Tight ends seem to be the thinnest, most top-heavy position year in and year out in fantasy leagues – thus, understanding how they fall into fantasy football tiers and rankings is vitally important. This year the position is deep but remains top-heavy.
We went over the fantasy football tiers of quarterbacks here, and we will do the same exercise in this article. Understanding how to use these fantasy football tiers is imperative regardless of your draft type, league type, or even strategy.
How To Use Fantasy Football Tiers And Rankings
When drafting using fantasy football rankings and tiers, you want to pay attention to how close a tier is to ending. For example, if you are torn between taking a wide receiver or a running back, how many are left in the highest remaining tier? If there are three wide receivers left in the highest of the remaining fantasy football tiers but only one running back, then it would likely be smart to take the running back. In that scenario, it’s much more likely that you’re able to draft one of the wide receivers with your following pick.
Generally, you want to try and take one of the last players in a particular fantasy football ranking tier rather than one of the first players in a particular tier. This is especially important if you are going by more of a value-based drafting strategy over a position-based drafting strategy such as Zero RB.
Of course, this knowledge must be combined with an average draft position (ADP). If you are deciding between two positions with a similar number of players left in a fantasy football ranking tier, then try and deduce which of the players are most likely to make it back to your following selection.
2020 Fantasy Football Tiers And Rankings: Tight Ends
TE Tier 1 – Proven League-Winners
Level 1 of tight end tiers: These tight ends are a massive weekly advantage in fantasy football’s most top-heavy, thin position. They will likely cost you a top-15 pick and are passable even in the latter half of the first round.
1. Travis Kelce: The (at worst) 1B on the league’s best passing offense has been the TE1 for a staggering 4 years in a row. Will turn 31 this year, but TEs can still produce at a high-level into their 30s (Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten come to mind). Isn’t TD dependent (has averaged under 7 TDs per season during his four-year TE1 streak), and is worth a pick at the end of the first round.
2. George Kittle: Burst onto the scene as a sophomore, setting the TE yardage record while finishing as the TE3. Was last year’s TE3 despite missing two games. Has scored “only” 10 TDs the past two years. If he sees any positive regression, look out. Could easily argue he is the overall TE1 for 2020 drafters. Passing game will lean on him more than ever with Deebo Samuel hobbled and Emmanuel Sanders in New Orleans.
TE Tier 2 – Weekly Advantages With Proven Floors and Ceilings
Level 2 of tight end tiers: These tight ends are proven studs with a slightly lower ceiling than the first tier, but will still be a weekly advantage over most of your league. They are worth consideration as early as the late 3rd and are an absolute steal anywhere after the 4th round.
3. Mark Andrews: Last year’s TE5 while leading the position in TDs – in his sophomore season. Surely some passing TD regression will be seen in Baltimore for the 2020 season, but Andrews is still the top red-zone weapon in arguably the league’s best overall offense. His arrow is pointing straight up, as he has a lot of room to grow in the receptions (64) and yards (852) arena. We discuss him on the Apex Fantasy Football podcast here.
4. Zach Ertz: Has over 100 targets each of the past 5 seasons, including 156 (!) in 2018 and 135 last season. Target competition seems to have increased on the surface, but Jeffery is not healthy, Reagor projects for a low-volume rookie role, and Jackson is a high-end complementary deep threat. Ertz is still the 1A on a very good passing offense and has always had the eye of Carson Wentz. Could make a definite argument he should be the third TE off the board ahead of Andrews. Will only turn 30 in December.
TE Tier 3 – Mid-Range TE1s With Major Upside
Level 3 of tight end tiers: This group of tight ends has league-winning upside, but major durability concerns. They are possibly the top receiving option on their team and are worth a shot as early as the 5th round. Be sure to draft a solid TE2 if you plan on these guys being your starters.
5. Darren Waller: Similar to Ertz in that he made his money with receptions (90) and yards (1,145) – both 2nd best among TEs. Accordingly, finished as the TE2 last season and is currently going as the TE5. But unlike Ertz, they’ve added real target competition: made Ruggs the first WR off the board, also drafted analytics darling Bryan Edwards and hybrid RB/WR Lynn Bowden, and veterans Nelson Agholor and Jason Witten. Don’t forget that Tyrell Williams and Jalen Richard are still there. Repeating 90 receptions may be a stretch, but can make up for it with some positive TD regression.
6. Evan Engram: Rare TE rookie year success (64-722-6) puts him in rarified air but has only played 19 out of a possible 32 games since. Had only one game under 9.4 fantasy points last year, and two games over 23 fantasy points. Still managed to lead the Giants in red-zone targets despite missing half the 2019 season. If he can stay healthy (a big if), he is a lock to outperform ADP.
7. Hunter Henry: We dissect Henry here, but has an outlook similar to Engram: elite player… when on the field. Has missed at least 3 games every season, including the entirety of 2018. New QB in rookie Herbert leaves target distribution up in the air but is a value to target at his current ADP.
TE Tier 4 – Low Floor, Low-End TE1s
Level 4 of tight end tiers: These tight ends have a lot of touchdown equity, but lower ceilings and floors when it comes to volume as the established number 3 options in the passing game on their respective teams. You might be at a weekly disadvantage if one of these guys starts for you every week, but you are definitely at a weekly disadvantage if you don’t get your starter here at the latest.
8. Rob Gronkowski: Looked absolutely cooked last time he stepped on an NFL field, but still should be a red-zone favorite of Tom Brady’s. The 80-catch, 1,000-yard seasons are over, but double-digit touchdowns are a real possibility.
9. Noah Fant: Rookie season puts him on track to be an elite TE one day. Is 2020 a year too early? At his current ADP, it’s worth finding out. Has a lot of target competition to be concerned about, but how many players can make plays like this?
I’m not sure how much I can get behind this argument.
Part of the reason you’re drafting Fant is because he CAN make plays like this and provide you that weekly upside. https://t.co/I0oLkAfFTV
— Dalton Kates (@Dalton_Kates) July 29, 2020
10. T.J. Hockenson: Stormed out of the gates with a 6/131/1 line in his first-ever game… then being a rookie TE combined with Matthew Stafford’s absence sent him crashing down to earth. Still a great prospect on an ascending offense. Does not possess the upside of Engram/Henry this year, but could be in line for a 2nd-year leap as a complementary player who won’t be the focus of opposing defenses.
11. Mike Gesicki: Elite athlete who had an absolute disaster of a rookie season (2.6 points per game) came on in the 2nd half of 2019. His leap correlated with Preston Williams’ absence, but could break out as a 3rd-year TE:
12. Jared Cook: Last year’s TE7 finish came on the back of his 9 TDs (2nd among TEs), despite him catching only 43 balls (14th among TEs). Volume almost certainly won’t increase with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders, but still a scoring threat on a top offense. Ultimately, his ceiling remains in the TE6-10 range as a player who has caught over 54 passes once in 11 seasons.
13. Tyler Higbee: Completely overvalued at his ADP. Was all-time studly in final 4 games with Everett out of the lineup, but in his 59 games before last year’s outburst has had 5 total games with over 3 catches and 2 games with over 48 yards.
14. Hayden Hurst: You’re hoping for an Austin Hooper-like season here: not an overly talented player who gets a lot of targets on a high-volume passing offense with single coverage behind Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Not a terrible bet, but not a lot of evidence to suggest Hurst is an above-average player.
15. Austin Hooper: Speaking of Hooper, his situation has turned around nearly 180 degrees. Still behind two very good receivers, but is now on a run-heavy team with an unproven QB. His 2018 line of 71/660/4 on 88 targets is close to his ceiling barring an injury to Landry or Beckham.
TE Tier 5 – Mid-Range, Upside TE2s
Level 5 of tight end tiers: If your starter is in a tier after Tier 2, these tight ends are your last chances to get a passable TE2. They have real upside if an injury in front of them occurs, but have little standalone value.
16. Dallas Goedert: Nearly everything broke his way last year in terms of opportunity (due to the avalanche of injuries), and managed a TE10 finish. Could need more injuries this year to become a solid streamer but the Eagles would be wise to keep him on the field as much as possible.
17. Chris Herndon: After an incredible rookie year, a suspension and injury prevented Herndon from performing in his second season. However is rookie year is still significant: since 2010, only Gronk, Aaron Hernandez, Evan Engram, George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Noah Fant, and Herndon have topped 500 receiving yards as a rookie tight end. Herndon did it in 14 games and should be treated as a potential breakout target for fantasy owners.
18. Jonnu Smith: An impressive TE19 finish on a mere 44 targets (31st among TEs) in 2019. Has as much upside as anyone after the third tier and the starting job, but Titans will need to increase passing volume for him to be startable every week. Profiles as an upside TE2, and likely needs a change in the Titans’ offensive scheme to break out.
19. Blake Jarwin: Likely needs an injury to Cooper, Gallup, or Lamb to have reliable projectable volume, but is a good flier as a red-zone guy in one of the league’s top passing offenses. Likely a touchdown-or-bust option whenever he is in your lineup, but all of his targets will be high value.
20. Irv Smith: Matching Kyle Rudolph in snaps by the end of last season, Smith nearly kept pace with him in targets/catches/yards as a rookie. Justin Jefferson will not command as many targets as a healthy Stefon Diggs would have. Smith lacks an elite ceiling due to a run-heavy offensive but should be an efficient player with an upward trajectory as a sophomore with a 2nd-round pedigree.
TE Tier 6 – Bye-Week Emergencies With Zero Floor and Low Ceilings
Level 6 of tight end tiers: Rarely will these players be worth a roster spot except for the deepest of leagues. These are your last-gasp TE2s who you should hope do not find their way into your starting lineup.
21. Jack Doyle: Will be competing for scraps with Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman behind T.Y. Hilton on a slow, run-first offense. Could be a source of four easy catches in any given week, but nearly zero yardage or TD upside. You can do better at the end of your bench.
22. Ian Thomas: Sneaky good athlete is unlikely to consistently contribute behind McCaffrey, Moore, Anderson, and maybe even Curtis Samuel. A very poor man’s Jared Cook.
23. Eric Ebron: Proven commodity and TD scorer, but is 4th on the totem pole behind Smith-Schuster, Johnson, and Washington. Has never had much of a floor or ceiling for catches and yardage.
24. Jace Sternberger: No tight end of Aaron Rodgers has been a fantasy commodity since Jermichael Finley. That is unlikely to change with Sternberger, who is unproven and stuck behind multiple players on an offense that made it a point to invest even more heavily in the run game.
25. O.J. Howard: 2018 seems like a long, long time ago. There are worse places to be TE2s than Tampa, but it is abundantly clear that Arians has no trust in Howard. It will take multiple injuries and a major change of heart for Howard to live up to his lofty ceiling behind Godwin, Evans, and Gronk.
TE Tier 7 – Waiver Wire Fodder
Level 7 of tight end tiers: Barring an injury to at least one if not more pass catchers in front of them, these players are not rosterable outside of leagues that start multiple TEs. They are the dregs of fantasy football rankings for tight ends.
26. Dawson Knox: Had a very solid rookie year, but the addition of Stefon Diggs weakened his grasp on even the smallest floor of targets. Could be a borderline TE1/2 with an injury to multiple receivers.
27. Gerald Everett: One of the few guys that doesn’t need an injury to break out, but don’t hold your breath after a career of negligible production and the success of Higbee at the end of last season. Could do much worse as a TE2 flier though.
28. Greg Olsen: Unfortunately, he likely puts an end to the Will Dissly party. Has precious little left in the tank behind Lockett and Metcalf. Likely to be overvalued.