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Tight End Battles to Monitor (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Zachary Hanshew | @ZaktheMonster | Featured Writer
May 12, 2021

Is Cole Kmet ready to break out in 2021?

Tight end. Those two words can stir up plenty of emotion in the avid fantasy football player… and most of the time, those emotions ain’t good. This position is a headache every season thanks to a dearth of quality options outside the top two or three studs. Every year, however, guys emerge from the woodwork to become staples in our fantasy lineups. To become fantasy relevant, those guys have to win a starting job. That begins with a tight end battle. Which of these battles should you monitor ahead of the upcoming season? Let’s get into it!

Check out our Consensus Dynasty Rankings here >>

Texans: Jordan Akins vs. Kahale Warring vs. Brevin Jordan
Houston lost Will Fuller to the Dolphins in the offseason, and the receiving corps is unsurprisingly a bit thin. Fuller’s loss will free up some targets and potentially provide an opportunity for one of the team’s three tight ends to step up. Akins led Houston tight ends with a 37/403/1 receiving line in 2020, while Warring finished the year with just 3/35 after being selected in the third round of the 2020 draft. Can either of these players take the next step in 2021, or will Jordan – one of the most promising prospects at his position – win the job and make an impact in his first NFL season?

Colts: Jack Doyle vs. Mo Alie-Cox
Both of these guys flashed at times in 2020, though Indy’s tight end group was crowded with the now-departed Trey Burton still on the roster. MAC Daddy went 31/394/2 and Doyle compiled a 23/251/3 line. MAC was impressive for a three-week stretch early in the season, but eventually his production tapered off. The arrival of Carson Wentz should be a boon to both players’ values, as Wentz was particularly fond of throwing to his tight ends in Philly. If either of these two can clearly separate as the top option, there could be very positive results.

Patriots: Hunter Henry vs. Jonnu Smith 
Easily the most notable tight end signings of the offseason both came from New England, as these two elite talents will battle for TE1 position in 2021. Henry has been a consistent fantasy force for years, while Smith finally broke out in 2020 with the Titans. Their signings come on the heels of New England’s dreadful passing offense from a season ago in which the Pats finished as one of just three teams to pass for fewer than 3,000 yards. The most likely scenario is New England runs 2TE sets and gives Cam Newton two elite pass-catching tight ends whenever he drops back to pass, but which one will be the favored option?

Buccaneers: Rob Gronkowski vs. O.J. Howard vs. Cameron Brate
The Super Bowl champs return all of their weapons in 2021, including three very capable tight ends. Here’s how they performed in 2020:

Gronk: 45/623/7 on 77 targets
Brate: 28/282/2 on 44 targets
Howard: – 11/146/2 in just four games

Gronk and Brate played all 16 games, while Howard’s bounce-back season was cut short due to injury. Unsurprisingly, Gronk led the group in receiving in the regular season and led all Buccaneers in receiving and scoring in the Super Bowl win, going for 67 yards and two spikes. After an illustrious career and brief retirement, last season made it clear that the Brady to Gronk connection is alive and well. Howard is an elite talent who just hasn’t put it all together for an entire season. Brate is a capable scorer but typically operates as a low-volume pass-catcher. The edge is very clearly with Gronk, though this battle will still be interesting to watch if Howard or Brate really stands out in camp.

Panthers: Dan Arnold vs. Ian Thomas
In the first year post-Greg Olsen, Carolina’s tight ends didn’t provide too much for fantasy managers. A breakout season for Ian Thomas did not come to fruition, and the team’s three tight ends combined to go for a putrid 26/204/2. The addition of Arnold to the team could signal his emergence as the team’s top option at that position. Arnold recorded career highs across the board in 2020 with Arizona, going 31/438/4 and surpassing his combined 2018/2019 production in the process. The edge should clearly be in Arnold’s favor, but it’s not his job just yet. Keep an eye on this battle.

Bears: Cole Kmet vs. Jimmy Graham
The old bull or the young stud… who will win out to be the Bears’ top tight end in 2021? Kmet finished his rookie season in style, drawing at least six targets in four of his last five games and at least seven targets in three of them. In that same span, Graham averaged just three targets per contest, though he did provide a two-touchdown effort in Week 15 and score thrice overall. The future Hall-of-Famer finished the season with a 50/456/8 receiving line, though he was a boom-or-bust option completely dependent on scoring. If Kmet’s end-of-season production is any indication of things to come, we could see a passing of the torch in Chicago.

Eagles: Zach Ertz vs. Dallas Goedert
After a disappointing 2020 filled with injuries and trade rumors, Ertz is still on the Eagles’ roster as of the publishing of this article. His future is yet unknown, but if he’s on the Eagles’ roster, he’ll face Goedert for TE1 honors in the City of Brotherly Love. For years, Ertz was in the same tier as Travis Kelce – the elite, set-and-forget class of tight end that’s become almost mythical in fantasy football. From 2015-2019, Ertz averaged a robust 86/914/6 while drawing at least 100 targets in all five years. Goedert had a breakout second season in 2019, and while he missed five games in 2020, he increased his receptions per game and yards per game in the process. If Goedert can win the starting job outright over Ertz, he could put up some big numbers.

Jaguars: Chris Manhertz vs. James O’Shaughnessy vs. Tim Tebow
Just kidding. Please do not draft Tim Tebow or any Jaguars TE this season.

Check out our Consensus Dynasty Rankings here >>

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Zachary Hanshew is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Zachary, check out his archive and follow him @zakthemonster.