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Tight End Position Battles to Monitor (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Raju Byfield | @FantasyContext | Featured Writer
May 17, 2020

Trey Burton is going to have to prove that he still has something to put any heat on Jack Doyle.

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Depth chart battles provide potential value opportunities for those who draft early. Of course, if your league waits until the end of the preseason and cut down day then most owners will know who is set to lead a certain position in snaps and opportunities. Drafting early has its advantages as it rewards skill and research, but it sometimes also takes a bit of luck as far as injuries and unexpected depth chart twists are concerned. Predicting the correct winners of key depth chart battles can provide fantasy owners with a distinct advantage as far as ADP value is concerned, and can sometimes allow early drafters to build much stronger teams than their counterparts who choose to draft after the preseason is concluded. Let’s take a look at 10 of the most intriguing tight end battles to monitor.

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Chicago Bears 

Cole Kmet vs. Jimmy Graham
Jimmy Graham was signed to star at tight end for the Chicago Bears in 2020, but Cole Kmet is undoubtedly going to have a role. Free agency comes before the NFL Draft, and if the Bears knew they would be able to land Kmet, they likely would not have signed Graham in the first place. Graham has shown flashes of his old form in his last two stops and may be able to produce at a TE1 level if Nick Foles is under center. With that being said, Cole Kmet was drafted to be the Bears’ future at the position and may force the Bears to employ more two-tight end sets than they may have planned before he fell into their laps at 43rd overall. The most likely scenario is that both Graham and Kmet effectively hold each other down to TE2 territory, however, if either tight end is able to take a sizable lead in snaps and targets, they could threaten TE1 level production. This is an important tight end battle to monitor as Kmet should be given a fair opportunity to steal starters snaps. 

New England Patriots 

Devin Asiasi vs. Dalton Keene
While Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo are still members of the New England Patriots, the battle for the starting tight end job in New England is expected to be between 2020 third-round picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. The Patriots traded up for both tight ends, so they likely envision long term roles for both of their talented new rookies. While the comparisons may be made, Asiasi and Keene are not the second coming of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. However, they are both talented receiving tight ends who can help smooth the transition to Jarret Stidham or whoever else winds up starting under center for New England. The Patriots wide receiver corps is in bad enough shape that both of these tight ends can accrue TE2 values as rookies, but there could be TE1 value to be had if Asiasi or Keene can create significant separation.

Indianapolis Colts 

Jack Doyle vs. Trey Burton
Trey Burton reuniting with Frank Reich is one of the feel-good stories of the offseason, but Burton is going to have to prove that he still has something resembling his Philadelphia Eagles form to put any heat on Jack Doyle. Still, he has the talent and the experience in the scheme to supplant Jack Doyle if he can hit the ground running. Philip Rivers has a well-known affinity for his tight ends, one that has led to multiple TE1 seasons. The Colts like to employ a rotation of multiple tight ends, so it is possible that the only tight end with any non-bye week value is the one who wins the job. The battle in Indianapolis is one of the more under the radar, but potentially significant depth chart battles at the tight end position. 

Pittsburgh Steelers 

Eric Ebron vs. Vance McDonald
Vance McDonald has impressed in stretches, but head coach Mike Tomlin made it very clear last season that he did not envision him as an every-down tight end. This sentiment does not seem to have changed as the Steelers added former first-round pick, Eric Ebron, to their tight end room. While McDonald may have the edge as a blocker, Ebron finally started to live up to his immense potential over the past two seasons and is the favorite to start and see heavy snaps for Pittsburgh. With that being said, as football fans know all too well, nothing is ever certain in the NFL. With Ben Roethlisberger under center, Ebron could produce TE1 value if he wins the job handily. However, both Ebron and McDonald could be stuck in TE2 land if Vance is able to siphon significant snaps in 11 personnel groupings. With both tight ends potentially undervalued in both redraft and startup drafts, this is one of the more intriguing tight end battles to monitor. 

Washington Redskins

Jeremy Sprinkle vs. Richard Rodgers vs. Caleb Wilson vs. Thaddeus Moss
While no one knows just how much fantasy value will come out of the number one tight end spot in Washington, there seems to be a wide-open battle about to be waged. Richard Rodgers has proven to be more of a depth piece in the NFL, but at the very least gives Washington a serviceable, if uninspiring, option at the position. Jeremy Sprinkle failed miserably in his audition last season and is no sure bet to make the final roster. Caleb Wilson was highly productive at UCLA but was still the 2019 NFL Draft’s Mr. Irrelevant. Thaddeus Moss has intriguing talent and pedigree but was not thought of highly enough to be selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. He joined Washington as an undrafted free agent. If one of these four tight ends can emerge from the pack they should become fantasy relevant in redraft leagues. If Wilson or Moss win the battle, dynasty league managers will also want to take notice. 

Las Vegas Raiders

Darren Waller vs. Foster Moreau vs. Jason Witten
Darren Waller was a tremendous piece for the Las Vegas (then Oakland) Raiders in 2019. He caught 90 balls for 1,145 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He found the end zone just three times, but with touchdowns not being incredibly sticky, we can safely expect some positive regression if he can maintain a similar target share. Foster Moreau found the end zone five times in 2019 and had the same amount of red zone receptions as Waller did. They were not that far off from each other in red zone target share with Moreau checking in at 17.9 percent, and Waller 17.5.

One would think that the Las Vegas Raiders would be satisfied with their two young and talented tight ends. However, the Raiders added veteran Jason Witten to the roster, a player who will siphon snaps from both Waller and Moreau. It is entirely possible that the Raiders valued Witten just as much for his locker room presence as for what he can contribute on the field at this point in his career, but it is still a noteworthy development that caps the ceilings off both Waller and Moreau. Waller was already expected to take a step back due to the offensive skill player additions the Raiders made during the 2020 NFL Draft, but redraft and dynasty players alike should be careful not to forget that Witten will also figure into the snap picture for Las Vegas. Waller should be the clear cut snap leader at his position, but may now see even less red zone opportunities with both Moreau and Witten around to steal snaps and targets. 

Seattle Seahawks 

Greg Olsen vs. Will Dissly vs. Jacob Hollister vs. Colby Parkinson
Greg Olsen was signed to start for the Seattle Seahawks. With that being said, much like his new teammate Will Dissly, availability has become an issue for the talented pass catcher. Even if Pete Carroll’s open competition mantra extends to the tight end position, Olsen is going to have a leg up due to sheer overall talent, as well as his skill as a blocker. If Dissly is healthy he is going to get enough snaps, and potentially targets to hurt Olsen’s upside, but this is Olsen’s job to lose. Jacob Hollister and Colby Parkinson will likely serve as emergency depth for the Seahawks two talented starter level talents but do not figure to be legitimate threats to win the starting role. If Olsen or Dissly gets hurt or traded, we could have an instant TE1 in Seattle. 

Cleveland Browns 

Austin Hooper vs. David Njoku vs. Harrison Bryant
At this point in time, it seems like a no brainer to assume that Austin Hooper will be handed the starting tight end role in Cleveland. David Njoku simply has not shown the needed chemistry with Baker Mayfield many may have hoped. He missed 12 games last season and is likely now viewed as more of a number two option behind Cleveland’s prized free-agent addition. Njoku is likely already the subject of trade talks, but there is no reason for the Browns to rush to a decision as to whether or not they want to open the season with Njoku on the roster. They appear to have already drafted his successor in Harrison Bryant, a talented tight end who starred at Florida Atlantic. There is a consensus on which way this battle is expected to go, but if Njoku impresses he could knock Austin Hooper down to TE2 territory while making an appearance there himself. 

Denver Broncos 

Noah Fant vs. Albert Okwuegbunam
When Noah Fant was drafted by the Denver Broncos he was expected to quickly become a top-five or six mainstays in the land of dynasty tight ends. Viewed by some as the most talented tight end in the 2019 NFL Draft, Fant was set up to be a TE1 for the next decade. However, the Denver Broncos made fantasy owners shed a tear when they drafted the talented Albert Okwuegbunam. As you may or may not have heard, Albert O was franchise quarterback Drew Lock’s college tight end. The two shared a special on-field connection, one that had Okwuegbunam being discussed as a superior talent to Noah Fant in some circles. Alas, Albert O never declared for the 2019 NFL Draft, and hurt his stock by going back to school. The perceived lack of any notable improvement during his 2019 season allowed him to slip all the way to the fourth round and into the hands of the Denver Broncos. Draft capital is expected to play a role here, but there is no denying that Albert O is going to get enough snaps to drive Noah Fant’s fantasy owners mad. Fant should win this battle in 2020, but the actual snap and target split may be closer than one would expect. It will likely get even closer in 2021 and beyond. 

Los Angeles Rams

Tyler Higbee vs. Gerald Everett vs. Brycen Hopkins
Tyler Higbee looked like a true star at the tight end position at times last season. After averaging 21.2 receiving yards per game during the first three months of the season, Higbee took advantage of an injury to Gerald Everett, and Jared Goff’s regression to put up an elite receiver level 104.4 receiving yards per contest in the month of December. Everett will be back and ready to steal some snaps, but Higbee should now be viewed not only as the better blocker but as the more reliable receiver as well. Everett is in the final year of his contract, while Higbee has four years left on his recently inked deal with the Rams. Brycen Hopkins will likely be groomed to take over the number two tight end role in Los Angeles, a role that suits him well. More of a receiving tight end prospect than someone who could be trusted as a blocker, Hopkins can thrive in more of a strict ‘F’ or move tight end role. As alluded to, this is Higbee’s job to lose, but the number of snaps Everett and Hopkins see will have a direct correlative effect on whether or not he provides a return on investment on his current ADP as the seventh or eighth tight end off the board. 

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Raju Byfield is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Raju, check out his archive and follow him @FantasyContext.

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