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Mike Tagliere’s Tight End Rankings and Tiers (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 14, 2020

It might seem boring, but Travis Kelce is the No. 1 tight end due to his consistency

Ranking players is what we do at FantasyPros. It’s what you want as the fantasy player. “Tell me who to draft ahead of everyone else once I’m on the clock.” Does that sound like something you’d say? What if I told you that rankings aren’t the only thing you should be looking at?

I know I sit down and spend a lot of time creating projections, which then turns into me creating my own personal rankings. But why is it that every time I’m in a draft, I’m not drafting those players in the exact order of my rankings?

Tiers. That’s why. Rankings are just a general gauge for where a player should be going, but it doesn’t tell you the complete story about the role they’d fill on your fantasy team. If you don’t understand this concept, that’s what I’m here for today.

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Imagine having a taste for pizza and then going to a steakhouse. Does it mean that steak is no good? No, but it may not satisfy what you’re looking for that particular day. Not a good comp? How about having a stock portfolio with all of your life savings in nothing but high-risk stocks? Ask any financial advisor, you need balance in your portfolio, just as you need balance in your fantasy lineup.

By showing you this tier list, it should help you understand the importance of adjusting your mindset on the fly. I’ll explain the rounds that each tier should be targeted in, as well as the impact they’d have on your roster construction. These tiers are based on half-PPR settings in a 12-team league, as it gives us the widest range of usability in leagues.

Here are the links to the other positional tier lists:

Running Backs
Wide Receivers

The “Worth A Pick in the First Two Rounds” Tier (Round 2)

1. Travis Kelce
2. George Kittle

If you’re contemplating drafting a tight end early, these are the only two you should be considering in the top two rounds. If you like Kittle better because he’s younger and on the come up, that’s fine. Just know that Kelce has been the model citizen when it comes to consistency, posting TE1-type numbers in 28-of-32 games over the last two years. If you draft these guys, you play them every week and forget about the position.

The “Just Outside of Elite” Tier (Rounds 3-4)

3. Mark Andrews
4. Zach Ertz

What Andrews has done throughout his first two years in the league is absolutely bonkers, and he’s only going to get better. Still, he doesn’t get the targets to be included in the elite tier just yet, though he’s close. Ertz has been trending in the wrong direction while Dallas Goedert earns more playing time, but the offense utilizes both of them, allowing for plenty of safe production with a high floor.

The “Doesn’t Feel Great but Also Not Bad” Tier (Rounds 5-6)

5. Darren Waller
6. Evan Engram

Both players in this tier suddenly have a lot of surrounding talent. Still, Waller is the heartbeat of the Raiders offense, as they’ve targeted the tight end position 287 times over the last two seasons. Even if he dips down to 100 targets (117 last year), he’s due for touchdown regression to the mean (only three touchdowns last year). Engram has posted TE1-type numbers in 12-of-19 games over the last two years, which is worthy of a pick inside the top six rounds. You’ll feel fine drafting these guys, though it’s unlikely that either of them take a leap into the top-three conversation.

The “Take A Leap of Faith” Tier (Rounds 7-8)

7. Hayden Hurst
8. Tyler Higbee

If you’re feeling lucky, snagging one of these two tight ends could pay off. Hurst was behind Mark Andrews, so don’t think that he’s not talented. The Falcons gave up a second-round pick to get him and he’ll be replacing Austin Hooper‘s role that included 97 targets in just 13 games. Higbee closed the season with five straight games with 84-plus yards. He’s the first tight end to ever do that. There were some variables that led to more playing time, but it’s clear he has top-five potential.

The “I’ve Been Good Before” Tier (Rounds 8-11)

9. Hunter Henry
10. Rob Gronkowski
11. Jack Doyle

These players have been very good in past situations, though things have changed for all of them. Henry is going to be playing in an offense that likely throws 100 fewer passes and with a quarterback who’s never thrown more than 20 touchdowns. Gronkowski wasn’t great the last time we saw him on a football field, he was away from the game for a full year, and he’s now surrounded by two top-12 wide receivers. Doyle gets an upgrade with Philip Rivers who constantly produces top-12 tight ends, but Doyle’s had issues remaining healthy.

The “Do They Take the Next Step?” Tier (Rounds 10-13)

12. Jonnu Smith
13. T.J. Hockenson
14. Mike Gesicki
15. Noah Fant
18. Blake Jarwin

These are the tight ends who haven’t been every-week starters to this point in their career, but are supposed to get a bigger role, or are at the next stage of their development. Smith replaces Delanie Walker as the lead tight end in the Titans offense, a role that’s been valuable. In tight end team scoring, the Titans have been top-12 in each of the last five years. Hockenson was seeing the 12th most opportunity before his season was cut short. His efficiency was down but he could get back on track in 2020. Gesicki saw plenty of volume last year but wasn’t anything exciting to put in your lineup. Fant showed flashes last year but the Broncos suddenly have a lot of talented pass catchers. Jarwin and Jason Witten combined for 124 targets last year… Witten is gone.

The “Touchdown Dependent” Tier (Rounds 11-14)

16. Jared Cook
17. Dallas Goedert
19. Austin Hooper
22. Eric Ebron

These tight ends aren’t set to see a whole lot of targets in 2020, leaving them much more touchdown reliant than most. Cook scored a touchdown every 4.8 receptions last year and averaged 16.4 yards per reception. He’s regressing in both of those categories; the only question is how much. Goedert is trending up but Zach Ertz is still in his way to steady production. Hooper is someone who went to a much lesser role in Cleveland and I’d consider him lucky to hit 70 targets. Ebron has always been touchdown dependent, as he’s not a full-time player due to his lack of blocking ability.

The “Hail Mary” Tier (Rounds 14-16)

21. Will Dissly
23. Chris Herndon
24. Irv Smith Jr.
25. Ian Thomas
26. Jace Sternberger
27. O.J. Howard

These are all young tight ends you’re hoping get a shot in their respective offenses. Herndon may have fallen out of favor with Adam Gase, especially considering how well Ryan Griffin played last year. Smith should overtake Kyle Rudolph as the most heavily targeted Vikings tight end. Thomas will take Greg Olsen‘s spot as the starter, but there are a lot of mouths to feed on the Panthers. Sternberger was a favorite sleeper of many but after hearing he was put on the COVID list and missing most of camp, he’s fallen down draft boards. Howard will be mentored by Rob Gronkowski, and he might be better at this point of their careers. Dissly is coming off an Achilles injury, which presents far too much risk to put higher than this, but he’s been good in the games we’ve seen.

The “Low Upside Veteran” Tier

28. Greg Olsen
29. Tyler Eifert
32. Kyle Rudolph
36. Jimmy Graham

I’m not sure why you’d want to do this to yourself, but name value will get them drafted in most leagues. Olsen is actually going to be usable early in the year if Will Dissly does, in fact, start out on the PUP list. Eifert hasn’t been able to stay healthy and will be battling with second-year tight end Josh Oliver for snaps. Rudolph is likely losing targets to Irv Smith, as they were essentially equal last year. And lastly, Graham has gone from Drew Brees, to Russell Wilson, to Aaron Rodgers, to now Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles. Hard to see a resurgence from him.

Here are the links to the other positional tier lists:

Running Backs
Wide Receivers

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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