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Best Ball Strategy

Updated 2021 Best-Ball TE Tiers

by John Daigle
Updated On: July 29, 2021, 6:53 pm ET

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Tier One


Travis Kelce (TE1) -- Fresh off a career-high in touchdowns (11) and the second-most fantasy points (312.8) for a tight end in league history, any case for regression, albeit logical, isn't enough to pry Kelce from the overall TE1 ranking after five consecutive seasons as such.

Darren Waller (TE2) -- The overall TE2 behind 8.2 targets per game through Week 12, Waller put his boot to the throat of anyone threatening to cede that spot in averaging 11 targets, 8.6 catches, and 130.8 receiving yards across the Raiders' last five contests. Nelson Agholor's departure also vacates 5.1 targets per game and, more importantly, a team-high 13 end zone targets to soak up.

George Kittle (TE3) -- Only one year removed from matching Kelce in fantasy points per game (15.7), Kittle's 7.8 targets per outing across eight injury-riddled appearances in 2020 was still the third-highest mark at his position behind Kelce's (9.7) and Waller's (9.1). Note that Kittle totaled a team-high 25 targets in the only three games he finished alongside Brandon Aiyuk (19) and Deebo Samuel (16).



Tier Two


Kyle Pitts (TE4) -- It's only right a unicorn receives a tier of his own after Pitts (6'6/245) totaled 97/1,419/17 at Florida over the past two seasons, leading all FBS tight ends in receiving scores while recording zero drops on 66 targets last year. He remains an impossible comp since only four tight ends ever have eclipsed 850 receiving yards (Pitts' current receiving prop) in their rookie seasons; even Calvin Johnson, another popular comparison, underwhelmed with 48/756/4 as a rookie. I'm admittedly wary of his 45.1 ADP in non-TE Premium leagues.


Tier Three


Mark Andrews (TE5) -- Much like the rest of Baltimore's skill players, Andrews went as Lamar Jackson went, spiking 32/404/2 and an average of 14 fantasy points across the former's last six games (with a stint on the COVID list sandwiched in between). There is arguably no better recency-bias dip to buy at his position since Andrews, 26 in September, still logged a career-high 58% of Baltimore's snaps.

T.J. Hockenson (TE6) -- Hockenson is expected to benefit from Detroit's negligent competition at receiver after the third-year tight end improved in targets (6.3), catches (4.2) and receiving yards (45.2) per game as a sophomore. The Lions also have a league-high 340 targets, 120 more than the next closest team, missing from last year's production.

Dallas Goedert (TE7) -- Ran a route on 89% of the Eagles' dropbacks in four games sans Zach Ertz, who is still expected to be moved/released this summer.

Tyler Higbee (TE8) -- Recorded 7/107/1, 7/116, and 12/111 in three career games without Gerald Everett. Last year's position-high 483 blocking snaps are a moot point since this offense is expected to transcend and offer more efficient opportunity with darkhorse MVP candidate Matthew Stafford under center.

Logan Thomas (TE9) -- Led all tight ends with a route on 91% of Washington's dropbacks as the overall TE3, albeit 102 fantasy points behind Waller's TE2 finish. Immense upgrade from Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, and Alex Smith to Ryan Fitzpatrick cements outlook as a top-12 option in Thomas' age-30 season.

Robert Tonyan (TE10) -- A conspicuous 27-year-old breakout with 52/586/11 last year, Tonyan had previously totaled just 14/177/2 through his first two seasons. Unlike Davante Adams' life without Aaron Rodgers, Tonyan's floor is a harder one to swallow if Jordan Love were under center in September.


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Tier Four


Irv Smith (TE11) -- Ran a route on 68% of Minnesota's dropbacks in four games to close the year minus Kyle Rudolph, accruing a team-high in red zone targets (6) while matching both Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen in end zone looks (4) in that span. Coach Mike Zimmer's curmudgeon slight of Smith can be ignored since the latter's role did change alongside Tyler Conklin last year.

Adam Trautman (TE12) -- The forgotten man in New Orleans after the front office traded four picks to move up for him in the third round last year, Trautman only saw 16 targets as a rookie but finished as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded run-blocking tight end — a trait that will presumably earn the 24-year-old every-down usage following Jared Cook’s departure to Los Angeles.

Noah Fant (TE13) -- Poised for a third-year breakout after improving in targets (6.2), receptions (4.1) and receiving yards (44.9) per game as a sophomore, additionally bettering himself in Pro Football Focus’ predictive Yards Per Route Run metric (1.64). Still a chance Fant is the odd man out with Denver's receiving corps at full health for Week 1.

Gerald Everett (TE14) -- 27-year-old Everett quietly saw his target count (32 < 50 < 60 < 62) progress in four consecutive seasons with the Rams, landing with a leg up on the competition in Seattle given his experience under former Los Angeles passing-game coordinator Shane Waldron. Greg Olsen's and Jacob Hollister's absences ditch 68.6% of the team's tight end routes run last year.

Mike Gesicki (TE15) -- Admittedly more efficient from Ryan Fitzpatrick (24/395/3, 9.4 yards per target) last year but did total 29/308/3 on 43 targets from Tua Tagovailoa. Back-to-back seasons with a top-two slot rate at his position keeps 25-year-old Gesicki glued to the field as an interchangeable piece both inline and outside.


Tier Five


Jonnu Smith (TE16) -- Again tied to a run-first offense and (perhaps) a rookie quarterback throughout the year, Smith's odds of eclipsing last year's career-highs in receptions (2.7) and yards (29.9) per game depend entirely on how creative OC Josh McDaniels gets in scheming concerted targets for the 25-year-old tight end.

Anthony Firkser (TE17) -- Nine and seven targets in the only two games Jonnu Smith was injured/absent for last year, though Firkser did take a hit in the pecking order following Julio Jones' arrival.

Hunter Henry (TE18) -- The TE8 and TE11 in fantasy points per game the past two years but is an unknown fit alongside Jonnu Smith in New England.

Cole Kmet (TE19) -- Played 84.6% of Chicago’s offensive snaps in its last seven games including 84% in the team’s one-and-done postseason stint. Unfortunately failed to matter since 34-year-old Jimmy Graham, who somehow remains on Chicago's roster, was trotted out onto the field in the rare event the Bears reached the red zone.

Rob Gronkowski (TE20) -- Pitiful 12.1% target share and 9.1 fantasy points per game in 11 starts with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown available to close the year. Age-32 season.

Austin Hooper (TE21) -- Second on the team in catches (46) due to a 19% target share in the six games Hooper played alongside Odell Beckham. Cleveland's tight ends under Kevin Stefanski garnered the league's third-highest target rate among that unit.


Tier Five


Blake Jarwin (TE22) -- Just one year removed from receiving $9.25 million guaranteed on a new four-year deal, Jarwin quietly averaged over 11 yards per catch and 8.5 yards per target in a limited role in back-to-back seasons prior to tearing his ACL in 2020.

Evan Engram (TE23) -- Healthy for a full season for the first time in his career, Engram still finished with career-lows in receptions (3.9), yards (40.9), and fantasy points (8.8) per game. 21.8% target share can be glossed over given the injection of Kenny Golladay, Saquon Barkley, and Kyle Rudolph in Week 1.

Jared Cook (TE24) -- Having led the Saints in end zone targets in back-to-back seasons, 34-year-old Cook remains the favorite to replace Hunter Henry's 6.6 targets per game and 10 end zone opportunities from last year with Los Angeles.

Eric Ebron (TE25) -- Averaged just 37.2 yards per game in his first year with the Steelers, converting the second-most red zone targets (16) on the team into four touchdowns. Second-rounder Pat Freiermuth's presence still threatens Ebron's potential ceiling.

Zach Ertz (TE26) -- Inarguably the TE1 atop the Colts' or Bills' roster the moment he signs with either upon being released.

Mo Alie-Cox (TE27) -- Ran a route on 61% of Indy's dropbacks in two games without Jack Doyle and 32.5% in 13 other appearances.

Chris Herndon (TE28) -- Purely a bet-on-talent 25-year-old in hopes he usurps Tyler Kroft in training camp.

Donald Parham (TE29) -- Turned 20 targets into 10/159/3 following a successful stint in the XFL, but Jared Cook and Tre' McKitty offer the Chargers multiple options for usage at tight end.

Dawson Knox (TE30) -- Decrease in production from 2019 (25.9 receiving yards per game) to 2020 (24.0) leaves a lot to be desired, even as a non-hyped TE3.

Dalton Schultz (TE31) -- 14.2% target share and team-high five red zone targets in four full games from Dak Prescott while filling in for Blake Jarwin.

O.J. Howard (TE32) -- You waited this long. Why the hell not?


John Daigle

John Daigle is an Emmy and FSWA award winner who has been covering the NFL and fantasy football for over a decade, working with NBC Sports EDGE for almost four years. He enjoys watching golf and Jon Moxley, not necessarily in that order. You can follow him on Twitter @notJDaigle.