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2021 Yardage Regression Candidates - Tight End

While touchdowns are the most coveted play outcome for tight ends in fantasy football, total receiving yards must be taken into serious consideration when deciding who to draft for the position. It is true that receivers have to work harder to rack up yards, and that they don't have an overly great value at only one point per 10 receiving yards, but the volume of yards per game TEs gain is much higher than the number of touchdowns they score and much more reliable.

That's why we're always on the look for highly-targeted tight ends awarded the most possible chances to catch passes and put up as many yards as possible.

Here, I'm taking a look at some of the best tight ends from the 2020 season due to regress in 2021 in terms of their receiving yards. Don't be fooled by the high numbers they put up last year because a few slumps could be coming!

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2021 Fantasy Projections

 

Evan Engram, New York Giants

I have just written about Evan Engram in another column based around regression candidates (that one about targets), and I wanted to keep things fresh on this one by handing out three different names. Turned out to be impossible to leave Engram out, folks. My bad. Back in that piece, I found out that only 24 tight ends were able to sustain 110 targets in back-to-back seasons. Engram had 109 last year, and that was also the first season he was able to play in full since entering the league, with just 11 and eight games played in the prior two.

As if that wasn't enough to consider Engram's 2020 campaign as a true career year, well, he also posted his second-most yards ever with 654... averaging the fewer yards per catch of his NFL tenure. Ugh. The 654 yards are nothing remarkable and when put in context: there are 173 player-season entries of tight ends with 650+ yards over a single year since 2000, and Engram's 10.4 YPC are tied for the 22nd-worst mark among all of those outings.

As if all of those low-performance numbers weren't concerning enough as to make New York's coaches lower Engram's volume of targets and thus receptions/yardage, he will be competing for touches with newly acquired WRs Kenny Golladay/Kadarius Toney/John Ross and the comeback of RB Saquon Barkley. If Engram was a super-efficient tight end, well, maybe he would have a chance at keeping his numbers up. Sadly, he's not. And that's without even mentioning the very real chance he misses time here and there due to his fragile health. As ridiculous as it sounds, PFF has Engram losing 178+ yards compared to last season, which is a ridiculously high number and clearly leads (trails?) all tight end projections.

 

Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

While Gronk had terrific highs through the 2020 championship season (three games above 17 PPR points), he also put up more than a few duds over the year (seven games in the TE3 realm not even reaching six PPR). Forget about the "Tom Brady and the receiving corps grew together as the season got older" because that didn't apply to Gronkowski--not at least throughout the regular season. Gronk had three of his best games in the first half of the season and only finished as a top-12 TE once in the last four.

When it comes to receiving yardage, Gronk was good enough to rack up 623 yards in his 16 games played to finish as the TE7 in that department. When put in context, taking a broader look at Gronk's career, that number is insanely small. Good Old Rob was putting up 1,000 receiving yards with gusto in his heyday, but he's now a 32-year-old man entering his 11th season as a pro after taking a sabbatical in 2019. Gronk had not fallen below 682 receiving yards in any year in which he played more than eight games going back to his rookie season... and even then he made up for it by scoring 10 touchdowns.

The Bucs made the boldest headlines after winning the SB, but they also did when it was official that the whole bunch was going to be back in town for another run in 2021. Not only that, but Tampa Bay added receiving-back Gio Bernard to the fold while they will also be welcoming TE O.J. Howard back after he missed every game from Week 5 on in 2020.

With a projection of minus-118 yards compared to those he got last season, Gronk is the third hardest-hit TE by PFF in terms of regression when it comes to receiving yards, only below Travis Kelce and Evan Engram.

 

Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins

If there is a boom/bust guy, that must be our man Mike Gesicki. The Fins' tight end put up four games above 55 yards, sure, but he also had four in which he didn't top 15 yards. He had three games with 88+ receiving yards, but also two in which he finished with zero and eight. No wonder he finished the year as the third-most volatile tight end with a weekly standard deviation of 7.9 PPR points while averaging 10.6. That's right. And that means that depending on his mood, you could have a near-20 FP tight end rostered... or a near-zero FP any given week.

Gesicki is unique when it comes to tight ends, though. He was used in the slot in 50% of all snaps he took (most among TEs), averaged 11.9 aDOT (second-most), but he only added 1.6 YAC (third-fewest among 51 TE with 300+ snaps). The volume was so high (85 targets, 12th-most) that it truly helped Gesicki rack up yards as he finished the year with 703, only bested by beasts Travis Kelce and Darren Waller, and slightly by T.J. Hockenson too (723).

While Mike Gesicki hasn't stopped improving since entering the league in 2018 (he's gone from 40.2 FP to 136 and finally 159.3) and he's raised his seasonal yardage from 202 to 570, and lastly 703, it's going to be hard for him to replicate those numbers without Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing downfield bombs. The Fins are also adding Will Fuller and rookie Jaylen Waddle to the receiving corps, who are only going to eat from Gesicki's targets and receptions/yards by extension.

Only 17 tight ends since 2010 have been able to reach 700+ yards in back-to-back seasons, and the number goes down to only eight in the past five years. Obviously, the likes of Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle are among them, and there is a higher chance Gesicki falls below what that incredible group of top-tier tight ends has accomplished rather than joining/besting it.



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