Inhale Sports original article | By: Kyle Radimer
The fantasy football season is readily approaching! Inhale Sports will be updating consistently up to your draft with rankings and major news around the league. Be sure to follow the Inhale Fantasy Football Instagram account if you don’t want to miss an article.
How Our Rankings Work
Up next are the tight end rankings for the upcoming fantasy season. If you’re a regular who already knows how our rankings work, feel free to skip over this section. For everyone else, these rankings go by a traditional 12-team, PPR (points per reception) league setting. As described in the quarterback rankings article, these rankings will employ a floor and ceiling prediction along with a traditional numerical ranking. This will reveal which players are more risky and which are safer with a higher floor. This provides some extra information to determine who to select when you’re on the clock. For more information on how the floor and ceiling predictions work, head over to our quarterback rankings in the fantasy category of our site.
There may also be asterisks next to certain players’ names that mean there are factors which may impact their production, namely injury and suspension. When these asterisks appear on this ranking and future rankings, I will explain why they are there. They may impact where the player falls in the ranking.
How Tight End Rankings Differ From Other Positions
The name of this position in fantasy football is security, both in season-long and weekly terms. The benefit to grabbing a tight end early in drafts mainly is season-long security. Barring injury, you know you will have a quality option that you can leave in your lineup all year. After the high-end options, you are simply looking to grab someone who can gain a large role in their offense and produce a good output week after week. This consistency will likely be obtained by target share or red zone usage, so look towards those factors.
All the tight ends on this list appear to be firmly at the top of their team’s depth chart. This makes the tight end rankings much more straightforward than receivers and running backs. Few tight ends are top receiving options within their offenses. These players will be located towards the top of the rankings. Many on this list will be vying for a role to be a top option in their offense, making their floor and ceiling rather variable. These players are mostly younger tight ends looking to establish themselves and their abilities. At the bottom of the list are mostly guys who have a history of productivity, but have some question marks. These players may have been unproductive recently, and/or enter a new team where they have a shot at grabbing a quality role.
That’s enough background for now. We’re on to the rankings.
Tight End Rankings
- Travis Kelce | Ceiling: HTE1 | Floor: HTE1
- Mark Andrews | Ceiling: HTE1 | Floor: MTE1
- Kyle Pitts | Ceiling: HTE1 | Floor: MTE1
- George Kittle | Ceiling: HTE1 | Floor: MTE1
- Darren Waller | Ceiling: HTE1 | Floor: MTE1
- Dalton Schultz | Ceiling: HTE1 | Floor: MTE1
- T.J. Hockenson | Ceiling: HTE1 | Floor: LTE1
- Zach Ertz | Ceiling: MTE1 | Floor: LTE1
- Dawson Knox | Ceiling: MTE1 | Floor: HTE2
- Pat Freiermuth | Ceiling: MTE1 | Floor: HTE2
- Dallas Goedert | Ceiling: MTE1 | Floor: HTE2
- Cole Kmet | Ceiling: MTE1 | Floor: HTE2
- Mike Gesicki | Ceiling: MTE1 | Floor: MTE2
- Irv Smith Jr. | Ceiling: MTE1 | Floor: LTE2
- Hunter Henry | Ceiling: LTE1 | Floor: HTE2
- Noah Fant | Ceiling: LTE1 | Floor: LTE2
- David Njoku | Ceiling: LTE1 | Floor: LTE2
- Logan Thomas* | Ceiling: MTE1 | Floor: MTE2
- Robert Tonyan* | Ceiling: LTE1 | Floor: MTE2
- Tyler Higbee | Ceiling: HTE2 | Floor: MTE2
- Gerald Everett | Ceiling: HTE2 | Floor: LTE2
- Albert Okwuegbunam | Ceiling: HTE2 | Floor: LTE2
- Evan Engram | Ceiling: HTE2 | Floor: LTE2
- Austin Hooper | Ceiling: HTE2 | Floor: LTE2
The Elite Tier
The elite tier consists of Kelce, Andrews, and Pitts. These guys will be high-end options, and all will be vying for TE1 overall. These should be the three most targeted tight ends in the league, and like I said before, volume is key with tight ends. You will have a serious positional advantage getting one of them.
Travis Kelce is in his own league for tight ends. Kelce was the TE1 overall for five years straight before he finished second last season to Andrews. There is absolutely no reason to believe he won’t finish top 2 again this year with Tyreek Hill gone. He should get plenty of targets, and he’ll produce. Kelce is a borderline first round talent. He provides such a drastic advantage over the competition that he is well-worth a top pick.
Mark Andrews was a top five option in 2019 and 2020 before exploding last season. He had an enormous target share which will continue this year. It is a bit concerning that he performed better with Tyler Huntley at quarterback than Lamar Jackson. He averaged about 14.5 FPPG in 11 games with Lamar compared to 24 in 6 with Huntley. 14.5 points with consistent production is still quality, and he should push higher than that. Andrews should go about a round later than Kelce. Early in the third round is where I would target him.
Kyle Pitts is a freak athlete and should already be considered one of the best pass catchers in the NFL. In addition, he will easily get the most targets on his team, like the two tight ends above him. His issue is quarterback play, as Marcus Mariota will likely be throwing him the ball. Regardless, I am more than willing to take him late in the third round.
The “HTE1” Tier
Kittle and Waller are often valued very similarly in drafts, and for good reason. Both have been quality tight end options the past couple of years, but enter this year as the second option in their offenses. I favor Kittle slightly over Waller because I think his quarterback switch to Trey Lance has great potential. Lance targets tight ends heavily in the red zone, as proven both in college and the NFL. Plus, in the one game Lance and Kittle started last year, Kittle scored 40 fantasy points. That’s not to discredit Waller, however. Though the Davante Adams addition may hurt his target share, he’s still a great fantasy option. He was a top three option in 2019 and 2020, and was on pace to be last year as well before injury. Either can be drafted in the fifth round.
Dalton Schultz and T.J. Hockenson round out the tight ends with high potential. Between the two, I think Schultz has a higher floor due to his role. As the third receiving option on the Cowboys, Schultz was the TE3 overall. Amari Cooper had more targets and red zone targets last year than Schultz. With him gone, Schultz steps into a great role as the second receiving option and top red zone threat. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him top in the league in tight end targets, along with double-digit touchdowns. He is one of my favorite tight ends to draft this year.
Hockenson is also a great option as arguably the top pass-catcher in the Lions offense. He was the top option for the Lions last year before his injury, and that shouldn’t change drastically. He is very talented, and though he may lose some targets this season with receiving additions, should still be a quality option.
The Remaining TE1 Tier
I would recommend getting a top 7 tight end before you are stuck in this tier. However, there is still potential to find good options down this far. I think any of the tight ends from 8 through 13 have a decent shot at putting up TE1 numbers. However, the risk of being a bust increases as the list goes down.
Ertz is a tight end I would still be confident in as my starting option. He was traded to the Cardinals after week 6 last year. From week 7 forward, he was the TE4 overall, though most of that was played without DeAndre Hopkins. Luckily, Hopkins won’t be playing to start the season, so Ertz should pick up right where he left off. He’s worth the pickup, and after a good start to the year, can be traded for a better tight end.
Knox and Freiermuth are similar options to me. Both broke out last year and there’s reason to believe in them again this year. Though neither is the top option in their offense, their roles are solid. They will be heavily utilized in the red zone, while picking up plenty of targets elsewhere. For reference, Knox had the most red zone targets among tight ends last year, and Freiermuth the 4th most. The touchdown potential is there.
Goedert, Kmet, and Gesicki are also decent options. I am afraid Goedert will lose targets to AJ Brown, so I’m hesitant to draft him at his price. Kmet has potential to be a top option for Fields surrounded by a weak receiving group. A breakout could be in store. And Gesicki has been a top ten tight end the past two years, but may also lose targets this season. I’m wary of these three, but Kmet may have good value.
The Upside TE2 Tier
Irv Smith has a lot of potential. He missed all of last season with injury, but should be fully healthy now. If he finds a good role with the Vikings, particularly in the red zone, he could be great.
Hunter Henry had a solid year last season as the TE10, and I expect him to perform similarly this year. He doesn’t have much upside but has a safe floor as a good TE2.
Noah Fant is hard to value this year. He has been a solid tight end since entering the league three years ago, but is yet to break out. It is possible that is in store for him with the Seahawks, but being the third receiving option on his team, I wouldn’t say it is likely.
I have grown to like David Njoku more as the season approaches. Njoku has never finished above the TE9 overall in a year, and that was back in 2018. However, he is arguably the second most proven pass catcher in this offense. He should get plenty of looks, especially in the red zone, and a breakout is possible.
Logan Thomas was the TE3 in 2020 and played well last year in six healthy games, averaging 12.5 FPPG. He is still working his way back from an ACL tear and may start the year on the PUP list. When he does return, TE1 numbers are possible.
Tonyan is similar to Thomas in that he is still working back from an ACL tear. He had one great season in 2019, but hasn’t done much other than that over his career. Over the eight games he played last year, he only scored double-digit fantasy points twice. Although, the potential is there due to the lack of quality receivers in Green Bay.
The Bottom TE2 Tier
I don’t see any of the rest of the tight ends on my list becoming startable in fantasy football. They should be TE2s for the whole season, so ideally you would be confident in your starter before taking them.
Higbee is a safe TE2. He has proven to be a solid tight end the past three years, but don’t expect great production.
Everett, Okwuegbunam, Engram, and Hooper are all lower-tier upside tight ends. Everett is entering the Chargers after four consecutive low-end TE2 seasons. Hopefully, he can push a bit higher than that, but if not he’s a fine bye week fill in. Okwuegbunam has decent potential if he develops a larger role with the Broncos. Reports that he may not even be the starter in Denver are concerning, though. Engram has gone downhill every year since entering the league. There’s potential he has a resurgence in Jacksonville, but don’t count on it. Hooper had a very disappointing two seasons in Cleveland, resulting in a release. He was a great producer for Atlanta in 2018 and 2019 though, so maybe he can pump out good numbers, especially due to the lack of talent in Tennessee’s receiving group. But again, don’t count on him as anything more than a TE2.
Though he isn’t included in my top 24, I would also keep an eye on Cameron Brate. He had way more red zone targets than people realize last year. And that was with Gronk in the lineup. With him gone, Brate has huge touchdown potential.
Tight end is a very underrated position in fantasy football. The position can make or break your year, and having a good one is a necessity for a championship. You don’t need to have an elite one, but you do need a starter with consistent double-digit performances. This is easy to find early in drafts and much more difficult later.
Like I mentioned before, target share and red zone usage are where tight end upside generally comes from. A starting tight end option in fantasy football must either be a top pass-catcher on their team, or have a large red zone role. I highlighted the players I think should have those roles, but one or two not on this list may come out as good waiver options early in the season with unexpected red zone roles, so be on the lookout.
Being stuck with a poor tight end situation can be a curse for your team. If you have a knack for picking later-round tight ends who work out, that’s great. Personally, I would prefer to get someone I am confident in starting the whole year, so any of the top 7 on my list are good options. I find myself getting one of the top three or Schultz often in drafts.
If you miss out on one of the top seven, I would recommend investing in two upside options still. This will give you the best shot at finding a consistent starting option.
For more fantasy football articles and positional rankings, head to the “fantasy” category on our site here.