Best Ball Rankings: TEs to Take a Stance On (Fantasy Football)
Best ball is a delicate balance of roster construction, understanding average draft position (ADP), and player analysis. Kyle and I reviewed these concepts and included a detailed discussion on stacking in best ball drafts on the last few episodes of The Fantasy Footballers DFS Podcast. I’d recommend giving those episodes a listen before diving into best ball drafts this summer to really increase your edge relative to the field. In addition, our best ball rankings are exclusively part of the DFS Pass and can be used to help guide your draft strategy in best ball this summer.
To this point, I’ve hit on quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers I’m either higher on or lower on than ADP. To be honest, those articles were relatively easy to write because, in fantasy football, we know that these positions are relatively easy to predict success based on ADP. Kyle touched on this concept in his Best Ball Win Rates article. For tight ends, this isn’t necessarily the case. We all know the top TEs (Kelce, Kittle, Waller) separate from the rest of the position at an absurd rate while the back-end TE1s and high-end TE2s provide similar value on a season-long basis. As a result, I’m going to identify TEs I believe could break into the top 5 at the position and provide league-winning upside in best ball. My general take: In best ball, I’m shooting for the moon with the tight end position, meaning I’m willing to be wrong if a player provides league-winning upside. Recall, that the top TEs separate so far from the rest of the field that taking a “safe” option at TE is unlikely to move the needle enough to make a difference in win rates in best-ball leagues.
Tyler Higbee, TE, Los Angeles Rams
At his current 8th round ADP, there isn’t a tight end going after him in drafts that has the TE1 upside. Now don’t hear what I’m not saying. I think the probability of Higbee outscoring Kelce, Waller, and Kittle is low, quite low – maybe in the 3-5% chance range if we consider probability odds? But, when you look at Higbee’s 2019 season down the stretch, there isn’t another TE later in drafts who has week-winning (and therefore, league-winning) upside.
Recall, in 2019 without Gerald Everett on the field, Higbee posted stat lines of 7/107/1, 7/116/0, 12/111/0, 9/104/0, and 8/84/1 in Weeks 13-17. Now, Everett is in Seattle, and the Rams are set to take the training wheels off their offense with Matthew Stafford under center as opposed to Jared Goff. Last year, Goff posted a 6.2 yards average depth of target (aDOT), while Stafford blew Goff out of the water with a similar metric, posting an 8.7 aDOT in Detroit. Similarly, Goff ranked 20th in the league in yards per attempt while Stafford ranked 10th in this efficiency metric without Kenny Golladay on the field for much of the year.
When trying to identify blow-up performances for late(r) round tight ends, the ability of the QB to push the ball down the field is crucial so that the tight end catching passes can perform with efficiency as tight ends going later in best ball drafts, are unlikely to see a 20+% target share. With Gerald Everett out the door, Josh Reynolds now in Tennessee, and the third pass catcher in this offense behind Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp a giant question mark, why can’t Higbee finish inside the top-5 at the position?
Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolphins
Gesicki’s ADP feels about right at TE12, so he isn’t a screaming value or anything like that, but when we’re looking for a tight end who can make the leap into the top 5 at the position, the player needs to be an excellent athlete. According to Gesicki’s player profile page on our site, he holds a 100th percentile (!!!) athleticism score, 93rd percentile 40-yard dash, and a 92nd percentile speed score coming out of Penn State. Certainly, he checks the boxes.
Last year, Gesicki led Dolphins pass-catchers in targets, yards, touchdowns, and first downs gained on throws from Tua Tagovailoa and finished the year as fantasy’s TE7 after finishing as the TE11 the year prior. Now going as the TE12, there’s reason for optimism around the 4th year TE, especially given that the market, in general, is down on the Dolphins passing offense. Personally, I think the market is overreacting to Tua’s rookie season, especially considering he was rehabbing a devastating hip injury all offseason while getting reduced reps thanks to the NFL’s protocols amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. In general, I like getting exposure to Miami’s pass-catchers given the overreaction across the industry.
Mike Gesicki has the athletic profile we’re looking for when trying to identify tight ends who can break into the top 5, and he’s a player who offers a way to get different in larger field tournaments as there doesn’t seem to be too much excitement around Dolphins passing stacks in 2021.
Hayden Hurst, TE, Atlanta Falcons
We can keep this relatively short and sweet, as Hurst is essentially free in best ball drafts as of mid-June, so the opportunity cost of a 17th or 18th round pick is basically nothing. When taking a player in the 18th round of drafts, all we’re looking for in best ball is usable weeks. As of mid-June, the Falcons’ current depth chart includes target hog Calvin Ridley then middling to low-end NFL talents in Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Christian Blake as well as 6th round NFL Draft pick, Frank Darby. Yes, I’m as excited about Kyle Pitts as anyone (he’s my TE5 in best ball rankings), but the chances of Hurst paying off his 18th round ADP are strong even with Pitts having a nice year.
Last season as the Titans offensive coordinator, Arthur Smith ran 12-personnel at one of the highest rates in the NFL. Assuming he brings over similar concepts to the Falcons, both Hurst and Kyle Pitts are going to be near every-down players on this offense sans Julio Jones. In roster builds that feature three tight ends, you could do far worse than Hayden Hurst as your TE3 in best ball.