TE Tiers and Rankings (Top 40)

TE Tiers and Rankings (Top 40)

This article is part of our 2020 NFL Breakout Watch series.

These rankings are based on full-PPR scoring and will tend to prioritize ceiling over floor after the first few tiers. Reliable mediocrity may have value in deeper formats, but it won't do a whole lot for fantasy managers in typical redraft leagues

Jack Doyle, for example, would arguably be ranked as a top-20 TE if we were solely discussing mean projections, but between his age, lack of speed and career mark of 9.0 yards per catch, it's hard to imagine a ceiling significantly higher than the level of production one can receive from a weekly streaming approach at tight end. Doyle isn't someone I want to draft, even in the 15th round.

On the other hand, young guys like Chris Herndon and Irv Smith face more competition for playing time, but they at least have shown some of the skills that could lead to big-time production in the right circumstances. Keep the upside factor in mind when browsing through these TE ranks.

Links for other position tiers/rankings:

QB Ranks (Top 40) 

RB Ranks (Top 75)

WR Ranks (Top 75)

And now for the tight ends...

Tier 1

1. Travis Kelce

2. George Kittle

Kittle would be my pick if we were promised 16 games from both players, with his target share potentially creeping over 25 percent after the 49ers replaced Emmanuel Sanders with Brandon Aiyuk and then saw Deebo Samuel injure his foot. Unfortunately, Kittle's injury history makes me just a tiny bit hesitant, even though he's missed only three games in two seasons. His NFL medical list already includes a torn shoulder labrum, fractured rib cartilage and a bone spur in his ankle, whereas Kelce has largely been healthy since his rookie season. That said, I still love Kittle as a second-round pick if Kelce is already off the board. Both guys have potential to put up WR1-type stats at a position where WR3-level production is considered strong.

Tier 2

3. Mark Andrews

4. Zach Ertz

Ertz seems to pile up huge target numbers out of necessity rather than design, but we're now working on three straight years with at least 7.8 per game. An improved wideout group should give him more room to operate and improve his efficiency relative to last season, but it also creates some minor volume risk, which becomes more problematic if Dallas Goedert's superior blocking eventually translates to more playing time in single-TE formations (admittedly a big 'if').

Andrews isn't likely to score touchdowns on 10.2 percent of his targets again, but he could see more snaps and more passes after the Hayden Hurst trade chopped Baltimore's TE trio down to a duo. Andrews already has 10 30-yard gains in the NFL, while Ertz has 11 through seven seasons.

Tier 3

5. Darren Waller

It feels a little weird giving Waller his own tier, but it was my initial inclination and also seems to be backed up by recent ADP results. Concerns regarding increased target competition push Waller behind Ertz and Andrews, but not to a point where I'd consider drafting someone like Evan Engram or Hunter Henry ahead of the Vegas tight end.

Tier 4

6. Tyler Higbee

7. Hunter Henry

8. Evan Engram

9. Hayden Hurst

10. Austin Hooper

If I end up drafting someone from this tier, it's usually whichever of Hooper or Hurst falls the furthest. I'm not sure if Higbee will reprise his three-down role from December, but the possibility is intriguing enough to put him as the "best of the rest" once the five tight ends I actually trust have come off the board. Still, I'd rather take the value with Hurst or Hooper a few rounds later, assuming a draft shakes out in typical fashion.

Tier 5

11. T.J. Hockenson

12. Rob Gronkowski

13. Noah Fant

14. Mike Gesicki

15. Jared Cook

Here we have three breakout candidates and two veterans trying to hang on. Gronk and Cook both have TD-scoring potential, but I worry the snaps and targets will be a major source of frustration. I'll also note that I don't see a huge difference between Tiers 4 and 5, so patience is the best approach when looking for a tight end in the middle/late rounds.

Tier 6

16. Blake Jarwin

17. Dallas Goedert

18. Jonnu Smith

19. Chris Herndon

20. Irv Smith

These are the backup-plan breakout candidates once Hurst, Hockenson, Fant and Gesicki are off the board. Jarwin might be the least talented of the group, but he also faces the softest competition for snaps.

Tier 7

21. Ian Thomas

22. Jace Sternberger

23. Greg Olsen

24. Dawson Knox

25. Eric Ebron

26. Tyler Eifert

27. Jack Doyle

28. Jimmy Graham

29. Dan Arnold

I don't think any of these guys is particularly good — at least not at the current stages of their respective careers — but each of them appears destined to see more than half of his team's TE targets. Arnold is the surprise inclusion, drawing some spring/summer breakout hype in the darker corners of fantasy-football twitter. Count me all the way out on the Darren Waller comparisons, but I'm fine with making Arnold a YOLO pick in Round 22 or whatever.

Tier 8

30. O.J. Howard

31. Gerald Everett

32. Will Dissly

These guys would be interesting if they were in better situations to pile up snaps and targets. And maybe Howard will be traded before Week 1? Probably not, but a man can dream.

Tier 9

33. Dalton Keene

34. Josh Oliver

35. C.J. Uzomah

36. Kyle Rudolph

37. David Njoku

38. Jordan Akins

39. Trey Burton

40. Darren Fells

While Keene and Oliver probably won't do much this season, the theoretical upside of the unknown is preferable to drafting a veteran who has little-to-no chance of averaging more than 35 yards per game. Let Rudolph be someone else's problem.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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