Tight End Draft Strategies for 2020 (Fantasy Football)

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The tight end landscape over the past several seasons has been remarkably top-heavy. There have only been a few true difference makers leading the way and a deluge of mediocrity everywhere else at the position. Last year’s TE1, Travis Kelce, scored 205.8 half-PPR fantasy points. Kelce and George Kittle tied for the league lead when it came to average fantasy points per game, each checking in at 12.9. Scroll down to the end of the TE1 tier and you’ll find Jason Witten at 108.4 total fantasy points and Dallas Goedert at 7.7 fantasy points per game, each the TE12 in the respective scoring metric. For perspective, Kelce’s 205.8 total fantasy points would’ve finished as the WR9 overall, while Witten’s 108.4 would’ve come in at WR56. At a points-per-game rate, 12.9 would’ve been WR13 while 7.7 equated to WR61. This exemplifies the massive dropoff you get within the “top-tier” at the position.

Clearly landing a top-flight tight end can give you a positional advantage over most of your league, but acquiring them isn’t an exact science. This makes it one of the most intriguing positions to navigate during the fantasy football season, and it all starts with the draft. It’s important to have a plan for the position before you find yourself on the clock.

Here are three viable strategies you can employ when trying to find a difference-making tight end for your fantasy team in 2020.

Lock It Up

The Strategy: There are a handful of proven fantasy tight ends in the NFL. There’s no such thing as a guarantee in fantasy football, but these guys are about as close as it gets. You’re likely going to have to use one of your first four picks to lock up one of these elite-level tight ends, but the hope is that the high cost is worth the price.

Pros: Selecting your tight end early allows you to ignore the position for the rest of the draft. There’s no need to play the ADP game when targeting a tight end in the middle or late rounds, so you can focus your efforts on filling the rest of your roster. It also takes the start/sit dilemma or streaming headache out of that spot in your starting lineup during the season. If you spend this type of draft capital on your tight end, you should be starting him every week. 

Cons: There’s a tremendous opportunity cost in securing a tight end so early. You’re theoretically locking in your starting tight end for the entire season, but you’re also passing on the valuable early-round running backs and wide receivers that are tough to come by in the later rounds.

Candidates: Travis Kelce (2.08), George Kittle (2.12), Mark Andrews (4.08), Zach Ertz (4.10)

Mid-Round Roulette

The Strategy: The middle rounds are littered with tight ends who’ve shown their fantasy value but also come with a lot of questions and no guarantee of success. These are also the rounds where the most tight ends are selected in typical fantasy drafts as owners get anxious to fill their starting lineups. If you spend a pick in this range, you’re best off sticking with a single tight end and playing the streaming game if he busts, but don’t be afraid to take another shot if you have a favorite late-round flyer with your last positional pick of the draft.

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Pros: The tight ends drafted in this range have a combination of proven fantasy success and unknown upside. If you hit on the right tight end in this range you can end up with a weekly starter without having to sacrifice the high draft capital needed for one of the proven elites. This strategy potentially gives you the best chance to secure a top tight end without sacrificing at running back or wide receiver. 

Cons: While they’ve shown some level of NFL success, the tight ends in this range also all come with serious questions. It could be injury history, a small sample size of success, or questionable surrounding offensive pieces. The tight ends from the mid-rounds don’t have a very high hit rate, so there’s an increased chance that your pick ends up being wasted.

Candidates: Darren Waller (6.01), Rob Gronkowski (6.11), Evan Engram (7.05), Hayden Hurst (7.07), Tyler Higbee (8.03), Hunter Henry (8.11)

Late-Round Barrage

The Strategy: Wait on the position until the double-digit rounds and then take your chances with multiple late-round dart throws. There’s an abundance of young, athletic tight ends that have entered the league in recent years and some of them are bound to breakout. They aren’t always easy to predict, but we can at least narrow the field when trying to find the next big thing at the position.

Pros: If you hit with this strategy you get the best of both worlds: a weekly starting tight end and a deep roster of running backs and wideouts drafted in the earlier rounds. It’s even possible to find two startable tight ends in this range, both Mark Andrews and Darren Waller were late-round picks in 2019. If you’re lucky enough to strike tight end gold twice you can trade one of them later in the season to bolster your roster even more.

Cons: While the risk certainly isn’t as high with this strategy, it still exists. If you completely strike out on late-round tight ends you’ll be streaming the position at some point during the season. It’s certainly possible to find a weekly starting tight end on the waiver wire, but if you don’t you’ll face the challenge of streaming the position all season long.

Candidates: Noah Fant (11.02), T.J. Hockenson (13.02), Mike Gesicki (13.06), Jonnu Smith (13.11), Blake Jarwin (14.02), Dallas Goedert (14.03), Irv Smith Jr. (NA), Chris Herndon (NA), Ian Thomas (NA), Dawson Knox (NA)


KBurns96 says:

I think I will take the Lock it up Strategy this year and try to snag either Kittle or Kelce to pair with CMC. I was lucky enough to grab Waller off of waivers last year but I don’t want to ride the late round TE carousel this year.

Aaron Larson says:

I don’t mind drafting Kittle or Kelce in Round 2, just know what you’re getting into and that you might be scraping for RBs.

I love getting either of them in Round 3 if I can.

Ryan Weisse says:

@mikerjaffe@gmail.com, not my article but here’s my two cents. It all depends on what you landed in the 1st and where you are picking. Basically, if you had a top 5/6 pick, grabbed a stud RB, and are picking at the end of the 2nd round, I love Kelce or Kittle there. If you’re at the end of the 1st, the RB depth in the early 2nd round might be too good to pass on for a TE. In that situation, when you have a lot of picks until your 3rd round pick, it’s risky but it’s not the worst thing you can do. If you went WR in the 1st, you almost have to go RB in the 2nd.

mikerjaffe@gmail.com says:

Kelce and Kittle are getting drafted during rounds 2 or 3, would you say that is to early to draft one of those guys knowing that quality rb’s are few and far between this year?

dlogansmc says:

Snagged Waller and Andrews last year late in the same league with deep benches. Time for the Late Round Barrage once again.

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