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Fantasy Football Draft Sleepers: Cole Kmet, Michael Mayer, Darren Waller (2024)

Fantasy Football Draft Sleepers: Cole Kmet, Michael Mayer, Darren Waller (2024)

Would you believe that we have a good chance of seeing three new tight ends jump from TE2s into the top five in 2024?

It happens more than you’d think. Of the 105 top-five scoring tight ends since 2003, 57 did not finish in the top five the previous season. Of those, 37 weren’t even in the previous season’s top 12. Wouldn’t it be nice to draft a preseason TE2 that turns into a top-five asset at the position? Let’s check out the most likely candidates to make that jump this year.

2024 TE2s With Top-Five Potential

Cole Kmet (CHI): Underdog ADP 115, TE14

I know what you’re thinking — is Cole Kmet really a TE2? Kmet finished as TE7 in 2023 by half-PPR fantasy points. The reason he’s a TE2 going into 2024 is we have a bunch of studs that finished behind him for reasons that will go away in 2024. Rising stars (Trey McBride, Dalton Kincaid) and injury-shortened 2023 seasons (Mark Andrews, Dallas Goedert) relegate Kmet back to TE2 status by rank.

The biggest question for Kmet in 2023 is the QB position in Chicago. If Justin Fields somehow returns as Chicago’s QB, another TE7 season is in-play. The rapport with Fields is there, and the Bears are already very invested in Kmet (year 2 of a 4-year $50m contract) so another down season would be unlikely to result in a major change to his role.

If there is a change at QB for the Bears, the range of outcomes for Kmet widens a bit. There are many examples of TEs having their first top-five season with young QBs: Andrews had his first Top-5 in 2019 with Lamar Jackson, and Zach Ertz had his first Top-5 in 2017 with 13 games of Carson Wentz. There are also examples of tight ends having their first top-five seasons amid QB chaos, examples being Dalton Schultz with the suddenly-Watsonless Texans in 2021 and George Kittle with the Niners’ QB carousel in 2018. Chaos could be the ladder that Kmet uses to climb into the top five.

The best argument that Kmet has a top-five season in him might simply be the fact that he’s already displayed the production it takes to get there, it’s just been in spurts. Kmet had 2 of the 17 20-point fantasy days for tight ends in 2023, and tacked on another one in 2022. That’s only one less 20-burger than Travis Kelce over the same span.

Kmet has the upside. Perhaps 2024 will bring the consistency.

2024 Dynasty Fantasy Football Guide

Michael Mayer (LV): Underdog ADP 154, TE19

As mentioned at the jump, LaPorta is only the second rookie to have a top-five fantasy season since 2003. What normally happens is that tight ends will take a few seasons to build up to their peak. Before we let LaPorta completely overshadow Michael Mayer, let’s remind ourselves that the latter just might be on the typical tight-end trajectory.

Mayer didn’t have the huge weeks in 2023 that players like Kmet did. He had a few serviceable weeks (more than nine points in Weeks 6, 10, and 15) and a tone-setting pancake block that set the tone for the 63-21 destruction of the Chargers. We know Mayer at least has the respect of his teammates.

The reason to bet on Mayer comes down to his raw talent. He was almost one of the most highly-drafted TEs in recent memory, as the Jets were ready to take him at pick 15 if Will McDonald were not available. Whether his QB is Aidan O’Connell again or not, Mayer has the ability to be a top-five TE at some point. There’s no reason it can’t be in 2024.

Darren Waller (NYG): Underdog ADP 148/TE18

For every two TEs that enter the top five for the first time, there is one that returns to that status after an absence. Of the active tight ends that have fallen out of the top five, Waller is the best bet to return.

Waller “The Baller” has obviously shown that he has the talent to perform as a top tight end for a full season. Even in 2023, his half-PPR points per game was 14th in the NFL — and that was with either Tommy DeVito or a 34-year-old Tyrod Taylor at QB most of the way. (Tight Ends can do well in QB chaos, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing.) The Giants offense has nowhere to go but up in 2024. If it does, Waller could rise with it.

There’s also a counter-intuitive reason to believe Waller could break out again in 2024. It’s easy to look at Waller and see someone on the way out of the league. He’s 31, has missed 19 games the last three years, and hasn’t had a 20-point fantasy game since Week 1 of 2021. His floor is so low, it needs an oxygen sensor. Yet, consensus ADP right now has him within five spots of boring-but-reliable Pat Freiermuth. How could that be?

If you take ADP as being relatively objective, it means that consensus wisdom must be factoring something against Waller’s low floor. Early fantasy football drafters know he could have another one in him. If Dawson Knox can be the TE8 in a Brian Daboll offense in 2021, Waller can be a top-five TE again in 2024.

*Note: While Brock Bowers could be a new top-five TE in 2024, I’m not going to list him here. He was not a TE2 in 2023, and he’ll likely be drafted as a top-10 fantasy TE in 2024. Besides, only two rookie TEs have cracked the top five since 2003 (Sam LaPorta in 2023 and Evan Engram in 2017; you maybe get a third if you include Kellen Winslow as a de facto rookie in 2006). So, there are no Bowers Power Hours today. At least not here.

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Byron Cobalt is a featured writer and NFL Correspondent for FantasyPros. You can follow him @ByronCobalt.

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