NFL TEs to target in fantasy
By: Brady Akins
NFL TEs are among the most confusing positions in all of fantasy football.
It’s far from glamorous. Just about every player at the position, with the exception of Kansas City’s Travis Kelce and Las Vegas’ Darren Waller on a good day, can’t come close to matching the production of other skill position players.
And yet, if you miss out on the top two or three players at the position, you’ll likely spend your season frustrated at inconsistent play and repeated low-scoring weeks. This is why finding sleepers is crucial when it comes to tight end.
Load up on running backs and receivers, wait until Round 12 or 13 to draft either of these two sleeper superstars and watch their surprisingly strong play reward your patience.
Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams (Average Draft Position — TE10)
As if the Rams’ offense wasn’t spoiled for skill position riches with their running backs and wide receivers in 2020, Los Angeles also had a deep and talented cast of tight ends, with Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett headlining a bunch that was difficult to comfortably bet on last season due to their tendency to take targets from each other.
Between Higbee and Everett, the tight end duo combined for 122 targets last season– with the target share being nearly 50/50 (Everett with 62 targets, Higbee with 60).
In a cruel twist of fantasy football fate, the tight end-dependent passing game of the Rams didn’t have a star fantasy player at the position. But two major changes in the status quo should change that.
The most important factor being, that once deep group of tight ends has significantly shallowed up. Higbee remains, but Everett is gone– leaving 62 targets and 41 catches unclaimed. Higbee will only benefit from having less talent around him at the position.
And, of course, the headline-grabbing factor, Los Angeles’ starting quarterback from last season is out, traded along with a handful of draft picks for the Lions’ Matthew Stafford, who should, in theory, be an upgrade at the position.
Between the absence of Everett and the addition of Stafford, Higbee should be in line for a masterpiece fantasy football season. One that exceeds the expectations of a TE10.
Irv Smith Jr, Minnesota Vikings (Average Draft Position — TE13)
Similar to Higbee, Minnesota’s Irv Smith Jr should be in line for a massive bump in production, thanks to some competition being drained from the Vikings’ tight end pool.
Gone from the Vikings roster this season is the Pro Bowl veteran anchor of the offense, Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph was the go-to for Minnesota in the games he played in 2020. Really, Rudolph has been the go-to at the Vikings’ tight end position since 2011. Now, he’s on the Giants roster, leaving the door open for Smith Jr. to take full control.
Smith Jr. has earned the ire of a few in the fantasy football community for not breaking out sooner. Between his high second-round draft status and his strong showing in college playing for the NFL skill-position factory Alabama Crimson Tide, many thought that Smith Jr. would be a star from the moment he stepped onto the field.
But Smith Jr’s 36 catches in his rookie season weren’t impressive to many, nor were his 30 catches in his sophomore season. And now, the Vikings’ tight end has fallen down draft boards– despite his newly favorable offensive situation.
But this could be the breakout year that Smith Jr has needed, as the former Alabama star has set a precedent for thriving without Rudolph in the mix. Through the final four weeks of 2020, the only four games that Rudolph has been inactive since Smith Jr arrived in 2019, the current Minnesota TE1 thrived to the tune of finishing as the overall TE4 in PPR leagues, and the TE3 in standard-scoring formats.
In those final four games, Smith Jr. recorded half of his total catches for the season, more than half of his yards, and saw a career-high for targets in a game with nine in Week 16 against the Saints, where the Vikings tight end rewarded his offense for the increased opportunity with two receiving touchdowns.
All is set for Smith Jr. to finally reach his potential of a definitive TE1 in any fantasy scoring format– and you could add him to your roster in the very late rounds of your league’s draft.