although that was without Courtland Sutton. They also drafted Javonte Williams to complement Melvin Gordon in order to form a strong running game. If Denver's defense is as good as it looks on paper, they may not have a high-volume passing attack. It's also concerning that Fant has only scored three touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. Fant is due to have his share of "booms" which is great in best-ball but a high-floor TE2 is recommended for those down weeks.


Tier 3

Kyle Pitts became the highest-drafted tight end ever when the Falcons took him fourth overall. He was sure to be involved heavily in the offense even before we knew Julio Jones was going to be traded. Now, with Jones in Tennessee, the sky seems to be the limit.

Before we decide that he's going for 2k yards as a rookie, a word of caution. For every Vernon Davis, there is a Rickey Dudley. There have been 56 tight ends selected in the first round and 20 of them, or 35.7 percent, finished with less than 2,000 receiving yards for their career. Pitts looks to be an athletic freak of nature and is going to be in a great situation but keep in mind he is still 20 years old. It's not out of the realm of possibility that it takes him a little bit of time, maybe even a year or two, to develop into a fantasy stud. Then there's the thought that Pitts could move outside to WR while Hayden Hurst stays at TE, therefore changing Pitts' eligibility in fantasy leagues similar to Chase Claypool last year. Not saying it's going to happen, just throwing it out there.

Irv Smith is becoming the fallback option for those who wait on their first tight end. He is being drafted as TE11 in FFPC and TE13 in Fanball drafts in the early portion of summer. The aforementioned lack of WR depth beyond Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen could benefit Smith now that Kyle Rudolph is gone to the Big Apple. Smith only caught 30 balls for 365 yards last year, which was almost the same as his rookie numbers. The difference is that he missed three games due to injury last season and he saw most of his action over the final four weeks when he saw 20 of his 43 targets. He may not inherit every one of Rudolph's 37 vacated targets but he'll see enough action to threaten top-12 TE production.


Tier 4

I'm not going to broach the Hunter Henry vs Jonnu Smith debate just like I'm not touching this duo in best ball. If you want a piece of either, it makes more sense in best ball because the concerns about lineup decisions are alleviated. But it begs the question: why do you want a piece of this TE duo?

The Pats targeted tight ends a league-low 8% of the time in 2020. Naturally, that's why they sought improvement after losing Gronk and not seeing what they wanted in rookies Devin Asiasi or Dalton Keene. With Cam Newton still at quarterback, there may not be a huge turnaround. His past three seasons with Carolina, the tight end was targeted 18% of the time, below the league average of 20%. New England did somewhat upgrade at receiver too, so let's not pretend this is the second coming of 2011 when the Pats had two TEs go over 900 receiving yards.

Austin Hooper stands out as one of the best value picks once it's time to seek a TE2. He fell from a career-best 787 yards with Atlanta in 2019 to 435 in his first year with Cleveland. With Odell Beckham Jr. coming back, it would seem Hooper is inconsequential in fantasy circles but this simply isn't true. Hooper missed Week 7-8 due to an emergency appendectomy and was ineffective for the next four weeks upon returning with a total of eight receptions for 81 yards, good (bad) for an average of two catches and 20 yards per game. He missed another game with a neck injury and was an afterthought in fantasy leagues at that point. He then taunted us by posting three straight games of 14+ PPR points through Week 15-17 a.k.a. the fantasy playoffs.

People will say that the Browns are a run-first team now and target volume won't be there. That was true in the middle portion of 2020 but down the stretch, Baker Mayfield averaged 38.4 pass attempts per game over the last five games. As with most teams, their run-pass balance will be dependent on game script. Hooper stands to see more targets than Henry, Smith, Gronkowski, and Engram.


Tier 5

Many drafters have cast Zach Ertz out of their minds because he is a malcontent who spent most of last season injured. A trade could thrust him up the rankings, especially if he lands in a desirable spot like Buffalo, as is heavily rumored, or reunites with Carson Wentz in Indy. At his current ADP of 147 (TE24) in FFPC leagues, there is plenty of potential reward compared to the risk.

Anthony Firkser is one of the biggest risers in the post-NFL Draft draft period due to the lack of pass-catching options in Tennessee. Also, thanks to reports like this:

Now that generational talent Julio Jones is in town, the Firkser hype will die down as it should. The Titans are reportedly still weighing options at tight end and may bring in a free agent like Trey Burton, Tyler Eifert, or even Delanie Walker. Don't overspend for Firkser, especially now.


Tier 6 and Lower

If this were a Tweet, it would say "Gerald Everett is the starting tight end in Seattle, has Russell Wilson as his quarterback, and is about to break out. Am I the only one talking about this?" He is being drafted as the TE22 in FFPC leagues and TE26 in Fanball, inexplicably being taken after Hayden Hurst and Eric Ebron, who were just replaced in the NFL Draft. Everett wasn't a major factor with the Rams, totaling 1,389 receiving yards over four seasons. That's less than Travis Kelce gained last year alone. Everett has the athleticism to be a receiving threat, he just needs an expanded opportunity and this may afford it to him.

Dan Arnold won't cost more than a last-round flier pick in best ball but he's worth it. He is a former wide receiver that could be fourth in line for targets in Carolina after CMC and the top two wideouts. In a one-year stint as a Cardinal, he caught 69% of his targets and averaged 14.1 yards per reception. He should have no trouble surpassing Ian Thomas on the depth chart.

Dawson Knox, on the other hand, does not intrigue me whatsoever. It's a pass-first offense with a now-elite quarterback but one that has no interest in tight ends. Plus, Zach Ertz seems destined to be traded to Buffalo any day now, especially since the franchise made room by shifting Stefon Diggs' contract around. Gotta love NFL salary cap loopholes.

C.J. Uzomah is the ultimate sleeper TE3. Drew Sample was drafted mainly to block and that's what he does. Last year, despite having the TE position all to himself while Uzomah was injured for the final 14 games, he ran a route on 79.3% of his snaps. There are very few fantasy-relevant tight ends below that threshold. By contrast, Uzomah ran a route 92.5% in two games of 2020 and could be back to a pass-catching role with Joe Burrow at the helm

I refuse to rank or discuss Tim Tebow. End of story.

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