The tight end position can make a good fantasy football team great. If you find a consistent player who gets a lot of targets, you’re generally fine. If you have to rely on more of a touchdown-dependent player or a player with injury issues, it can get a bit dicier and your weekly floor is just a bit lower. Either way, identifying quality tight ends to target is an important part of draft strategy, and breaking TE rankings into tiers can help define that strategy.
There are usually only two or three stud tight ends each year. Beyond them, the next TEs off the board all depend on personal preference. That’s why tight end rankings tend to vary greatly after the top five, and that’s part of what makes it hard to properly value the position.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2020 cheat sheet
That’s where the tiers come in. If you’re thinking of targeting a sleeper tight end over some of the consensus top options, tiers can help show the difference in draft values. Are they in the same tier? If so, then feel free to take a Hayden Hurst-type over Evan Engram. If the players you’re looking at are in different tiers, then either take the one from the higher tier or wait to draft the one from the lower grouping.
Our TE tiers are broken up into six groups. Most of the tiers are chock full of potential sleeper and streamer options, as is usually the case at tight end, and the studs are few and far between. But if you can land a guy from one of the top two tiers, you’ll probably be good at tight end — so long as the injury bug doesn’t bite.
2020 STANDARD FANTASY RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Superflex | Top 200
2020 TE Rankings Tiers: Who are the best fantasy tight ends?
1. George Kittle, 49ers
2. Travis Kelce, Chiefs
At this point, there are just two top-tier tight ends in fantasy football. Kittle and Kelce are a cut above and should continue to be highly productive parts of the offenses that they’re in.
Kittle is the top receiving option in the 49ers’ offense by a wide margin, especially with Deebo Samuel sidelined with a foot injury. He’s coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with at least 85 catches and five touchdowns. He’s a monster in standard and is even better in PPR. No tight end should rival him for the top spot, provided that he can stay healthy.
Kelce continues to consistently produce in Kansas City’s offense. He has posted at least 83 catches and 1,038 receiving yards in each of the past four seasons, and as long as Patrick Mahomes continues to play at an elite level, Kelce will be a big-time playmaking threat.
Both Kittle and Kelce are worthy of late second- or early third-round picks. No other tight end comes close to them, so if you’re looking to spend an early pick at the position, make sure you get one of these two. Otherwise, feel free to wait longer to grab a second-tier or even third-tier option.
2020 PPR RANKINGS:
Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Superflex | Top 200
Fantasy TE Tiers: Second-tier but not second-rate
3. Zach Ertz, Eagles
4. Mark Andrews, Ravens
5. Evan Engram, Giants
6. Darren Waller, Raiders
7. Hunter Henry, Chargers
8. Hayden Hurst, Falcons
While Kelce and Kittle represent the best tight ends for fantasy football in ’20, Tier 2 has plenty of high-upside players in it, and most of them come thanks to volume.
Three of the options here — Ertz, Andrews, and Waller — were among the top five in tight end targets last season. Ertz ranked second with 135 (trailing only Kelce), Waller was good for third at 117, and Andrews came up just shy of 100 with 98 targets, which ranked fifth. All should continue to be valuable middle-of-the-field targets during the ’20 season.
Beyond volume, a couple of injury-prone players qualify for this tier. Engram and Henry are among the league’s most talented at the position, but each has missed time in recent seasons. Engram played in just eight games last year while Henry has played in just 12 of the past 32 Chargers games. If both stay healthy, they should be great TE1s, but if they get banged up again, fantasy owners will be forced to stream tight ends, which is tough given the thin nature of the position.
Hurst is the first sleeper on this list. The former Raven joined the Falcons via trade this offseason and will replace Austin Hooper, who spent a good chunk of last year as top-tier tight end. If Hurst gets a majority of the 97 targets Hooper saw last year, he should outplay his ADP.
If you don’t land Kittle or Kelce, it’s worth it to try to land one of these players in the early middle rounds. No tight ends further down the list have the projected target share of these six players, though Tier 3 does still have some riskier but intriguing options at slightly better values.
2020 FANTASY SLEEPERS:
6 QBs | 16 RBs | 14 WRs | 10 TEs | 5 D/STs | One from each team
2020 Fantasy Rankings: Fringe “starting” TEs
9. Tyler Higbee, Rams
10. Austin Hooper, Browns
11. Jonnu Smith, Titans
12. Jack Doyle, Colts
13. Jared Cook, Saints
14. Eric Ebron, Steelers
15. Rob Gronkowski, Buccaneers
This tier doesn’t have the same upside as Tier 2, but it is solid. There are a couple of good volume options in Higbee, who averaged 12 targets per game in the final four weeks of the regular season, and Austin Hooper, who averaged 7.5 targets per game last year with Atlanta. Both are TE1s in both standard and PPR formats, though both have somr risks: Hooper is on a new, less TE-friendly team, and Higbee will have to contend with a healthy Gerald Everett. Smith, meanwhile, represents a great sleeper option after he averaged 13.3 yards per touch last season.
All but one of the rest of the options are veterans who fall into the category of “reliable.” Doyle, Cook, and Ebron have all been solid fantasy contributors the past few seasons, and with Doyle and Ebron no longer cannibalizing each other on the same team, their ceilings should be higher than before.
Gronkowski represents the biggest question mark of this tier. He well may be the greatest tight end to ever play the game, but how is he doing after a year spent in retirement? How will he fare with a new team? And how many snaps and targets will he see as part of a loaded receiving and tight end corps? All of these questions remain unanswered. Gronk is still worth taking as a mid-round draft option, but make sure you’re ready to stream at the position in case things go south quickly for him. There’s no need to reach for Gronk, although someone in your draft almost certainly will.
If you’re not landing a top-eight guy at tight end, you should target one of these guys in the middle rounds of your draft. After the top 15, the tight end position thins out considerably, at least in terms of proven reliability.
DRAFT STRATEGY AND RANKINGS TIERS:
Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | D/ST
2020 Fantasy TE sleepers
16. T.J. Hockenson, Lions
17. Mike Gesicki, Dolphins
18. Noah Fant, Broncos
19. O.J. Howard, Buccaneers
20. Dallas Goedert, Eagles
21. Chris Herndon, Jets
22. Blake Jarwin, Cowboys
23. Irv Smith Jr., Vikings
24. Ian Thomas, Panthers
So, you like waiting on a tight end and you like sleepers? Well, then these are the guys for you! These guys haven’t yet proven themselves at the NFL level, or at least haven’t proven to be consistent yet, but there is plenty of upside to tap into and you can bet at least one or two of these guys will finish the season as a top-12 TE.
Do you like cheap guys that might have volume? Then Mike Gesicki and Ian Thomas might be for you. Gesicki ranked seventh in the league in targets with 89 last year while Thomas will replace Greg Olsen, who saw 82 targets last year (11th-most in the league). If those two get volume, they could eventually become TE1s and be worth a late-round flier in fantasy drafts. And they deserve a stock up in PPR, as well.
Blake Jarwin could also fit that mold, as he’ll look to replace Jason Witten’s 83 targets. His only issue is having to compete with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, and Ezekiel Elliott for touches.
There are plenty of second-year options here, as well. Hockenson, Fant, and Smith Jr. were all top-50 picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. In larger roles for their offenses, they could produce, but all will have to compete with top receivers and other tight ends for targets. Again, they may be worth fliers late or selections in best-ball leagues, but for now, they’re not in the TE1 conversation, though the upsides are there.
These guys may or may not be drafted late in some formats but even if they don’t get drafted, they’re worth monitoring as streamers. We all know how thin the tight end position can get with just a couple of injuries, so these guys could end up being bigger difference makers than some anticipate. If you don’t go in early for a TE in the top tiers, grabbing a a third-tier and fourth-tier TE gives you a good chance on hitting on at least one worthwhile contributor.
FANTASY DRAFT STRATEGIES:
Snake draft | Auction | Best ball | Dynasty | IDP
2020 Fantasy TE Tiers: Potential TE streamers
25. Greg Olsen, Seahawks
26. Dawson Knox, Bills
27. C.J. Uzomah, Bengals
28. Taysom Hill, Saints
29. Jace Sternberger, Packers
30. Jimmy Graham, Bears
31. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
32. David Njoku, Browns
33. Cole Kmet, Bears
Some of the names at this point — like Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, and Kyle Rudolph — are recognizable as former top-10 fantasy tight ends, but at this point, their values are mostly tied to their names.
The players in this tier are either fighting off competition for starting jobs (Olsen, Graham, and Rudolph qualify as such) or they’re top tight ends in an offense but lack the target share needed to make a bigger impact (Knox and Uzomah). If things break right for these guys, they could produce at the position and work their way into the streamer conversation. But for now, they’re merely blips on the radar in the fantasy football world.
The most interesting player in this tier is probably Taysom Hill. He’s not tight-end eligible in every league, but in those that he is, he may be worth stashing. Why? Well, because he plays a bit at quarterback and is a rushing threat in the red zone. If New Orleans continues to have him run the ball in Wildcat-type formations, he could be a worthwhile stash given that the tight end position is often touchdown-dependent. And hey, if he does make a start at quarterback, then you’re going to look really good for keeping him around on the bench.
Let’s face it — you’re probably not going to draft any guys from this group unless you get desperate, but they are worth tracking given the lack of overall depth at tight end.
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Fantasy TE Rankings Tiers: Watch-list tight ends
34. Darren Fells, Texans
35. Will Dissly, Seahawks
36. Tyler Eifert, Jaguars
37. Trey Burton, Colts
38. Devin Asiasi, Patriots
39. Vance McDonald, Steelers
40. Logan Thomas, Washington
41. Albert Okwuegbunam, Broncos
This final grouping contains some projected starting tight ends, like Fells, Eifert, Asiasi, and Thomas, but none figure to make much of an impact in fantasy formats. Fells is too touchdown-dependent and in his mid-30s, Eifert is injury-prone, Asiasi is a rookie, and Thomas set a career-high with 173 receiving yards last year. None are inspiring, but injuries, matchups, or a high touchdown share could make them considerations once the season starts.
Dissly could move up the rankings if he’s healthy. The Seahawks tight end was a rock-solid contributor in six games last year before suffering a torn Achilles’. If not for that injury and a torn patellar tendon as a rookie, he would be higher here. Alas, Uncle Will has a lot of competition for playing time in Seattle because of Greg Olsen’s presence.
That said, if Dissly looks good early in the season, be ready to scoop him up. Even if he’s just healthy for a few games, he could be a worthwhile streaming option.
Hopefully, not too many of these guys will end up becoming fantasy relevant. If they do, it means that something has gone horribly wrong atop the rankings and that injury issues are once again a big problem for tight ends.