Navigating The Tight End Hellscape in Fantasy Football

There is no position that is more feast and famine in fantasy football than the tight end position.  I saw the position as having three tiers (as I wrote about in the preseason).  There is an elite tier, a mid-tier and a “dart-throw” tier. The first week indicated that this is likely the case.  Some of the names varied after a single game was played but, overall the tight-ends we expected to be successful were and some of the one’s expected to do nothing flashed early. Let’s take a look to see what the values are, what the consistency expectation for a lot of these players is and how we can navigate the trickiest waters in fantasy football. 

Here is a list of the top 15 tight ends (ppr scoring).  I’ve also included their pre-season ranking. Let’s examine the data before we move onto analysis:

NameCurrent RankingFantasy PointsHSS Pre-Season RankingInitial Tier
Rob Gronkowski129173
Darren Waller226.521
TJ Hockenson325.742
Travis Kelce425.611
Juwan Johnson517.1n/a3
Dallas Goedert614.2102
Noah Fant712.282
Logan Thomas81272
Tyler Higbee911.8123
George Kittle1011.831
James O’Shaugnessy1110.8n/a3
Pharoh Brown1210.7n/a3
Jared Cook1310.6203
David Njoku1410.6n/a3
Dalton Schultz1510.5253

The sample size is small however, we can see that most players have already slotted into areas where we expected them to finish. Darren Waller, TJ Hockenson and Travis Kelce are in the top 5, Dallas Goedert, Noah Fant and Logan Thomas are in the top 10 and then we have a sprinkling of players who are surprisingly on this list.

Elite Tier

Let’s start with the easiest of the tiers to navigate.  Obviously, Darren Waller and Travis Kelce are paying immediate dividends.  Darren Waller was targeted 19 times and while that is obscenely high, he is expected to be the highest targeted player on the Raiders offense this season. His Target share increased by nearly 20% from 2019-2020 and it’s expected to grow again this season. 

Travis Kelce was “only” targeted 7 times in his game. His value comes from redzone usage and the fact that we saw Mahomes go to him in a key moment where he was being doubled and Kelce not only caught the ball, but also scored the game winner on that play.  He continues to be the most consistent player in fantasy football. 

George Kittle just made the top 10 and while I did worry that we may see a slight regression after the major injury he suffered last season, Kittle did a lot in that game to provide his owners with confidence.  Given that the game script did not help him and that he was only targeted 5 times, he also amassed 19.5 yards per catch.  Given that his game is yard after reception, this was a good sign.


This tier was made up of three front runners whom I thought could jump into the elite tier this season.  Firstly, TJ Hockenson seems to be THE ENTIRE passing attack for Detroit. Firstly, head coach Dan Campbell himself was a tight end and then tight ends coach.  Secondly, the Lions are really bad and should need to throw more often than they’d like to.  Opportunity is golden in fantasy and “Hock” seems to have all the opportunity and talent to be a success.

Kyle Pitts was a player I was willing to take a chance on because despite all the data that tells us that rookie tight ends don’t succeed in fantasy football, there has never been a tight end with his collegial pedigree or with equivalent investment in draft capital.  He is also the only receiving option with height in Atlanta and thus should be considered a red zone threat. In a game where Atlanta looked like hot trash, Pitts still amassed 8 targets  Moreover, Pitts got 23 of his 49 snaps out of the slot and 14 of his snaps at wide receiver.  If there’s a panicking manager in fantasy, Pitts may be worthy of a trade offer. Do expect it to take a few weeks to pay off however.

Mark Andrews is a player I expect to do better than his first outing of the season.  I do think this will balance itself out but I’m starting to feel as though Andrews will be a lower level top-10 fantasy tight end than we expected.  He caught three out of five targets and in future weeks I don’t expect Sammy Watkins to have the same kind of game or for Hollywood Brown to be a red zone threat.  If I do have Mark Andrews and I can build an interesting package for a top tier tight end (perhaps to a panicking Kittle owner, I would pull the trigger sooner than later).

Noah Fant and Logan Thomas were two of the more intriguing players for me this season.  Fant led the NFL in YAC+ last season. In leagues where I missed out on what I perceived to be the top 6 tight ends, Fant was a regular target for me.  He missed some time last season and amassed 58 targets which we expect to go up. I see him as being a George Kittle type who’s on a team with “Checkdown Teddy” at the pivot. Thomas’ day on the other hand was saved by a score.   Thomas was one of the most efficient tight ends last season and I expect his target share to increase as the season goes on.  The sample size is small but in the only regular season game that Taylor Heinicke started last season, Thomas was targeted 6 times.  While injuries are an awful part of the game, the Fitzpatrick injury may serve to help Logan Thomas this season.

I liked Dallas Goedert in general this season.  While the Eagles’ do have more pass receivers than they have had in recent years, Goedert always seems to be able to convert. I don’t love the work share as Goedert ran 26 routes to Ertz’s 23. He essentially performed as we expected.  He will be targeted 3-6 times per game (an expected 16-20% of the time that he’s running a route).  If you have him, he’ll be fine. If you are looking to trade for a difference maker, I don’t think he’s your man.  

Tyler Higbee is a player who, despite not being rostered in every league (85% on average) is similar to Godert but I think has more upside.  Clearly, Matt Stafford is a more effective passer than Goedert’s Hurts.  He’s not going to get a huge target share but it will be increased compared to previous years. He has no competition at his position for playing time and Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp should get the bulk of the defensive attention. Stafford is too good a QB to not throw to open pass catchers and I expect Higbee to be open A LOT this season.

Dart -Throws

Rob Gronkowski, tight end 1.  What is this 2015?  Gronk looked great to start his second season in Tampa.  He looks to be in better shape and Brady will throw enough and spread the ball enough to make sure that his buddy will get enough work.  Clearly, he’s the tight end to own in Tampa.  However, this may have been his best game.  His two touchdowns will be hard to replicate and 8 targets was also a function of a game being played at break-neck pace.  If you’ve got him and can get something of higher value no…DO IT!

Juwan Johnson caught all three of his targets.  He also only ran 8 routes. He scored twice and it looks as though Famous Jameis likes throwing to tight ends in the red zone.  However,  there just isn’t enough involvement from either of the New Orleans tight ends to be fantasy relevant long term (at least as far as you can predict the outcomes). New Orleans ran 34% of their plays with two tight ends on the field.  This means that both Johnson and Trautman cannot be relied upon given that they often take the field together and while both have a pass catching role in this offense it will be impossible to predict which one goes off when.  The two players from a game planning perspective are an interesting option but neither can be relied upon in fantasy.

The same argument can be made for David Njoku who shares the field with Autsin Hooper and Dalton Schultz who shares time with Blake Jarwin.  The Browns run the ball a ton and this lowers the tight end value in general. Dallas threw it 58 times on Thursday night and we expect that to be a season high but even given that Schultz was targeted 6 times and only averaged 7.5 yards per catch.  As for James O’Shaughnessy and Pharoh Brown, thanks for coming out.  We’ll probably see you again in the 3rd week of 2026 where we remember your week 1 performances in 2021 fondly after your second surprising performances of the year.

Jared Cook is doing for the Chargers what he’s done for his entire career. He gets open and he’s a good athlete. Somehow that never translates to efficiency and he scores a few times but not enough to be a week-to-week success.  If you suffer an injury or need a bye week replacement, he’s your guy.

What does this all mean?

Let’s take a look at the variance between the top 4 tight ends and the rest of the players at that position.  Removing the names, the fall of between number 4 and number 5 at this position is 8.6.  That seems significant, and it is.  The additional significance is that if we take number 5 and look down to see how many tight ends are separated by 8.6 points it represents 16 tight ends as Albert Okwuegbunam ranked at 20 after week one and that is the same deviation in value from the fourth and fifth position.

So, given what we’ve seen out after the first week, here’s what I think the top 10 tight ends will look like at the end of the season.  Positions 1-4 seem to be elite, 5-9 seem usable.  Dallas Goedert is listed at 10 but anyone outside of the top 9 are guys who I think will be difficult to forecast from here on out.  If you have anyone else who had a big week, start hitting up your league mates with offers!

  1. Travis Kelce
  2. Darren Waller
  3. TJ Hockenson
  4. George Kittle
  5. Noah Fant
  6. Mark Andrews
  7. Kyle Pitts
  8. Logan Thomas
  9. Tyler Higbee
  10. Dallas Goedert

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