Tight ends continue to climb in valuation, as top-notch players like Travis Kelce and George Kittle have entered the conversation as late first-round or early second-round picks in best ball formats with TE Premium scoring such as FFPC. Even in typical scoring formats, some fantasy managers want to secure a relatively safe option at an unpredictable position.
The NFL season is fast approaching, which means time is running out for best ball drafts to begin. We will continue to update rankings in every format throughout the offseason and you can find the latest rankings here.
In this column, we will evaluate the latest tight end rankings for best ball drafts. Complete your best-ball draft prep by reading about our tiered rankings at running back, wide receiver, and quarterback.Editor's Note: Love the strategy of season-long fantasy sports? Live for the short term gratification of DFS? Try Weekly Fantasy Sports on OwnersBox - a new weekly DFS platform. Sign up today for a FREE $50 Deposit Match. Sign Up Now!
TE Best Ball Rankings
|Position Rank||Position Tier||Player Name||Overall Rank||Overall Tier|
|26||6||Irv Smith Jr.||194||14|
It's clear that there is a top-two rather than a top-three this year and a clear separation with a 23-spot drop from the top tier until the second. Kelce typically goes first but I am giving the slight edge to Kittle. The injuries to San Francisco's wide receivers will necessitate Kittle carrying a bigger load; even the smallest of increases will push Kittle over Kelce in terms of production. Their per-game averages were nearly identical last year.
You can't go wrong with either one, especially in a TE-premium format, so this isn't a decision to sweat so much as which RB do you settle on if you are drafted a tight end first.
Zach Ertz has officially lost his spot as TE3. Mark Andrews owns a higher ADP in nearly all formats and I personally ranked him a full two rounds higher, although one of our rankers still has Ertz ahead of him. There could be some trepidation based on Andrews' health condition (Type 1 Diabetes) and many have speculated that he could opt out of the season. He has stated otherwise and seems dedicated to getting Baltimore to the Super Bowl, so his draft risk should be mitigated.
To say Tyler Higbee is a polarizing player in the fantasy community is putting things lightly. For perspective, our three rankers have him at 66, 102, and 155 overall. That's quite a discrepancy. Then again, what are we supposed to make of this roller-coaster of a 2019?
For transparency's sake, I'm in the middle of our rankers at 102, placing Higbee firmly in tier three and just inside the top 10 at the tight end position. There is no way he repeats last year's stretch between Week 13-16 but it's also unlikely he reverts to being a non-factor. The Rams found something that works and will have to utilize 12 formation more often. Not only did it actually work, but Brandin Cooks is gone as is Todd Gurley, who was an excellent receiver out of the backfield. Best ball drafters shouldn't reach for Higbee expecting a breakout but he should be a solid source of points throughout the year. Don't forget about Gerald Everett though - he will get his share of targets.
How can we identify this year's breakout performer at tight end? That's the million-dollar question each year. I won't profess to have clairvoyance, but I do know that surprising TE performers usually emerge as a result of a weak wide receiver group. Darren Waller was far and away the top receiver in Oakland last year with a 25.2% target share because his next closest competition was oft-injured Tyrell Williams (14.5%) and rookie Hunter Renfrow (14.2%). The next two target leaders were running backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. This is why the Raiders spent three draft picks on receivers.
Back to the question: who could break out this year? The most likely candidate has to be Mike Gesicki. We already know about his insane combine numbers but now the opportunity is there in his third NFL season. Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns have both opted out of 2020, so the Dolphins have DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, Jakeem Grant, and Isaiah Ford as their top receiving options. Throw in Williams returning from an ACL tear and Parker being completely untrustworthy (yes, jaded Dolphins fan here) as someone who's missed 11 games and just played his first full season out of five, there is a good chance Gesicki becomes a constant target.
My next favorite choice as a late TE1 selection is Noah Fant. I recognize the questions surrounding Drew Lock's development and Fant's inexperience but the ceiling is too tantalizing to pass up. Outside of Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, the Broncos still lack depth at receiver, especially if KJ Hamler's hamstring injury lingers into the regular season.
New offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur should make a positive impact as well. Before his disappointing stint as head coach of the Giants, he managed offenses that finished top-12 in passing yardage in four of his five seasons as OC between Minnesota and Philadelphia. Fant has 4.5 speed and run-after-catch ability that plays well in best ball where he can provide spikes in production.
If Higbee was polarizing, Hayden Hurst is downright controversial. Mike Riggall is bullish to the nth degree, ranking Hurst 91 overall as his TE13. Phil Clark isn't buying it, dropping Hurst to 230 overall. Once more, I'm the middle man with Hurst at 166. I was a big fan when he was drafted by Baltimore in the first round (by legendary tight end Ozzie Newsome no less) but he struggled with injuries early and never usurped the starting job from Mark Andrews.
Now, he inherits the role that made Austin Hooper the top-scoring TE in the first half of last year and is tied to Matt Ryan as his signal-caller. Context clues point to a potential breakout but we should pump the brakes a bit. It's not a straightforward comparison, but I can't help be reminded of Coby Fleener a few years ago. He was solid in Indy for four seasons and then signed by the Saints to be the primary tight end. Expectations went through the roof as he was on a top-notch passing offense with a Hall of Fame QB in Drew Brees. It didn't go so well, as he totaled 631 yards and three touchdowns. Not terrible but based on his insane 7.01 ADP in 2016, it was a massive letdown. Hurst will need to find his way in this offense and will defer to Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley most of the time. He's a decent backup but do not count on him as a fantasy starter, even in best ball.
It seems as if Blake Jarwin is the trendy sleeper at this position but I can't bring myself to rank him inside the top 200. If we assume he can effectively replace Jason Witten's production from last year, that would make him fantasy TE12 in half-PPR. While that provides great return on investment based on his ADP, it also assumes that he will take over Witten's 75.4% offensive snap share and that CeeDee Lamb won't cut into his targets.
Kellen Moore stays on as offensive coordinator but Mike McCarthy is an experienced play-caller and will surely have an influence on the way things are run in-game. His offenses in Green Bay provided more opportunities to slot receivers than tight ends. Jarwin isn't a bad pick based on where he's going in FFPC drafts as the 18th TE off the board, especially with an extra half-point per reception, so this is the place to target him if at all.
Chris Herndon is a low-end preseason sleeper who is getting a little buzz. It's hard to trust someone who suffered both a suspension and a season-ending injury last year. Not to mention the fact he's on an Adam Gase offense... Still, Herndon seems to be the primary tight end for the Jets with very little competition for targets in a thin receiving corps. If he can keep it together, both physically and mentally, he has the talent to make plays after the catch as he did for the Miami Hurricanes.
Tier 6 and lower
Trey Burton was once a trendy sleeper but was simply average in his first year with Chicago before missing half of 2019 with injuries, producing little when he did play. He'll backup Jack Doyle, who is the TE to own in Indy, but bears monitoring if you draft three TEs. If anybody loves throwing to the tight end, it's gotta be Philip Rivers, right?
With the expected ascension of Irv Smith Jr. up the pecking order in Minnesota, Rudolph has become a non-factor for fantasy managers. It should be noted that Stefon Diggs' absence vacates an average of 121 targets per season since Kirk Cousins arrived and rookie Justin Jefferson is unlikely to absorb all of those. If Dalvin Cook continues to hold out or gets injured (again), the team could lean on Rudolph more than expected. There isn't a very high ceiling but he did finish as TE14 last year in fantasy, so he makes for a safe backup who is being discredited in drafts.
The final player on our list is one I must take responsibility for. I snuck Kahale Warring into my TE rankings as a dark horse for your final roster spot in best ball.
The Texans liked him enough to spend a third-round pick on him last year, only to see him miss the entire season. Darren Fells was the most productive tight end in Houston and was re-signed but is more of a backup plan than anything. Bill O'Brien loves his guys and Warring should get every shot to make an impression. Another former basketball player with elite athleticism at the position, the upside is high enough that he warrants a draft pick more so than Fells or most other backup tight ends.
More Best-Ball League Strategy
Check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.