Dynasty Sleepers: Tight Ends (2021 Fantasy Football)
No position in fantasy skims the margins like tight ends. Stop me if you have heard this, but on a points per game basis, just four points represent the difference between the TE4 and TE20. Sleeper identification at this position falls into two categories: players who could ascend into elite status and players who could find startable utility. While the second group can help you build depth, buying low on players from the first will transform your roster composition.
The offensive role is the most significant defining factor for top tight ends, and we can use targets to evaluate that. Examination of the top three tight ends (Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and George Kittle) reveals an apparent threshold of seven targets per game.
T.J. Hockenson is the consensus target to ascend into this threshold given the Lions’ lack of established targets. The fantasy community is onto this — his current dynasty TE6 standing eliminates him from sleeper contention. Leading off, my pick for the sleeper elite tight end:
My top pick for 2021’s dynasty sleeper tight end is Jonnu Smith. The Patriots aggressively moved for him in free agency and handed him the third-largest tight end contract in the league. The Patriots have a plan.
Channeling their inner Marty McFly, it’s back to the future. They followed the Smith signing by adding Hunter Henry. The two form one of the most underrated pairs in the league. Henry will play the inline tight end role as a lethal run blocker best suited to work vertically in the seam, but Smith is a different weapon entirely.
The Titans used Smith in multiple roles. He saw work out of the backfield, including in the red zone. He even broke a 57-yard run in 2019. Tennessee also used him in the slot sometimes. Add the package together, and he looks like a unique talent while still entering an intriguing dynasty age at 26.
A.J. Brown missed most of the first four games, which pushed Smith into a leading role. He fell just under our magic target threshold of seven per game (averaging 6.8). Still, that usage propelled him to 17.52 points per game. Stretching the total through the season would put him just above 2020’s TE2 Waller’s 17.4.
From the Patriots’ perspective, Belichick flipped the clock back to 2011. Second-year tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski allowed the Patriots to feature quite a few 12 personnel sets. While Henry profiles to the Gronkowski role, the Patriots used Hernandez in a position that fits Smith’s skills to the tune of eight targets per game.
Smith currently carries a value roughly equivalent to a mid-second round rookie pick and sits at FantasyPros Dynasty TE12. Bill Belichick’s proven track record at tight end — and the low cost to acquire Smith — combine to make him a strong sleeper candidate.
Jarwin currently ranks as the dynasty TE21. He projects to have a shot at cracking a clear TE1 role and is the longest odds to join the elite class. The Cowboys believe in him, as they handed him starter-level money before he even played a season as their clear option.
Stuck behind future Hall of Famer Jason Witten to begin his career, Jarwin waited for his moment to shine. When Witten’s departure cleared the opportunity to start, a Week 1 torn ACL left him on the runway. Jarwin looks to make a full recovery and resume his ascension.
The Cowboys had a plan for tight end usage in their offense; in the three games after Jarwin’s injury, his backup, Dalton Schultz, cleared the magic target threshold at eight opportunities per game. Schultz started hot and averaged 16.27 points per game, but his production fell off once defenses adjusted.
Schultz largely failed to convert, showing a low catch percentage of just 70% after his Week 2 explosion. The offense phased him out after Dak Prescott’s injury and his continued ineffective play. Ultimately, he accumulated 33% of his production in this three-game span.
At the bare minimum, Jarwin’s current placement of TE21 underplays his potential. With a full recovery and a strong season from Prescott, Jarwin could push toward the elite tier.
Parham ended the season as a trendy 2021 sleeper selection. With Hunter Henry’s impending departure, the future was bright. Since then, the Chargers have muddled the situation by adding Jared Cook in free agency and drafting Tre’ McKitty in the third round. Despite Cook’s track record and McKitty’s draft capital, neither player possess Parham’s upside.
Parham’s stock has plummeted to TE44. He sits behind uninspiring veterans like Kyle Rudolph and 2020 disappointment Ian Thomas. Parham enters his second season in the league at age 24, and there are real reasons to buy.
Parham received 20 targets on his 221 snaps. His 9.05 target percentage ranked in line with more established options like Henry (10.19%) and Mike Williams (10.64%). The team trusted him in high leverage situations, as 35% of his looks came inside the red zone.
The team brings in new coaching staff, with former Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi gaining control of the offense. He has an established relationship with Cook, but he has also seen firsthand the impact an athletic tight end can have, as he coached through most of Jimmy Graham’s prime. Parham has enough talent to warrant buying him at his discounted price.
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