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Tight Ends to Avoid (2021 Fantasy Football)

May 14, 2021

The prevailing sentiment heading into the 2021 fantasy football draft season is either select a top-three tight end (Travis Kelce, George Kittle, or Darren Waller) or wait on the position until the end game. However, there are still landmines to avoid as you wander through the dark forest of the most challenging roster slot to manage in our game.

If you plan to wait out your league mates on TE and scoop up the other draft values, beware. There are names you will recognize buried on draft boards, but they are not the steals you believe them to be. Below are four tight ends whose offensive outputs warrant placement on your do not draft list.

Overall average draft rankings are based on FantasyPros Expert Consensus Rankings for half PPR as of May 12, 2021. In addition, some statistical data was sourced from NFL Next Gen Stats.

Austin Hooper (TE – CLE) | ECR 147.2 | TE18
Austin Hooper is the highest-paid member of the TE room in Northeast Ohio, joined by David Njoku and Harrison Bryant. Unfortunately, the Cleveland Browns invested that big money in Hooper after his career year in 2019. They hoped he would fill the role of an elite pass-catching threat a la Kelce or Kittle. Instead, Hooper eclipsed 10 fantasy points in half PPR leagues just four times last season, finishing 2020 as the 22nd ranked tight end on a point per game average.

Below the surface, Hooper underachieved as a playmaker, something Cleveland hoped he could provide. NFL Next Gen Stats ranked him 33rd of 33 tight ends in Average Yards After the Catch minus Expected Yards After the Catch (AVG YAC above Expectation), netting -1.5 YAC compared to the expected YAC. That is a mouthful but signifies a lack of playmaking ability. His average YAC of 3.8 yards and Average Targeted Air Yards of 7.1 yards placed him 25th amongst TEs in 2020.

Another check against drafting Hooper is Harrison Bryant. The second-year TE’s physical skills are undeniable. He is an excellent blocker, with an explosive 32.5″ vertical and good speed. Bryant’s emergence in the offense will further dampen Hooper’s once bright upside.

Hayden Hurst (TE – ATL) | ECR 169.8 | TE21
Atlanta decided not to pick up Hayden Hurst’s fifth-year option after drafting Kyle Pitts with the 4th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. The writing is on the wall, the floor, the field; it is everywhere – Hurst’s role will be even more negligible in 2021. His role for the Falcons in 2020 was not spectacular, either. The Falcons have receiving weapons in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley and used their TE to work underneath to open up the big plays for them. Averaging just 6.7 Air Yards per Target placed Hurst 30th on the tight end rankings last season. He already had limited upside before Pitts entered the fray.

His 2020 fantasy campaign could fool you, however. Hurst finished as the ninth highest scoring TE in half PPR, but of his 121.1 fantasy points, Hayden accumulated 30% via the touchdown. Regression was due. The Falcons will use both tight ends limiting Pitts’s managers’ high hopes as well. Hurst is an avoid, and fantasy managers should select his rookie counterpart with tempered expectations. Kyle Yates and Ray Garvin have more to say on all the TE rookies’ impacts for 2021 on their latest FantasyPros Dynasty Football Podcast episode.

Zach Ertz (TE – PHI) | ECR 191.1 | TE24
Where will Zach Ertz play in 2021? It will likely not be in Philadelphia after the former star TE gave a solemn farewell at the end of last season. A trade is possible, or Ertz will be cut after the June 1 date, saving the Eagles $8.5 million in cap money. With all the questions regarding his future team, Ertz is not someone to target in drafts this year regardless of his landing spot.

Ertz finished dead last in tight end Average Yards After the Catch in 2020. He accounted for just 10.2% of all Philadelphia’s Air Yards last year, suggesting he was not as involved in the offensive scheme as he once was. As a result, the Eagles TE transformed 72 targets into only 36 receptions and a measly 59.5 points in half PPR scoring. Some described Ertz’s 2020 performance as “disinterested,” but his five drops left fantasy managers disinterested in starting him each week. Here is one of those drops that directly impacted the Eagles success:

Long gone are the days of Zach Ertz performing at the highest level for your fantasy team. Zachary Hanshew discusses Philadelphia’s 2021 TE of choice, Dallas Goedert, in his latest article, “Tight End Battles to Monitor.”

Dawson Knox (TE – BUF) | ECR 224.1 | TE27
Buffalo was linked to tight end Pat Freiermuth heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, but he was off the board before the Bills would make their second selection. That leaves Dawson Knox and Jacob Hollister as the top TEs on the roster heading into camp. In 27 career games, Knox has 52 receptions. In 2020, only Cole Kmet and Drew Sample drew a lower percentage of Targeted Air Yards among qualified tight ends in the NFL.

Waiting this long on any position is inadvisable except for the deepest of two tight end leagues. There is no ceiling drafting Knox, and the floor is way too low. While the Bills offense under Josh Allen has turned heads, the TE position is not where you want to get your fantasy piece of their offense from.

Aaron Pagliaro is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Aaron, check out his archive and follow him @FantasyTriage.