TE2s with Top-Five Potential (2021 Fantasy Football)
It’s a new fantasy season, but the story remains the same at the tight end position. The upper tier features a trio of studs, Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller. Beyond them, there are question marks abound.
I’m a proponent of drafting one of the aforementioned tight ends or double-dipping in the TE2 pool in the hopes of striking gold for cheap. As a general rule of thumb, I’m usually reticent to selecting a rookie tight end. This year, there’s an exception, though, and he offers top-5 upside at the position despite being selected as the TE13 in BestBall10 drafts as of March 23. He’s joined below by arguably the greatest of all-time to play the position and an athletic tight end who’s been a late-bloomer.
Kyle Pitts: 121.68 ADP
Pitts is different. He’s not your traditional tight end, and our Kyle Yates says, “Kyle Pitts has the potential to reach All-Pro status at the tight end position in year one.” Yates gushes about Pitts in his write-up, and he expresses his view that Pitts is a top-eight tight end for fantasy football this year. Yates isn’t on an island, either.
Lance Zuerlein compares him to Darren Waller at NFL.com, and he grades him as a 7.19 prospect (NFL.com’s grading scale describes a 7.0-7.1 grade as that of a Pro Bowl talent and a 7.3-7.5 grade as that of a Perennial All-Pro, putting Pitts smack-dab in the middle). Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus (PFF) also offers a Darren Waller comp in their NFL Draft Guide, and Pitts ranks ninth on the PFF NFL Draft Big Board.
We’ve seen rookie receivers burst onto the scene in recent years, and Pitts’ receiving prowess could help him buck the trend of first-year struggles for tight ends. Like my colleague Yates, I have him ranked eighth at tight end, putting him within whispering distance of a top-five finish.
Rob Gronkowski (TB): 151.39 ADP
Gronk returned from his one-year retirement to play 16 games — before four more in the playoffs to capture another championship — for the first time since 2011. He needed a bit of time to shake off the rust, but he eventually balled out, at least relative to his peers at the position.
Gronkowski ranked ninth in PFF receiving grade out of 48 tight ends targeted a minimum of 20% of the NFL-high 140 targets (28 targets) for the position. He bumps up to sixth in the same metric at the position, looking at only Week 5 through Week 16.
His stellar play during that stretch translated to fantasy success. He ranked fourth in point-per-reception (PPR) fantasy points at the position in Week 5 through Week 16, per our Fantasy Leaders tool.
He wasn’t a target hog with a modest 77 in a talented pass-catching corps, but his usage was tantalizing. Gronk was targeted a whopping 10.6 yards downfield, according to Sports Info Solutions. He was also targeted 14 times in the red zone, 10 times inside the 10-yard-line, per Pro-Football-Reference. The combination of deep targets and red zone work is fantasy-friendly, and there’s potential for more targets if Antonio Brown signs elsewhere. Gronk performed as a top-5 tight end for the last three-quarters of the season, putting that firmly in his range of outcomes, despite perplexingly being selected as TE19 in 12-team BestBall10 leagues.
Jared Cook (LAC): 226.73 ADP
Cook is grossly undervalued as TE30 in ADP. Even with limited usage as an ancillary piece in the Saints’ offense last year, he finished 19th in PPR scoring at the position. He ranked seventh the year before, and he finished fifth in 2018.
Cook isn’t going to be the top option in the Chargers’ passing attack, but he should have an integral role as a player the club’s new coaching staff explicitly recruited and signed in free agency. Further, a couple of the coaches are intimately familiar with Cook, having previously coached him. Chargers’ new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi served as the Saints’ quarterbacks coach both of Cook’s seasons in New Orleans (2019-2020). And the team’s offensive line coach, Frank Smith, was Cook’s tight ends coach for a Pro Bowl season with the Raiders in 2018.
Both have watched Cook thrive utilized as basically a jumbo receiver. According to PFF, Cook ranked second to Kelce in snap percentage lined up wide (28.4%) and ranked eighth in slot percentage (56.2%) among tight ends targeted at least 28 times last year. Cook resided in the slot 65.3% of the time in 2019 and 33.1% of the time in 2018 while lining up wide at a 19.5% clip in 2019 and 20.2% mark in 2018.
Cook’s efficiency slipped a bit last year, but his 1.57 yards per route run ranked a highly-respectable tied for 13th at the position, per PFF. Further, he was excellent in 2019, ranking seventh at 2.07 yards per route run and tying for seventh with 1.83 yards per route run in 2018.
Being on the wrong side of 30, entering his age-33 campaign, creates some cliff season risk. Cook’s efficiency was still solid enough last year that I’m skeptical of a cliff season coming to fruition in 2021, though. I have him ranked as TE16, but he’s only a year removed from a TE7 finish and two removed from a TE5 finish in 2018, so if last year is an outlier, a top-five finish is within his range of outcomes.
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