It’s fantasy football season, finally! And here at QB List, we’re ranking the top players at every position. Today, I’m going to be taking a look at the top 25 tight ends for fantasy football in 2020. I’ve broken the rankings up into four tiers which, just for giggles, I’ve decided to name after my four favorite Neil Young albums.
So let’s get to it!
Tier 1: After The Gold Rush
1. Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs) – This one’s a pretty obvious one, though honestly if you wanted to put Kittle here instead of Kelce, I wouldn’t argue too much. For four-straight seasons now, Travis Kelce has posted over 1,000 receiving yards, last year posting 1,229 yards, his second-best of his career. There was a bit of touchdown regression last year as he had just five touchdowns, which is his lowest since 2016, but I’m not worried. The guy gets tons of receptions (97 catches last year, gold in PPR), he’s an excellent receiver and route runner, and he plays with arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. So yea, Travis Kelce is awesome, a shock, I know.
2. George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers) – Again, like I said, if you want to make Kittle your top tight end, I certainly wouldn’t argue with you. The guy is phenomenal, catching 85 balls for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns last year, and that’s missing two games (and probably playing through some injuries too). He’s almost definitely the top passing option in the 49ers’ offense, he’ll see loads of targets, and he might be the best receiving tight end in football. Oh yea, and he’s still just 26-years-old. I don’t know that he has the touchdown ceiling of Kelce (who posted 10 and eight touchdowns in 2018 and 2017, respectively), but honestly, that’s just nitpicking between the two. You almost definitely won’t regret drafting Kittle.
3. Mark Andrews (Baltimore Ravens) – I’m going to have a brief, brief moment to toot my own horn for a second. Last year, I wrote a piece in the preseason talking about how good I thought Mark Andrews was and could be for the Ravens’ offense. Turns out, he really was! I hadn’t the faintest idea he’d end up doing what he did last year (I can’t imagine anyone did), but we’ve seen what Andrews can do. He’s an excellent receiver, and that’s his primary role in the offense (he’s not all that great of a blocker). Plus, not Hayden Hurst is gone, and Nick Boyle generally ends up as a blocking tight end or fullback, so the position is all Andrews’, though it’s also possible a third tight end ends up popping in. Perhaps one of the biggest draws to Andrews is how often he gets deep balls (over the past two years, he’s posted a 14.0 yards per reception), but he also gets volume, logging 98 targets last year, which is nice for any tight end but especially one in a run-heavy offense like the Ravens. The team has gone a little more pass-heavy and likely will continue that trend, so if Andrews ended the year supplanting Kelce and Kittle as the top tight end in football, I honestly wouldn’t be shocked.
4. Zach Ertz (Philadelphia Eagles) – Here’s a fun stat via Pro Football Focus—Zach Ertz was open on 73.1% of his targets against single coverage last year. Simply put, at 6’5″, 250 pounds, Ertz is not easy to cover at all. We saw him break 1,000 receiving yards in 2018, that didn’t happen last year, but he did log 916 yards, the second-best mark of his career, and six touchdowns. Ertz no longer is the only tight end in the Eagles’ offense with the rise of Dallas Goedert, but he’s still very involved, logging 135 targets last year. Even with Goedert in the mix, Ertz is still a TE1.
Tier 2: Harvest
5. Evan Engram (New York Giants) – I’ve always loved Evan Engram, and maybe I’m ranking him a little too high because of how much I love his talent and potential, but I still believe. Key thing is, though, he needs to stay healthy, and that’s far from a given. If he does though, he’s easily a top tight end. If you pace out his shortened season last year to a full year, he’s keeping pace with guys like Ertz and Andrews, but again, that assumes health. Maybe this is the year? I hope? Please?
6. Darren Waller (Las Vegas Raiders) – After spending three years in Baltimore doing basically nothing, Darren Waller came to the Raiders last year and absolutely lit. things. up. To the tune of 90 catches for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately, I do think the presence of Jason Witten is going to snag some targets from Waller, but still, the guy showed the whole NFL how talented he is. Last year, Waller posted the most Defensive Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) at 234, a stat from FootballOutsiders that essentially compares each catch a player makes to that of a replacement-level tight end and translates that into yardage (read more here). Ahead of Kelce, ahead of Kittle, it was Waller who had the highest DYAR, and that’s impressive. He’s a main part of the Raiders’ offense, and while I’m slightly worried about the impact of Witten, I don’t think that’s going to have a massive impact on him.
7. Rob Gronkowski (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – This is kind of a shot in the dark, to be honest. We’re getting to see Gronk back with Tom Brady, but both in different uniforms this time, and I have no idea what to expect. We all know that Gronk can and has been the best tight end in all of football before, all with Brady. But Gronk hasn’t played in a year, he’s 31, Brady is past 40 (but apparently has yet to look at the Dorian Gray portrait in his attic), so who knows what they’ll look like. Still, it’s hard for me to assume Gronk isn’t any good now, and I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if Brady leans on him in a new environment with new receivers. The key will be health, as always, which is why Gronk isn’t ranked higher. But if he stays healthy (and that’s a massive “if”), the potential is obviously sky-high.
8. Jared Cook (New Orleans Saints) – I do love me some Jared Cook. Even at 33-years-old, Cook is a very solid tight end, posting 43 catches for 705 yards and nine touchdowns last year, not to mention 205 DYAR, which ranked second among all tight ends last year. Now, obviously I’d expect some touchdown regression, and with the arrival of Emmanuel Sanders, I’d be surprised if Cook is suddenly more involved than he was last year. Still, he’s a good tight end with a great quarterback who’s going to throw a lot of touchdowns, so the potential for a similar season to last year certainly is there.
9. Hunter Henry (Los Angeles Chargers) – Henry is obviously talented, but injuries have been a major concern for him throughout his career so far. A new concern now? The fact that he doesn’t have Philip Rivers throwing to him anymore. Instead, he’ll either see Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert, both of whom are significant downgrades. We also have no idea how much Taylor or Herbert will throw to the tight end in the Chargers’ offense, though I wouldn’t be shocked if a rookie like Herbert leans on his tight end a bit more as a safety blanket. Taylor threw the ball to Charles Clay a decent bit with the Bills, but it’s hard to look at that to predict what he’ll do with Henry. Still, the talent of Henry is undeniable and he will absolutely be involved in the offense, so he’s still a TE1, albeit a lower-end one.
10. Hayden Hurst (Atlanta Falcons) – I’ve always liked Hayden Hurst’s talent, and I felt like he was seriously underutilized in Baltimore (though, given how good Mark Andrews ended up being, I see why). Still, I think given the opportunity, Hurst could be a very good tight end, and he’ll likely finally have the opportunity in Atlanta. Matt Ryan clearly likes to throw to the tight end, we saw it when Austin Hooper was in Atlanta, and Hurst likely will be in the Hooper role now. Hurst has the talent, there’s a reason he was a first-round draft pick, and now he has the opportunity.
11. Tyler Higbee (Los Angeles Rams) – Higbee had himself a nice little breakout last year, with 69 catches for 734 yards and three touchdowns, finding a decent bit of involvement in the Rams’ offense. It’s hard to know exactly what impact Gerald Everett will have on Higbee this year now that Everett’s healthy, but Higbee showed some incredible flashes during the last five games of the year, averaging 104 yards per game. There’s definitely some talent there, but the opportunity is a bit of a risk.
Tier 3: Tonight’s The Night
12. Austin Hooper (Cleveland Browns) – We all know Austin Hooper is a very good tight end, but coming to Cleveland, Hooper’s in a very murky situation. The Browns signed Hooper to a pretty big contract while also picking up David Njoku‘s option, so now we’ve got two pretty talented tight ends in a brand new offense that could very easily be pretty run-heavy. Now, given the Hooper signing, I’d be shocked if he isn’t the primary target-grabber between the two, but we have no idea what this offense will look like. The upside is obviously there for Hooper as a TE1, and I’m hopeful he’ll get there, but it’s a risky pick.
13. Noah Fant (Denver Broncos) – I’m a big fan of Fant, he was one of my favorite tight end sleepers last year and he ended up with a pretty nice year, logging 40 catches for 562 yards and three touchdowns. It’s important to remember that rookie tight ends rarely put up incredible campaigns, so now that Fant is in his sophomore season, it’s entirely realistic to think he’ll take a noticeable step forward, especially now that the Broncos’ offense is looking pretty sweet with Drew Lock behind center. However, given the talent in the offense that includes Jerry Jeudy, and Melvin Gordon, it’s unclear just how much Fant will be involved. I’m hopeful his talent will force the issue, and if he starts getting targeted a bunch, there’s clear TE1 upside here, but it’s hard to know for sure what’ll happen.
14. Mike Gesicki (Miami Dolphins) – Gesicki saw 89 targets last year, which ranked seventh among tight ends, and over the past two seasons, he’s played in all 16 games each year. Still, with just 570 yards and five touchdowns in an offense that hasn’t been great, it’s hard to know what Gesicki will do. It’s also difficult to know just how involved he’ll be, depending on whether Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tua Tagovailoa will be the quarterback. Still, the opportunity clearly is there, which gives Gesicki some upside.
15. T.J. Hockenson (Detroit Lions) – Similar to Fant, Hockenson’s another guy I think is very talented and has plenty of upside. He struggled with some injuries last year, but also showed us just how good he could be in his NFL debut, posting six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. Like I said, rookie tight ends rarely have great seasons, and I’m hopeful Hockenson can stay healthy and take a step forward. If you’re going for an upside pick late in drafts, you could do worse than him.
16. Jonnu Smith (Tennessee Titans) – While Smith is a solid tight end, he’s going to be in an extremely run-heavy offense, and that’s going to limit his upside, unfortunately. However, we have seen Smith slowly get better year-to-year, and now that Delanie Walker is gone, it’s entirely conceivable that Smith takes a significant step forward. But in an offense dominated by Derrick Henry, Smith’s production will likely be limited.
17. Chris Herndon (New York Jets) – Herndon was another sleeper of mine last year, but unfortunately, he only played in one game following his suspension before losing out the season to injury. But he’s back, finally, for real this time, and we all know how talented he is and how much praise has been heaped on him by Adam Gase. He’s another great upside pick late in drafts.
Tier 4: Rust Never Sleeps
18. Dallas Goedert (Philadelphia Eagles) – While Ertz is the top tight end in the Eagles’ offense, Goedert has established himself as a pretty solid tight end who can still maintain some fantasy production even behind Ertz, posting 58 catches for 607 yards and five touchdowns last year. If Ertz were to ever go down with an injury, Goedert would be a clear TE1, but with Ertz snagging a large portion of targets, Goedert is mostly a TE2 with upside.
19. Eric Ebron (Pittsburgh Steelers) – The allure of Eric Ebron will never fade. Now in Pittsburgh, with Ben Roethlisberger returning, there’s a pretty decent chance Ebron could see some production. Yes, Vance McDonald is still there, and that’s going to be a drag on Ebron’s potential, but we know Roethlisberger likes throwing to the tight end, and there are few end zone targets better than Ebron. Still, given the risk and touchdown-dependency, he’s a low-end TE2.
20. O.J. Howard (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – Now that Gronk’s in town, the chance that O.J. Howard ends up with a breakout season seems even lower. That being said, we’ve seen Tom Brady operate a two-tight-end offense before with fantasy production available for both tight ends. Howard’s obviously talented, we just have no idea how involved he’ll be with Gronk in the offense, but the upside is, as always, tempting.
21. Blake Jarwin (Dallas Cowboys) – Now that Jason Witten’s gone, we’re likely to see Blake Jarwin step into a larger role. That being said, there are a lot of mouths to feed in the Cowboys’ offense between Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb, not to mention how much they’ll run the ball with Ezekiel Elliott. Opportunity is going to be tricky with Jarwin, and he could easily end up as a guy who falls into the end zone a few weeks to snag you points. The upside is very interesting if he’s heavily involved, though.
22. Ian Thomas (Carolina Panthers) – Greg Olsen is gone, so Ian Thomas is likely the guy for the Panthers at the tight end position. But how involved will he be and how much will Teddy Bridgewater throw to him? That’s the tough part. There are a lot of options in the Panthers’ offense, and it’s easy to see a way Thomas ends up on the short-end of targets. The potential for a breakout is there though, and he makes for an interesting sleeper.
23. Jack Doyle (Indianapolis Colts) – We know Jack Doyle can produce at a decent clip, and now he gets Philip Rivers at quarterback, a guy who loves throwing to his tight end. I don’t think you can necessarily count on Doyle having massive upside all of a sudden, he’s always been solid but unspectacular, but the addition of Rivers certainly makes Doyle more interesting.
24. Greg Olsen (Seattle Seahawks) – This is just kind of a dart throw to be honest. Olsen is 35 now with a bit of an injury history and on a new team. That being said, Olsen is basically free in drafts and he’ll get to catch passes from Russell Wilson, which is always a positive. The risk in drafts is virtually non-existent, and it’s entirely realistic to think Olsen’s got a little bit of gas left in the tank.
25. Irv Smith Jr. (Minnesota Vikings) – The trend in Vikings tight ends is reversing, as Kyle Rudolph enters the twilight of his career and Smith begins to surge upward. Smith was pretty involved last year, even with Rudolph there, and it’s definitely possible Smith could take over Rudolph this year. He’s talented, and could have some opportunity now that Stefon Diggs isn’t in Minnesota anymore. He’s worth a dart throw for the potential.