FANTASY PLAYS: Kelce, Kittle lead top tight ends for drafts

NFL

Tight end is a position for the past decade that has been dominated by the haves and the have-nots.

Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have given way to Travis Kelce and George Kittle.

Zach Ertz has hung on the periphery of that elite group and Mark Andrews stormed the stage in 2019. Andrews, in particular, has one of the highest ceilings at the tight end position in 2020 and should be considered an every-single-draft target.

These four players (Kelce, Kittle, Ertz, and Andrews) stand apart from the rest of the group at the tight end position and really should be a key part of your fantasy football strategy in 2020.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t win your league if you do not get one of those players, but they do project much better than every other tight end.

However, we will not be able to get one of these elite players in every draft. It is always valuable to know the sleepers at every fantasy football position and luckily, there is a big group of options this year at tight end.

Historically speaking, rounds six to nine feature tight ends that are overvalued relative to their expected production.

Examples of overvalued tight ends this year are Austin Hooper, Hayden Hurst, and Jared Cook. That is not to say that we aren’t interested in any middle-round tight ends but just that at equilibrium, we would like to have either one of the top four tight ends while skipping Darren Waller and Evan Engram for the most part.

Luckily for savvy fantasy drafters, there are a group of young tight ends who are routinely being drafted between picks 100 and 150 that have decent track records of production and high fantasy football ceilings in 2020.

Generally speaking, when analyzing options in the later rounds of fantasy football drafts, we want to attain as much upside as possible. At tight end, it is not difficult to drop a player if he is not performing and pick someone up on a weekly basis as a ”streaming” option, or a player you select for only one week based on matchups or higher than expected opportunity.

The first key target for us at tight end is going to be the Detriot Lions’ T.J Hockenson. Hockenson was the eighth overall selection in the 2019 draft and while he struggled after Matt Stafford gave way to Jeff Driskel and David Blough at QB, there were many positive signs from Hockenson’s rookie season. He scored a touchdown and gained 131 yards in his debut against the Arizona Cardinals, though that was the only 100-yard game that he had as a rookie.

One of the most encouraging things about Hockenson’s profile is that he was efficient on a per-target basis while playing with Stafford and was also targeted on a higher-than-league-average rate while actually running routes. There is a small concern that Hockenson has an ankle injury from last season that is still impeding him but both Hockenson and the team expects him to play in full in the 2020 season.

Hockenson’s college teammate, Noah Fant, might even be a better breakout candidate. Fant was a more productive player as a rookie for the Denver Broncos as he played in all 16 games and had two games of at least 100 yards receiving.

Despite competing for targets with Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton, Fant was an every-down player for the Broncos in the second half of the season.

Denver drafted Jerry Jeudy, K.J Hamler and quarterback Drew Lock’s college teammate Albert Okwuegbunam in April.

This is a signal from John Elway that the time is now for this talented Broncos team. Almost all projection systems are cautiously optimistic on how often they expect the Broncos to pass the ball in 2020 and no one would be a greater beneficiary of that than Fant, who was targeted 66 times as a rookie. It is so rare for rookie tight ends to produce that the mere fact that Fant didn’t actively disappoint as a rookie is a great sign.

Blake Jarwin is another young player with a high ceiling. The Cowboys tight end is entering his fourth season in the NFL, but his first season as a starter. Jason Witten, Rico Gathers and Geoff Swaim are no longer on the team; all of those players, at one time or another, blocked Jarwin’s path to playing time.

The Cowboys led the NFL in yards per play and total yards gained last season while giving 83 targets apiece to Randall Cobb and Jason Witten.

Now, Jarwin should be on the field for basically every snap for the Cowboys and could see more targets than first-round draft pick CeeDee Lamb because of his familiarity with the offense and Dak Prescott.

Jarwin is even cheaper in drafts than Fant and Hockenson. He makes a great stacking option with Prescott for high-upside drafters.

Overall, your tight end strategy should be about finding players who can take your team to the next level. The time for safety at the TE position has passed in fantasy football because it doesn’t really exist anymore.

Taking home run swings with Kelce, Kittle, Andrews or Ertz is the best way to approach your draft.

If you aren’t able to secure their services, do not panic. The young tight end group of Hockenson, Fant, Jarwin and even the likes of Jonnu Smith and Mike Gesicki give you a chance to select a league-winning player at a depressed cost.

This column was provided to The Associated Press by SportsGrid Inc., www.sportsgrid.com

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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