by Matthew Walters

Go get yourself a top TE!

Jason Witten was a top 12 half PPR tight end in 2019. Let me repeat that. 38-year-old Jason Witten, who had spent the 2018 football season in the broadcast booth, was a top 12 fantasy tight end during the 2019 season. 

This is not a pro-Jason Witten take. Even though I love Witten and he has always been one of my favorite players, it scares me to no end that old man Witten was able to squeak into the top 12 of the position in 2019. Can any fantasy football player honestly say that they would have been happy with Jason Witten being their top TE for the season? If you can, then please share with me whatever you are drinking or smoking. 

I have come to believe that one of the best advantages a fantasy player can have in dynasty or redraft is to have at least a top 12 tight end and maybe two if it works out. Looking at startup average draft positions for tight ends and breaking them down into top 6, 7-12, and 13-18, I will show you just how important these top players are to a team. It seems obvious that you would want one of these top tight ends, but many players try to find the next big thing at tight end, which is important but should not be your first goal. I like to have an established player while I’m also trying to find the next big breakout star. Betting on a tight end to break out and become a top 6 player at his position is like betting on double zero on the roulette wheel. 

Grabbing a top 6 TE in a startup gives you an edge at a position in which there are not a ton of options. Once you get past the top 12 tight ends, it is a dead zone at the position. Based off myfantasyleague ADP data, if you do not grab or have a top 12 startup ADP tight end, then your tight end has less than a 35 percent chance to finish the season as a top 12  tight end that first year and only a 23 percent chance to be top 12 by year 3. To compare, a top 6 startup ADP tight end has a 71 percent chance to be top 12 in that first year. However, there is a significant drop off to only have a 30 percent chance to be top 12 by the third year out from a startup draft. The most consistent tight ends are the ones that fall in the 7-12 startup ADP range. While these tight ends only have a 45 percent chance to be top 12 in that first year, they maintain that percentage chance throughout the first three years after a startup. 

For startups in 2020, the top six ADP tight ends were Kelce, Kittle, Ertz, Andrew, Waller, and Gronkowski. I am pretty high on most of these players for 2020 and the next few years. However, Gronk sticks out as the sore thumb of the group. I do not believe Gronk will finish as a top 12  tight end this year or even the top tight end on his team. It is most likely that he will retire as soon as Brady does as he has shown that he has no desire to play for any other quarterback. I hope, as a dynasty player, you did not waste draft capital on Gronk at this stage in his career. If you did, I would try to sell him to another team before everyone figures out he is doneski. 

The 7-12 startup tight ends from this year are an interesting bunch. You have the likes of Evan Engram and Hunter Henry. Both these players have been elite when they can stay on the field. Unfortunately, they do not stay on the field that often due to injuries in their career. You also have the old man Jared Cook who is still elite in New Orleans, but for how many more years will he be? Then there is Tyler Higbee and Austin Hooper, who have both shown they can play the position at an elite level, but everyone seems to doubt them based upon either having a quality backup in Higbee’s case with Gerald Everett or switching teams as it is with Hooper. While these concerns are warranted, I believe them to be overblown. The other tight end in this grouping is Hayden Hurst, who is a huge breakout candidate with Atlanta. Personally, my favorites in this grouping are Hooper, Higbee, and Hurst. The potential is there for all three of them, and with the injury history or age of the others, I believe these to be the tight ends worth taking a shot on in this range. 

Outside of the top 12, my favorite tight ends to target are Noah Fant, Mike Gesicki, and Jonnu Smith. All three of these players have become the go-to tight end for their teams and are prime breakout candidates. I would not be surprised if any of these three become the weekly starter for a fantasy player during this season and finish as a top 12 tight end. While the chances are not great for the players in this range, if you take an educated guess and don’t just follow the ADPs, these are great targets for you. I  would have taken any of these three over Gronk, Cook, Engram, or Henry. 

What about those rookie tight ends, though? Rookie tight ends that are drafted in rookie dynasty drafts are the crap shoots of all crap shoots. They only have a 3 percent chance to finish their rookie season as a top 12 tight end. In year two, their chance does increase to 26 percent, and in year three stays at 21 percent. It seems that there will be some that break out but knowing who they are in your rookie drafts is almost impossible. For instance, George Kittle was not drafted in a bunch of rookie drafts and look at him now. My best advice is to avoid the position, especially if they are being taken in the first or second round, and look for the ones that seem to come alive during their rookie year like a Noah Fant.

In the end, tight ends are a crap shoot in fantasy, but educated picks can be made. There is a steep dropoff for those top guys and a slim chance for the lower ADP players to crack into the top 12. The key, like with any position, is to pay attention to who you are drafting and do not pick somebody just because the masses are picking him. I will plant my flag that Gronk is done and will not help anybody win a fantasy championship this year. Because we all know the name, he is a top 6 startup ADP tight end. Winning fantasy championships is about zigging while everyone else is zagging. And for this year, Gronk is one big zag that is not going to work out. 

Matthew Walters
Ride or Dynasty