Approaching the elites
Travis Kelce has ranked as the overall TE1 for 4 straight seasons. In 2019, he led the overall TE2 (Darren Waller) by 33.3 PPR points — easily the biggest gap during Kelce’s reign.
He’s 30 years old and playing alongside human cheat code Patrick Mahomes. There’s no cause for concern for 2020.
This year is different from the last, though, as George Kittle brings serious competition. There’s just a 7-point gap separating the two in projected PPR points. San Francisco’s WR injuries only raise Kittle’s target ceiling.
Now, these guys provide a 30-35-point edge on PPR TE3 Zach Ertz. Kelce supplies a massive 108-point edge on TE12 Blake Jarwin, the lowest-projected starter in a 12-team league. (Kittle’s advantage is 101 points.)
Now compare that to QB. Mahomes’ edge on QB12 Matt Ryan is 84 points. Christian McCaffrey tops RB12 Nick Chubb by 152. (No surprise there.) And Michael Thomas sits 67 points ahead of WR12 Odell Beckham.
Looking at MVP+ value for a league that starts 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE and 1 FLEX, Kelce profiles as a top-8 selection. But with a Round 2 ADP, you don’t have to invest your 1st pick to land him. Kittle typically lasts several picks later.
Bottom line: Both guys should be in play for you in Round 2. While we like plenty of mid- to late-round TEs, securing 1 of the elites takes some guesswork out of a potential streaming situation. Such a scenario also gives you the ability to forgo a TE2 in favor of another position.
Kelce’s excellent durability — just 1 missed game since the start of 2014 — only adds to his appeal. Kittle’s played through some injuries, but he’s sat out only 3 games in 3 seasons.
So, let’s say you didn’t select Kelce or Kittle. What’s next?
Zach Ertz, who we’ve seen sneak into Round 5 on occassion, is tempting. We project him for the same number of targets as Kittle (128).
We’re not actively targeting Mark Andrews in the 4th or Darren Waller in the 6th. That’s usually the range where we’re hammering some of our favorite WRs, like Robert Woods and Terry McLaurin. Evan Engram is fine in the 7th — if he can play anywhere close to a full season. So far so good on his health this summer, at least.
Hunter Henry, Tyler Higbee, Hayden Hurst and Rob Gronkowski make up the 4 other TEs going inside Round 10 of most drafts. Henry enters a contract year with target certainty and QB concerns. Higbee’s consistency is a concern with a healthy Gerald Everett. Through Week 11 of 2019, Everett out-targeted Higbee 57-27. Losing Brandin Cooks does help.
Hurst’s ADP (Round 7) has risen too high for our liking. And Gronkowski — another Round 7 TE — isn’t a recommended investment. We project him for 69 targets, a number we have 19 TEs exceeding.
Ultimately, if you don’t acquire Kelce, Kittle or Ertz early on, we’d stay patient. Fortunately, that’s an easy task.
Why? As we saw last year, TEs can be found in the later rounds (or on the waiver wire). The most common TEs on ESPN fantasy championship rosters were, in order: Tyler Higbee (21.3%, undrafted ADP), Darren Waller (18.4%, undrafted ADP), Travis Kelce (15.4%, Round 2 ADP) and Dallas Goedert (14.8%, undrafted ADP).
In 2018, Kelce led the way by being on 33.2% of championship rosters as a Round 3 pick.
2020 — more than any other year — looks like the year of the breakout TE. These are our favorite options:
Noah Fant, Broncos (ADP: 11.07)
Athletic ability alone gets our attention here. But he’s also coming off a strong debut season. Among 45 rookie TEs with 30+ targets since 2000, Fant ranks 6th in yards, 6th in yards per catch and 10th in yards per target. Pretty solid considering Denver’s QB situation.
Drew Lock remains somewhat of a mystery; we’ve only seen him start 5 games. Fant averaged just 2.8 targets per game in those, but we’re talking about a tiny sample from a rookie TE. Now Fant’s playing under a different OC — Pat Shurmur — who’s expected to utilize him all over the formation. Bet on a year 2 jump from one of the league’s fastest and most athletic TEs.
Jonnu Smith, Titans (ADP: 14.02)
This is the guy that gets me fired up. A tackle-breaking machine finally enjoying a healthy summer, Smith enters a contract year with his first-ever full-time gig. He returns Ryan Tannehill and OC Arthur Smith, Jonnu’s former position coach. You might not like Tennessee’s run-heavy approach — I don’t either — but it helps when there’s no true receiving threat behind A.J. Brown. I see a lot of similarities behind Smith’s 2020 outlook and Mark Andrews’ 2019 outlook.
Chris Herndon, Jets (ADP: 14.06)
While the Jets don’t profile as pass heavy — we have Sam Darnold at 512 attempts — there’s not much competition for the target pie. Jamison Crowder looks like a lock to lead the group in targets. But rookie Denzel Mims has missed about 10 practices with a hamstring injury. Breshad Perriman’s been sidelined for the past few with knee swelling.
This offseason routinely turned up hype for Herndon. And remember that he posted an impressive 39-502-4 receiving line as a rookie. So greater familiar with the scheme and QB should foster a career year with increased opportunity. Put the Adam Gase jokes aside for a moment and enjoy the massive discount.
Blake Jarwin, Cowboys (ADP: 14.11)
You might say Dallas’ pass-catching corps is too crowded for Jarwin to emerge. Don’t. This offense just threw the ball nearly 600 times in OC Kellen Moore’s debut season. Yes they invested a Round 1 pick in stud WR CeeDee Lamb, but he’s not taking over all of the 166 targets left behind by Randall Cobb and Jason Witten. Jarwin already saw 41 looks last year and ranked 7th among 35 TEs with 40+ targets in yards per route run (1.83). This is an efficient, 6’5, 250-pound talent who’s just entering his prime years in an elite offense. Buy.