As is the case every offseason, fantasy managers always want to discover the next big sleeper. Finding players at depressed ADPs who will significantly outperform their costs can help win their managers a championship.
In fantasy football, the tight end position is bizarre. There are basically two top tiers — Tier 1 being Travis Kelce and Tier 2 being Darren Waller and George Kittle — before a bunch of “the same” for the next several spots. In fantasy, if you don’t have one of the top tight ends, there isn’t much of a difference between everyone else. We saw this in 2020, as Kelce and Waller scored 260.3 and 225.1 fantasy points, respectively, in half-PPR formats (Kittle only played in eight games but averaged 12.6 PPG, which was a bit short of Kelce’s 17.4 and Waller’s 14.1). Meanwhile, the TE3 through TE12 were only separated by 32.3 fantasy points — or just 2.0 per game — per FantasyPros data.
I recently wrote an article that covered a few of the lower-ranked receivers (i.e., Tee Higgins, D.J. Chark Jr., and Brandin Cooks) who I believe have among the greatest potential to finish as WR1s (top 12). In this iteration, I’ll look at various TE2s (TE13 and lower) who have the best chance to finish inside the top five this season. Let’s discuss!
After an impressive, albeit volume-based, rookie debut, former first-round pick Evan Engram has seen his play decline despite certain “accolades” (he surprisingly made the NFC’s Pro Bowl team this past season, ahead of Robert Tonyan). Specifically, Engram saw his reception total fall from 64 in his rookie season to the 40s in the next two. He recorded just 63 last season. His touchdowns also declined from six in 2017 to just one last year.
As a player drafted to be an elite and athletic option at tight end, the underwhelming receiving numbers are cause for concern. However, his athleticism and his role on the Giants (he should presumably work as the second option behind Kenny Golladay) should lead to over 90 targets again this season, which presents nice upside for a tight end in fantasy, especially considering his TE13 consensus rank.
If we see the entire Giants offense, especially third-year quarterback Daniel Jones, improve this season, Engram could be a massive value pick for fantasy managers. At his current ADP (115 in half-PPR leagues), fantasy managers who punt the tight end spot can target him and hope for a solid return.
Currently ranked as the TE18 in half-PPR leagues, Blake Jarwin may be an afterthought for many fantasy managers as the next season approaches. Several analysts, most notably Mike Wright of the Fantasy Footballers, touted Jarwin as the next great tight end sleeper in fantasy leading into the 2020 season. However, a torn ACL in Week 1 immediately crushed these prospects.
That said, Jarwin plays on a top-five NFL offense (assuming Dak Prescott makes a full recovery from his gruesome Week 5 ankle injury) that relies on its passing game to cover for a porous defense. With passing attacks becoming increasingly more efficient and optimized in the modern NFL, there really shouldn’t be “too many mouths to feed” in this offense. In fact, at 6-foot-5 and 260 lbs., Jarwin is an above-average athlete, per Player Profiler, and looks like a matchup nightmare for defenses — especially because they also must cover Dallas’ elite group of wide receivers.
If you completely pass on tight end in your draft this season, or you simply want to take two sleepers in the late rounds, Jarwin makes an exceptional target.
Cole Kmet is a second-year tight end who the Chicago Bears drafted relatively high in 2020 (43rd overall), leading many fantasy analysts and managers to hope for a late-season performance surge to help them win their leagues. However, it never really came to fruition, as Kmet caught just 21 passes for 157 yards and one score in the final six games of the season after his Week 11 bye.
However, Kmet did garner 33 targets in those final six games, which would average to 88 in a 16-game season. With the Bears taking advantage of an inexplicable fall by highly touted signal-caller Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Bears should be better on offense this season. We have seen highly drafted quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield, Justin Herbert, and Joe Burrow transform their teams’ offenses in their rookie seasons, so if Fields can live up to expectations, this offense could surprise people.
Let’s not forget that in 2018 — head coach Matt Nagy’s first season with the team and Mitch Trubisky’s second — the Bears were the ninth-highest scoring team in the NFL. With improved quarterback play and an impressive receiving corps led by Allen Robinson II and Darnell Mooney to draw primary coverage away from Kmet, the tight end may see a nice uptick in targets and efficiency in 2021. Currently ranked as the TE20 in half-PPR leagues and with an ADP of 292 overall, Kmet is basically free in your leagues, and he could really see a sophomore surge into the top-five tight ends in 2021.
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