How an Elite Tight End Helps You Win (Fantasy Football)
Drafting a tight end early in your fantasy drafts may not be an exciting pick, especially with many studs at both the wide receiver and running back positions available. That said, a top tight end may be the most significant positional advantage in fantasy football. This article will look at tight ends in 2020, why having one of the top two players was such an advantage, and why you may want to draft a top tight end in your 2021 leagues. All fantasy points and fantasy finishes referenced in this article are from half-point PPR scoring.
The “Big 3”
When you think of the “Big 3” at tight end, it’s likely that the names that come to your mind are Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and George Kittle. Sure, there are some other talented tight ends, such as T.J. Hockenson and Mark Andrews, but the “Big 3” are the guys you know have proven track records of being at the very top for tight end scoring. Travis Kelce is in a class of his own, in my opinion, but Darren Waller and George Kittle offer very similar upside.
Travis Kelce leads the group with four TE1 overall seasons in the past five years. In 2017, he finished as the TE2 and missed out on the TE1 by less than a point. Darren Waller turned his career around in 2019 for a Raider’s team lacking receiving options and finished as the TE3 and followed that up with a TE2 finish in 2020. George Kittle dominated in 2018 and finished as the TE3 that season. He followed that up with a TE2 finish in 2019. Unfortunately, Kittle had an injury-plagued 2020 campaign and only played eight games and finished as the TE19. The table below will show the last three seasons for the “Big 3”. Darren Waller did not break out until 2019, so I did not include his stats for 2018.
|Player||2020 TE PPG||2020 TE Finish||2020 Overall Finish||2019 PPG||2019 TE Finish||2019 Overall Finish||2018 TE PPG||2018 TE Finish||2018 Overall Finish|
|Travis Kelce||17.4 (1st)||1st||7th||12.9 (T1st)||1st||25th||15.2 (1st)||1st||15th|
|Darren Waller||14.1 (2nd)||2nd||16th||11 (6th)||3rd||42nd||—||—||—|
|George Kittle||12.6 (3rd)||19th||123rd||12.9 (T1st)||2nd||45th||13.4 (2nd)||3rd||25th|
The 2020 Season
Travis Kelce had a historic season in 2020. He broke the record for receiving yards by a tight end, previously held by George Kittle (2018). Kelce finished with 260.3 fantasy points, which would be 7th overall among all players, not including quarterbacks. Darren Waller finished with 225.1 fantasy points, 35.2 points behind Kelce, 16th overall. As mentioned before, Kittle managed to finish as the TE19 while playing only eight games. The tight end play for fantasy purposes dropped off heavily after Travis Kelce and Darren Waller. Had George Kittle played an entire season, he likely would have been up there, too, as he had the 3rd highest fantasy points per game among tight ends, Kelce being 1st and Waller being 2nd.
Week to Week Advantage
Let’s take a look at how Kelce and Waller helped fantasy managers win weekly. Finishing a week as a top-12 tight end doesn’t necessarily mean much when it comes to helping you win your week. Having a top-5 or 6 tight end will give you a much better chance to win weekly than those who finish as the TE7 or lower.
If we look at the top-6 tight ends from all 17 weeks in the season and average their scores, you will get 16.5 points, whereas tight ends 7-12 average 10.6 points, a 5.9 point difference. A top-6 scoring tight end will likely give you an advantage each week. According to the Ultimate Draft Kit, Travis Kelce was a top-6 tight end 86.7% of the time in 2020. Darren Waller was 2nd after Kelce in consistency percentage at 50%, and he was the only other tight end to hit above a 45% consistency percentage for a top-6 finish.
I dug more into tight end finishes to see what the average score would be for a top-3 tight end weekly and got 19.1 points. That is only 2.6 points higher than the top-6 tight ends average, but it’s 8.5 points higher than the average score for tight ends 7-12. Travis Kelce finished as a top-3 tight end eight times in 2020 (53% of games played) and averaged 21.4 points in his eight top-3 finishes. He finished as a top-3 tight end more often than any other tight end finished in the top-6 when considering consistency percentages. He finished as the TE1 in five out of 15 games played (33.33%) in those weeks and averaged 21.8 points.
Darren Waller finished as a top 3 tight end in 5 out of 16 games played (31.3%) and was the overall TE1 3 times (18.8%). In the 5 games that Waller finished as a top 3 tight end, he averaged 25.4 points. Waller averaged 28.7 points in the games that he finished as the TE1. George Kittle was a top-6 tight end only two out of eight weeks, and both of those games happened to be top-2 finishes (25%). He finished as the TE2 with 20.4 points and TE1 with 32.6 points.
Robert Tonyan burst on the scene and finished as the TE3 in 2020 but had just 150.6 fantasy points, which would make the difference between the TE1 (Kelce) and the TE3 (Tonyan) 109.7 points. That point differential is comparable to the WR1 and WR15 from 2020 (109.4 point differential).
Finishing with the 3rd highest fantasy points among most positions typically sets you pretty far apart from the competition, but in 2020, the difference between the TE3 and the TE12 was only 32.3 points. The difference between the TE2 and TE3 was 74.5 points, more than double the point differential between the TE3 and TE12. These point differentials show how top-heavy the tight end position is. If we take a look at running backs and wide receivers, the gap is higher. The difference between the WR3 and the WR12 was 53.2 points. The difference between the RB3 and RB12 was 131.6 points.
One of the unwritten rules in fantasy football has always been to get that stud, workhorse running back. While that is undoubtedly true, if you miss out on one of the top running backs, it may be a good idea to pivot to grab a top guy at another position with arguably worse options after the top guys are selected.
Only three tight ends finished above 150 fantasy points compared to 25 running backs hitting the 150 point threshold. There were only three running backs to finish with more fantasy points than Kelce and seven running backs with more points than Waller. That’s why I think you can make the argument that tight ends are more scarce than running backs.
The wide receiver position is known to be pretty deep, but I wanted to look at how many receivers reached the 150 points mark, which was 36. Only three wide receivers finished above Kelce in 2020, and only seven receivers finished above Waller. Due to the position scarcity, you could easily argue that it may be beneficial to draft Kelce above any wide receiver, and draft Waller or Kittle over most.
Travis Kelce may not repeat last year’s historic performance in 2021, but he doesn’t need to break records to help your fantasy team win. Kelce is in the perfect situation, with arguably the best offense and best quarterback. With four TE1 overall finishes in five years and three consecutive seasons with at least 200 fantasy points, his floor should be considered a top-2 tight end, with the only guys likely to challenge him for the top being Darren Waller and George Kittle.
While Waller may not belong to a prolific offense, he is, without a doubt, the number 1 option in that passing game. He had 145 targets in 2020, 63 more than Nelson Agholor, who was 2nd on the team in targets. The Raiders didn’t add anybody, and unless Bryan Edwards or Henry Ruggs make a giant leap, Waller will see that same volume. Kittle may have Aiyuk to take some additional targets away, but he should still be considered the 49ers’ number 1 option as well.
According to the Ultimate Draft Kit, Travis Kelce‘s ADP is at 2.03, based on 10 team leagues. He is an excellent late first-round or early second-round draft pick. George Kittle‘s ADP is 3.03, and Darren Waller‘s is 4.01. I would consider them all values when you think of how they can help your team win with consistency in a position that isn’t very deep.
If healthy, the “Big 3” should all score around 200 fantasy points and finish near where Waller did in 2020 (16th overall). If you can get a top 20-25 overall finish out of your tight end, not including quarterbacks, your chances of making the playoffs will be so much higher. According to Fantasy Pros, Kelce had a 72% playoff rostership rate, and Waller was 68%. Drafting one of these players in 2021 should have a very similar result!
The weekly consistency and significant upside, point differential, and positional scarcity point to the “Big 3” tight ends being extremely valuable for fantasy teams. Travis Kelce will likely lead many fantasy managers to the playoffs again in 2021, and behind him, I would expect to see many teams with Darren Waller and George Kittle succeed. Even if it’s not the most exciting pick, these tight ends will help lead you to victories and maybe some championships!