Fantasy Football TE Rankings 2021: Best tight ends to draft, sleepers to know

Written By Jackson Sparks
2021-Fantasy-TE-Rankings-FTR
(SN/Getty)

The tight end position is consistently the most shallow in fantasy football, usually dominated by two or three guys at the top. Standard leagues add to the scarcity, as short passes (where tight ends do a lot of their work) aren't rewarded with a point like in PPR leagues. That puts touchdowns at a premium, and with TDs always difficult to predict, our 2021 fantasy TE rankings still wind up heavily valuing targets and catches, both for the upper tiers and the late-round sleepers.

Perennial TE1 Travis Kelce led last year's No. 2 tight end, Darren Waller, by 36.2 total fantasy points (standard scoring) despite playing in one fewer game. From there, Waller finished 47 total fantasy points over TE3, Robert Tonyan. Nos. 3-19 were closer together in total points than TE2 to TE3. That perfectly displays how top-heavy the position is. Put simply, unless you can land a top-tier tight end, you will find nearly the same kind of production in the middle of the rankings.

2021 PPR FANTASY RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Top 200

This season, three tight ends are expected to be among the elite fantasy scorers -- Kelce, Waller, and George Kittle. Kittle looks to reclaim his place among the top fantasy players after missing eight games in 2020. 

2021 STANDARD FANTASY RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | D/ST | Kicker | Top 200

There are some other candidates to reach tight end superiority, though -- mainly Kyle Pitts, Mark Andrews, and T.J. Hockenson. Pitts is highly regarded as the No. 1 tight end prospect the league has ever seen coming out of the draft. Andrews remains an upper-tier standard tight end with a chance to take it to the next level. Hockenson saw 101 targets in 2020, and Detroit lost its top two options at receiver.

2021 FANTASY AUCTION VALUES (Standard & PPR):
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Overall

Still, the likelihood of those three joining the elite fraternity of fantasy tight ends this season are slim, all for their own circumstances.

2021 FANTASY SLEEPERS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Each team

Diving deeper into the rankings helps explore late-round options. There are only a handful of tight ends who you can reliably count on each week, so getting to know streamers and sleeper options provides an edge both during your draft and once the season starts. Fortunately, there are quite a few intriguing middle- and late-round options highlighted below.

We'll be adjusting these TE rankings and providing further analysis from now until Week 1, so check back for updates!

2021 Fantasy TE Rankings

Rankings are based on standard, non-PPR scoring formats

Rank Player
1 Travis Kelce, Chiefs. Not much needs to be said here. Kelce finished as the TE1 in four of the past five seasons (and No. 2 in 2017). It would truly be a surprise if it didn't happen again this year.
2 George Kittle, 49ers. Kittle is preferred over Waller in standard leagues. His elite yards after contact (YAC) skills separate the two. YAC is especially important in non-PPR.
3 Darren Waller, Raiders. While Kelce and Kittle are ranked just above Waller, he has one thing going for him that those two do not: He's the clear-cut, No. 1 option for Las Vegas. He has no Tyreek Hill, Brandon Aiyuk, or Deebo Samuel to compete with. His 146 targets led all tight ends in 2020.
4 Mark Andrews, Ravens. Andrews ranked above the big three tight ends in aDot (average depth of target) at 10.19. That's his strength in standard formats. He's a big-play tight end in an offense that has previously lacked big-bodied deep threats. The addition of Rashod Bateman may eat into his deep targets, but it will make his life easier in other areas of the field. He should also continue to flourish in the red zone.
5 Kyle Pitts, Falcons. Some in the fantasy community are banging the table for Pitts to be a top-three or four TE. However, the struggle of rookie tight ends has been well documented. The best rookie fantasy season by a tight end was Rob Gronkowski in 2010 when he had 114.6 fantasy points in standard formats. However, more than 50 percent of Gronk's fantasy production came from his 10 receiving touchdowns. Unless Pitts reaches that kind of touchdown figure, he'll likely fall within TE4-10. Put differently, he'll have to replicate the greatest rookie tight end season ever to finish among the elite of the elite. Being ranked at No. 5 is quite a feat for a rookie -- and he's going to be good this year -- but don't expect him to be in the first tier. Sure, he's quite literally expected to be a future All-Pro stud at the position, but don't get overzealous on him in year one.
6 T.J. Hockenson, Lions. Hockenson showed flashes of an incredible future in his sophomore season. The Pro Bowler was a target magnet in a Matthew Stafford-led offense. He finished at the No. 5 spot among tight ends despite ranking 10th in target share (18 percent). This year, he's the only respectable piece among Lions' pass-catchers. Detroit lost all of its top wideouts, most noticeably Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. They lost a combined 2,063 offensive snaps from wide receivers from 2020 and are in complete rebuild mode. Hockenson should be a target phenom once again. Breshad Perriman, Quintez Cephus, and Tyrell Williams shouldn't intimidate anyone when it comes to target share. With all the loss of targets in Detroit, Hockenson's 101 targets could hover somewhere closer to 150. The downside is Jared Goff isn't exactly the picture of consistency. 
7 Noah Fant, Broncos. The buzz is high around Fant in 2021. He might have the most impressive physical profile of any tight end in the league, with his height (6-4), weight (250 pounds), and speed (4.5 40-yard dash) closely resembling Derrick Henry's. He trailed only Kelce and Waller in total YAC (381) despite not being near them in targets. If Denver sees better quarterback play, Fant is set for a year-three breakout.
8 Tyler Higbee, Rams. It's officially Higbee time in 2021. Matthew Stafford rolls into LA while Gerald Everett leaves it, setting the stage for more consistency from Higbee. He was listed as a fantasy sleeper before the 2020 season began after an explosive end to 2019. In Week 3 of last season, Higbee charted a three-TD game for 23.4 fantasy points in Week 2. After that, he failed to score more than six points in 11 of the next 13 outings. The hope is Higbee will command far more than last year's 11.3-percent target share with Everett headed to Seattle. 
9 Dallas Goedert, Eagles. The writing has been on the wall for Zach Ertz in Philadelphia, and Goedert is finally set to completely take over the starting tight end spot. Whether Ertz is traded or not, it's Goedert's job. Jalen Hurts' accuracy issues have been well documented, but what a better way to get easy completions than relying on a security blanket at tight end. As a 'co-starter' tight end in 2020, Goedert commanded a 16.7-percent target share (seventh among tight ends). Even with the addition of DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia doesn't have any other pass-catchers that should keep Goedert's target share below 20 percent in a more significant role. As the No. 2 option, he should enjoy his best season yet.
10 Mike Gesicki, Dolphins. Gesicki came in at the No. 6 spot in 2020 among tight ends. A regression is likely in 2021 with Miami's upgraded offensive arsenal and the addition of rookie tight end Hunter Long. Gesicki commanded a 16.3-percent target share with a weak group around him. It's to be expected he will drop down from that figure. Furthermore, he enjoyed his two biggest performances with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm. Still, Gesicki's versatility (second among tight ends in slot snaps) and 25-percent red zone target share will keep him a fantasy-relevant option.
11 Logan Thomas, Washington. In 2020, Thomas was a classic case of a tight end emerging from nowhere to rank inside the top 10. Incredibly, the QB-turned-TE ranked third among tight ends in targets with 110. He did so with a putrid Washington passing attack. With Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB1, expect Thomas to see another flurry of targets and improve on his aDot of 7.02.
12 Robert Tonyan Jr., Packers. Tonyan ranked 24th in targets among tight ends last season. However, he caught 88 percent of those looks. Realistically speaking, there's next to no chance that kind of pace repeats itself. He will go from a top-three tight end to more of a middle-of-the-pack kind of player. Still, with Aaron Rodgers presumably returning as the QB in Green Bay, Tonyan will continue to be one of his trusted targets in the red zone. Tonyan caught 10-of-11 red-zone targets for seven touchdowns. The hope is that the trend continues.
13 Jonnu Smith, Patriots. Smith came into 2020 with a lot of hype. Although he finished top 10 at the position in standard leagues, he was very touchdown dependent (48 percent of his fantasy points from touchdowns). It's unclear whether Smith or Hunter Henry will be the primary tight end in the Patriots offense or if they will see a somewhat equal piece of the pie. What does bode well for Smith is the lack of talent at WR in New England. It wouldn't be shocking to see the tight end tandem become the top-two options. We expect Mac Jones to take over at some point, and tight ends often serve as a security blanket for young QBs.
14 Irv Smith Jr., Vikings. Kyle Rudolph is out after a long career with the Vikings. Smith showed promise last season with 30 catches on 43 targets, 336 yards and five touchdowns. The Vikings were obviously comfortable enough with Smith to let Rudolph leave town. Outside of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, there's a lot of targets up for grabs in 2021. Smith plays more like a big wide receiver than a traditional tight end and could be used in many different positions in the offense.
15 Hunter Henry, Patriots. It's no coincidence Henry and Jonnu Smith find themselves ranked eerily similar. As previously mentioned, they both have a lot of opportunity to be premier weapons in this offense. New England made each of them tied for the third-highest paid tight end in the NFL ($12.5M annually), so you can expect each of them to see plenty of action.
16 Blake Jarwin, Cowboys. Jarwin has potential to destroy his TE16 ranking in a high-powered Cowboys offense. It may sound contradictory with all the mouths to feed in Dallas, but there will be plenty of targets and scoring opportunities to go around in a high-volume passing attack, shown by Jarwin's backup Dalton Schultz ranking ninth among TEs in targets last year (89) while filling in. 
17 Jared Cook, Chargers. Cook is old reliable at the tight end position. He isn't quite what he once was, but he's set to play with an young quarterback. In 2020, he finished fourth among tight ends in average target distance (11.1), despite playing with an ailing Drew Brees and Taysom Hill in New Orleans
18 Rob Gronkowski, Buccaneers. Gronkowski's range of outcomes are anywhere between fantasy irrelevance and top-five tight end. With another year of rust knocked off him, it's not impossible for him to return to prime Gronk form. The odds are stacked against that, but he did start heating up in the later part of the season last year, including scoring twice in the Super Bowl. Whether he gets a lot of volume or not, his red-zone acumen will produce solid fantasy weeks this season (T-10th in red-zone targets last year with 21). Ultimately, his value could come down to how much O.J. Howard plays after missing 12 games because of a torn Achilles'. If the Bucs still view Howard as the TE of the future, he could easily be more valuable.
19 Evan Engram, Giants. After a top-five fantasy tight end season as a rookie, Engram has been nothing short of a disappointment. He's failed to rank inside the top 10 since, ending at TE19 the previous two seasons. With Saquon Barkely back, and Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and Kyle Rudolph added to the offense, Engram's opportunities figure to decrease. The only hope is his elite talent at the position finally materializing into elite play.
20 Anthony Firkser, Titans. The Titans possess a star-studded offense in 2021, but don't forget to keep an eye on Firkser. Firkser has done nothing but produce when given the opportunity, and he's just now getting a chance to take over the starting tight end role in Tennessee. According to PlayerProfiler.com, Firkser ranked No. 2 at the position in "hog rate" at 18.3 percent -- one spot ahead of Travis Kelce. Hog rate represents targets per snap. In other words, Firkser saw a target on 18.3 percent of his offensive snaps, showing Ryan Tannehill trusted him when he was out on the field.
21 Cole Kmet, Bears. Kmet is poised to take over the keys from Jimmy Graham at TE1 in the Bears offense. While Kmet didn't see a ton of volume last year (44 targets), he ranked fourth at the position in true catch rate at 94 percent. True catch rate is the total number of receptions divided by total number of catchable targets. With Andy Dalton or Justin Fields on the field, passing volume and catchable targets are likely to point upward.
22 Zach Ertz, Eagles. Ertz is a wild card, as he's been rumored to be traded before the start of the season. Landing spot will be everything if that happens. However, his track record suggests that he can be at least a fantasy-relevant tight end. From 2017-'19 Ertz was a premier tight end listed among the elites at the position. He finished top five in those three consecutive seasons, and a trade to a tight end needy team could prove fruitful for him. If he's not traded, he still looks to be a part of the offense in a lackluster Eagles passing attack.
23 O.J. Howard, Buccaneers. See Rob Gronkowski.
24 Eric Ebron, Steelers. Ebron disappointed last year despite consistently solid targets, and with the Steelers loaded at WR and adding RB Najee Davenport and TE Pat Freiermuth in the draft, things don't figure to get any better for him. The targets still give him some upside in PPR leagues, though.
25 Austin Hooper, Browns. Hooper was a bust among tight ends in 2020. He dropped to TE22 from TE7 the previous season with Atlanta. It's not necessarily surprising, though. In '20, the Browns attempted 501 passes, fifth fewest. Compare that to the '19 Atlanta passing attack that attempted the most passes (684), and it's clear to see the passing volume simply isn't the same. Unless the Browns decide to randomly become pass happy, Hooper won't see a significant workload once again.
26 Adam Trautman, Saints. Trautman came into the league with an impressive prospect profile filled with production. During his college career at Dayton, he compiled 3,000 yards and 31 receiving touchdowns. With targets up for grabs in the New Orleans offense, Trautman has all the opportunity in the world to take advantage, making him an intriguing deep sleeper.
27 Gerald Everett, Seahawks. Playing with Russell Wilson is considered a good thing for pass-catchers. At tight end, there hasn't been much production in Seattle. Everett is the most athletic tight end Wilson has played with, but there's no guarantee of volume coming his way until we've seen it.
28 Hayden Hurst, Falcons. For obvious reasons (Kyle Pitts), Hurst's ceiling is very low. However, Atlanta will likely be a high-volume passing attack with a lot of negative game scripts. If Pitts is utilized as a WR in a lot of the Falcons formations like expected, Hurst could still have a role in the offense.
29 Dawson Knox, Bills. Knox remains TE1 in one of the most explosive and pass-happy teams in the league. Last season, he ranked second at the position in target separation (2.26). The main thing holding him back is the excess of solid weapons in Buffalo, but if he can draw more targets in 2021, his potential in fantasy football is sky high. At the very least, he's a good TD-or-bust candidate every week when you're searching for streamers on the waiver wire.
30 Jimmy Graham, Bears
31 Ian Thomas, Panthers
32 Kyle Rudolph, Giants
33 Chris Herndon, Jets
34 Jack Doyle, Colts
35 Pat Freiermuth, Steelers
36 Jordan Akins, Texans
37 Will Dissly, Seahawks
38 Albert Okwuegbunam, Broncos
39 Dan Arnold, Panthers
40 Nick Vannett, Saints
41 C.J. Uzomah, Bengals
42 Mo Alie-Cox, Colts
43 Dalton Schultz, Cowboys
44 David Njoku, Browns
45 Nick Boyle, Ravens
46 Luke Farrell, Jaguars
47 Maxx Williams, Cardinals
48 Harrison Bryant, Browns
49 Drew Sample, Bengals
50 Tyler Conklin, Vikings

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