2021 NFL Draft Guide: Ultimate TE Draft Guide - Yin & Yang
Published: Aug 13, 2021, 10:30 AM EDT
Alright let me be honest with you guys. This is the only tight end article you really need to win your league. In fact, if you just want the answers to the test to print and bring to your draft, all you REALLY need is the one page Yin-Yang TE printout that’s available in our Draft Guide. Now, I know some of you might be all like “but Coop, you told us in the Intro and the Elite that THAT was the only article we’d need”. Yes, I did say that, little Timmy, and I stand by it. Because that article has all the INFORMATION you need to not only draft the right tight ends but also identify breakouts on waivers for years to come. That article is for savvy folks that want to learn the intricate nuances of the position and truly grow as fantasy gamers. This article on the other hand simply gives you all the players and how to draft them for 2021. Which is all you people really want and it makes me sick.
We couldn’t give you this article first though because that’s like having dessert for breakfast. I want my readers to actually learn and become better at this game which is why you first gotta eat your fantasy vegetables with all the vitamins and statistics you need to grow big and strong. THEN you get to have this article which is your tight end ice cream sundae. So yes, it’s time for the best article in the series but, if you didn’t read that first article at least, I sincerely encourage you to do so. You’ll thank me when you’re older.
What is Yin & Yang Tight End?
Yin & Yang tight end is a simple late round tight end draft strategy. It’s nothing revolutionary and many of you have likely done it before without even knowing it. Some sales pitch right? Anyway, the idea is pretty straightforward. You wait super late on tight end and you draft at least two: one “safe” option that has a decent weekly floor but also has a capped upside based on the info we’ve discussed within the series (Yin). The other tight end has a low and scary floor of possibly zero points but has some path to upside that intrigues us (Yang). I call them Yin and Yang because that’s much easier than saying “safe medium floor, medium ceiling guy and risky low floor, high upside dude” over and over again for the entire article. They are now Yin and Yang. Oh you think that name is stupid? Well I think YOUR name is stupid. Unless it’s Andrew or Coop or something - then it’s awesome.
Here’s how you deploy the Yin-Yang to maximize value. At some point in the draft you take a Yin tight end which is someone you can start for the first couple weeks of the season that you are fairly confident will at least catch a couple passes and not lay a flat out egg for your team. This allows you to go after risky elite upside guys with your bench spot. You start the Yin while you rotate Yangs in and out of your bench spot until someone hits. Then you go with the Yang and either ditch the safe, boring guy or you keep him for your bye week. Or, in the best case scenario - trade him. For instance, last year we had TJ Hockenson in the Yin section but then Kenny Golladay got hurt so he became a stud. Double win. As far as who to add and when, all season over on Twitter @CoopAFiasco I’ll be tweeting out my recommended tight end adds - like this tweet that was sent out following the very first game of the season telling everyone to add Logan Thomas. Unless we get lucky right from the rip, the strategy does not stop with the draft.
Anyway, now I’ll just tell you exactly which tight ends to draft and when.
**As with the first article, analysis for this series will be based on a 12 man, half PPR league with 1 starting TE spot. Statistics are courtesy of my own research, Fantasy Alarm, StatHead, Pro Football Focus, Player Profiler, FantasyData, Sharpe Football, NFLSavant and others where cited**
Standalone Tight Ends
Somewhere along the line we as a community decided you can’t carry more than one tight end at any point or some unspeakable horror will befall you. And somewhere along that same line we also decided we were just going to wait forever to draft a tight end. Which has created the single worst strategy in all of fantasy football - drafting one mediocre tight end and starting him all season long. People actually do that, they call it “punting”. And, rather than using their bench spots for the intended purpose of improving their starting lineup, fantasy gamers draft high end RBs and WRs and then fill their bench with RBs and WRs that will never crack their lineup. Then they lumber through the season towards their inevitable third place splash down in the ocean.
This article is hopefully going to help change the way we think about tight ends AND bench spots. But before we get to that, there are SOME tight ends that can be drafted as standalone players where you only need to worry about your bye week. These are those guys if you just want to pay up and you don’t want to play this game with us. Each write up has advice one who to draft or not and at what ADP if you click the link.
TJ Hockenson - Discussed in the Second Article
Alright, now onto the Yin-Yang TE game.
Yin Tight Ends
Your Yin tight end is the rocket booster that propels your ship towards space (playoffs) so that your Yang (capsule) can bring you to the moon (championship) where you plant your flag (rubbing it in your brother-in-law’s face). If you stick with the Yin too long however, you might experience that third place splash down we mentioned earlier because they don’t have the upside we need to get us over the hump. But they are a necessary part of the equation to get your team off the ground.
These are guys we consider to be safe in that they have some sort of floor in terms of weekly targets but they have barriers capping their upside, whether it’s because they are the third or fourth target on the team or they block too much or the offense in general is too run oriented (or some combination of these type problems). Due to the nature of the Yin, there will be guys in this section that we said to fade at ADP in the third article. We include them here because everyone needs to run their own team and most of them do fit the Yin profile. So our advice is to not draft some of them at all but, if you must, just make sure you also draft another TE and give yourself a chance at upside. Cause the guys I tell you to fade are not the long term answer, no matter how much Reddit whines about it.
**The players in each section will be in the order we’d rank them in an ideal world where every TE has the same ADP. The advice portion will tell you whether or not we think they are a good pick at ADP. That is the crucial information. The goal is to pair one guy from the Yin section with at least one guy from the Yang section.**
Dallas Goedert - Discussed in the Fades Article. Goedert is unique in that he should have a decent floor but his ADP is largely based on people thinking Ertz would be gone. Which he is not. So we aren’t drafting him at TE7 where he is going. You don’t draft the 7th TE knowing he doesn’t have top five upside. Why would you do that? If his ADP actually falls like it should have by now, he could be a good Yin though.
The Advice: Don’t draft unless he slides well below current ADP.
Logan Thomas - We haven’t discussed Logan Thomas yet in this series so he gets a decent write up here. Just like we did in the first three articles, The Good and The Bad sections will be as objective as possible in terms of stats/facts and then The Advice will be our subjective yet amazing advice on how to treat him in drafts. That way you can just take the facts and run your own damn team or follow the advice and come to the loony bin with me.
The Good - The truth about Logan Thomas is that he played more wide receiver than he did tight end. He played 67.49% of his snaps at WR and led all tight ends with 565 slot snaps. The next closest was Mike Gesicki with 365. Literally 200 more. Here is a chain of tweets that sum up the misconceptions about what the WFT actually does with the tight end position.
And here’s a look at the type of formation I’m talking about. Sites like Sharp Football (which I friggin love) would consider this to be 11 personnel (three WRs and one TE) because they are talking about the PERSONNEL not the FORMATION. They consider Logan Thomas a tight end no matter where he lines up.
That doesn’t look like 11 personnel to me though - kind of looks like four wide receivers right? Because it is. Logan Thomas lined up out wide for most of his snaps and only pass blocked on 4.68% of pass plays. That’s probably why he led the league in both routes run (576) and route participation (95.8%). He’s a former quarterback so he brings that athleticism and he just got paid so they clearly like him over there.
The Bad - This section is pretty easy. Conditions have changed from last year. We explained in full why you need to be a top two target on your team to have high end upside. Last year, with just Terry McLaurin his path was clear but now they have Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown to go along with the two capable pass catching running backs in Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic. If you think Logan Thomas has high-end upside, you are betting that he gets more targets than one of Terry McLaurin or Curtis Samuel. And Curtis Samuel was specifically brought back by his former coach Ron Rivera so it’s not your typical “outsider coming in” scenario. Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner was there with Samuel in Carolina and now he’s there with him in Washington. Homeslice already knows the plays.
The Advice - Every other tight end being drafted from TE6 to TE12 was in our fades article except Logan Thomas. And that’s because he has a better ADP than Goedert and Fant with a similar path to upside. I know I always talk about how rare it is for a team to have three players get 100+ targets but, if you do look at the short list of seven teams who have done it over the last five years, 2019 Carolina and 2020 Washington are both on it. Both teams coached by Ron Rivera. If I had to bet on Logan Thomas vs. Curtis Samuel (PUP list) catching passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick or bet on Noah Fant vs. Jerry Jeudy catching passes from who cares, I’ll take Logan Thomas. It’s just a bonus that you can get him later than Goedert and Fant. The Yang is the most important part of Yin-Yang but, if you want to play the most conservative version of the approach, consider Logan Thomas around his ADP and pair him with a guy from the Yang section later. He’s currently going pick 92 overall as the TE9.
Noah Fant - Discussed in the Fades Article. Love the athleticism and a great player to own in dynasty because he’s only 23. Even in dynasty however, tight end is about ROSTERING talent but STARTING opportunity. His spot on the target pecking order limits his opportunity - especially since he was second in the pecking order both of the last two years and didn’t give you much. Now he’s third. At a different ADP it might be a different story but people seem to be paying for upside that is only there with an injury to Sutton and/or Jeudy. He just never seems to fall far enough in drafts for us to take but if you really like him, just make sure you draft an upside guy later and give yourself a chance at greatness.
The Advice: Don’t draft unless he slides well beyond ADP.
Mike Gesicki - Discussed in the Fades Article. Another athletic player like Fant who now has a difficult path to high end targets with DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, and Jaylen Waddle on the squad. With Fuller on PUP/suspended for the first game and Waddle battling an injury, Gesicki could be the perfect guy to start for a couple weeks while you look for upside. That said, the Dolphins do start with the Pats and Bills - I know it’s a new year but the Patriots were a top five defense vs. the tight end last year and, when Matt Milano was healthy, the Bills were not an easy TE defense either. He’s being drafted as TE12 so I’d much rather draft Gesicki at his ADP than reach up for Fant at TE8.
The Advice: Consider as a Yin if he slides beyond ADP but, like most Yins, he’s not a permanent solution.
Irv Smith Jr - ***Update*** Per Adam Schefter on 9/1, Irv Smith Jr. underwent meniscus surgery and is now unlikely to play this season. The Vikings traded for Chris Herndon who becomes a less appealing version of Irv Smith - a player who already had limited upside. Could develop into a Yin if desperate but Herndon struggled with the Jets playbook so will likely take time to assimilate.
The Good - Irv Smith is a tremendous athlete which you essentially have to be if you are going to be a second round pick out of Alabama. He came up behind Kyle Rudolph who is now gone which should lead to an increased opportunity. Despite technically being second fiddle, he was the “pass catcher” of the pair as his route participation last year was 73% (14th of all tight ends). And he made the most of those plays with a 134.4% QB rating when targeted - second of all tight ends. His pass block rate of 5.88%, his aDot of 8.9 yards, and his catch rate of 73.2% were all rock solid as well. Over the second half of the season, he actually got 10 red zone targets which tied TJ Hockenson and Robert Tonyan so you’re hoping for more of that next year and to see more of this.
Whatever “this” is.
The Bad - Anyone who has actually been reading this series already knows what “the bad” is. Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen both had 100% route participation while playing over 90% of the snaps when healthy. They each had nearly 25% target shares. They are the clear top two targets on the team and this is a run heavy offense to begin with. So Irv Smith Jr is competing with Dalvin Cook for a spot on the target pecking order that offers little to no upside. Sometimes it's just that simple.
The Advice - Irv Smith Jr. in 2021 is looking like the quintessential Yin pick. He’s a guy who should have a bigger role in the offense and should at least get a couple targets each week giving him an okay floor. But his upside is thoroughly capped unless someone gets hurt (or Thielen turns to dust) and even then he’s not guaranteed to absorb all the targets that Jefferson or Thielen would have gotten. If your plan is to wait for every tight end to be gone then take a risky upside play later, Irv Smith Jr. at TE13 is a guy you can pair with them and start week 1 as he shouldn’t give you a zero. They get the Bengals first which should be prime real estate but they have the Cardinals week 2 and Isaiah Simmons can make things difficult on tight ends.
Robert Tonyan - Discussed in the Fades Article. If you read that article then you probably aren’t interested in Robert Tonyan at ADP but, if you must, don’t forget to draft someone from the Yang list and give yourself a chance at glory.
The Advice - Fade completely at ADP.
Gerald Everett - Another newcomer to the series. Let’s have a peek under the hood.
The Good - The narrative for Everett in 2021 is good. In Los Angeles he was with Tyler Higbee for a target share that was already irrelevant behind Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. Like Higbee, he was also asked to block on 15+% of his pass plays which is another metric that kills your upside for fantasy. Now Everett gets to play for new Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron who was conveniently the pass game coordinator for the Rams the last couple years. I wonder if he had anything to say about that decision? People might not realize it because they used multiple different players like Greg Olsen and Jacob Hollister, but the Seahawks had tight ends running the 6th most routes from the WR position with 458 last year. Now that role belongs to Everett.
The Bad - We could easily just insert The Bad section from Irv Smith Jr. here. Russell Wilson has started all 16 games in every season of his career and he averages 482 pass attempts. He’s never thrown more than 558. That time Austin Hooper had a decent year battling with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley for targets, he was not only helped by an injury to Ridley but the Falcons threw 684 times. And the Seahawks have two high snap share, high target share WRs in Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. Tyler Lockett kind of feels like an older player who gets hurt often but he’s 28 so he’s younger than Keenan Allen and DeAndre Hopkins and he’s actually only missed ONE career game. Which is mind boggling. It boggles my mind.
The Advice - Gerald Everett will do battle with rookie Dwayne Eskridge for slot snaps and third in the Seahawks pecking order and, with Waldron calling the plays, I think he has a good chance to win that battle. Even if he doesn’t have top 5-6 upside, he will likely have a career year and have his most consistent usage so he’d make for a nice stop gap if you are waiting late on tight ends or if you just need a fill in off waivers (say, you draft Hunter Henry as your upside play and he’s not ready for week 1 with the shoulder). We are talking about the TE20 off the board here so he’s free.
Austin Hooper - New one, write up time.
The Good - As we mentioned mere moments ago, it wasn’t long ago that Austin Hooper was on the verge of a top 5-6 fantasy tight end with the Falcons. And it wasn’t long ago that the Browns made him the highest paid tight end in football. Which makes sense as the Browns have arguably the heaviest deployment of tight ends in the league. Not only did they use at least two tight ends on nearly 50% of their snaps but they used THREE tight ends on 15%. As the top dog in that tight end room that means steady usage for Hooper and he managed to have an 18.9% target share in that offense last year, 8th most of any tight ends.
The Bad - Where do we start? Kevin Stefanski runs arguably the most run-heavy offense in the league. Hooper rarely lines up at WR (19.59%) and he blocks on far too many pass plays (14.56%). He’s the third target at best behind Odell and Jarvis Landry. Not a whole lot of upside to be found.
The Advice - Last year we had Hooper as a fade because we saw this coming. Now that everyone sees it, his ADP is TE23. The way I now see it, he’s in pretty much the same situation as someone like Tyler Higbee or Noah Fant in terms of alignment and spot on the pecking order. So why reach up for Higbee or Fant as top 10 TEs in ADP when Hooper is free? All you want is someone to keep the seat warm while you find your breakout Yang. No reason to pay extra.
Anthony Firkser - Haven’t talked about this lad yet so here’s the skinny.
The Good - Only Mark Andrews (1.09%) and Jared Cook (1.18%) had lower pass blocking rates than Firkser. He also played 73.85% of his snaps at WR with 56% of them coming at the slot so he is very clearly on the pass catching side of the tree. We saw him have big games when deployed in the slot like the Houston game and now with Jonnu Smith gone, he’s easily the best pass catching tight end in that room.
The Bad - We were all set to have Anthony Firkser as an upside play this year. People were talking. There were rumblings throughout the local grocery store. And then they traded for Julio Jones. Now he’s in the same mess as guys like Irv Smith or Noah Fant where there are two clear target hogs in front of them. But worse for Firkser is that he doesn’t get full TE deployment. They’ll likely still use Geoff Swaim or Luke Stocker at in-line blocking tight ends with Firkser rotating in the slot with Josh Reynolds or in-line at times on passing downs. On a run heavy team, you HAVE to be a top two target to have upside.
The Advice - At tight end 24 in ADP he is free. And he should have a role that gives him a better floor than he had last year. If you are doing a best ball, waiting, and stacking a couple risky guys with a couple safer guys, Firk could be a safe(ish) guy.
The Advice -
Other Yins to Consider In Deep Leagues or BestBall
Blake Jarwin - Offense should pass a ton but he could be anywhere from the fourth target after Amari, Lamb, and Gallup to the seventh also after Zeke, Pollard, and Schultz. Low ceiling.
Dan Arnold - People get really excited about Dan Arnold for some reason. He does profile as a pass catching tight end. But what is his path to top two in targets? Pick two that he gets more targets than: DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, Christian McCaffrey. Now try to do it with a straight face.
Eric Ebron - Same. Exact. Target. Issues. These TD dependent guys are all fine stabs in bestball but they cannot be trusted.
Recommended Yins (draft ONE)
- Logan Thomas - round 9 or later (12 man league)
- Irv Smith Jr - round 10 or later
- Gerald Everett - round 14 or later
- Austin Hooper - round 14 or later
- Anthony Firkser - round 14 or later
Yang Tight Ends
This is it folks. The best part of the entire series. The breakout factory.
The first problem is that it’s often hard to trust these guys to start for your fantasy team right away. There is a reason some of these guys are considered high risk, high reward. Robert Tonyan played 48 snaps week one last year and had ZERO targets. Logan Thomas had a similar slow start. That’s what the Yin is for.
The second problem for people thinking they can wait and take Tyler Higbee as their sole tight end and then just add the breakout tight end off waivers is that WE are already going to own that tight end. Before they breakout. Cause that's what we do.
Kyle Pitts - Discussed in the Could Be Elite article. We laid out in that article why he has tremendous upside but, as a rookie, he not only has tremendous downside but he’s susceptible to a slow start. If I draft Pitts, I’m making sure I have a contingency plan.
The Advice - Draft if he slides to TE6 or beyond, after the Standalone TEs listed above. But pair with a safe TE just in case.
Hunter Henry - Discussed in the Could Be Elite article. We laid out the path for Hunter Henry to not only be top two on his team in targets but potentially be THE top target. And he was the top target in camp before his shoulder injury. He seems to have dodged a bullet with the shoulder but monitor it closely (and try to draft you most important leagues as close to the start of the season as possible, ya maniacs).
The Advice - Current ADP TE14 in round 11 - draft as high as round 9-10 if necessary. If healthy, Henry should be safe so I’m actually willing to go Yang-Yang at times with Henry and another player from this list.
Evan Engram - Discussed in the Could Be Elite article. He has the physical gifts to be an elite pass catcher and was one of five TEs to get 100+ targets last year. Full write up is in the linked article but could still be a top two target on the team, especially with Golladay’s injury history. He’s already hurt as we speak.
The Advice - Current ADP TE15 in round 11 - draft as high as round 9-10 if necessary. Some of my top best ball pairings are Logan Thomas/ Evan Engram and Hunter Henry/Evan Engram. My exposure to Evan Engram on Underdog is quite frankly embarrassing. If you aren't on Underdog, use promo code Lightning when you sign up because its free money for you and for me and ole Andy here likes expensive bourbon.
Jonnu Smith - Discussed in the Could Be Elite article. Jonnu Smith has the same access to being a top target on his team as Henry - we explained why we believe Henry is likely more consistent. But that doesn’t mean Jonnu can’t rip off big plays, maybe score a rushing TD or two, and be a nice fantasy asset as well. Plus, the Pats are one of the cagiest organizations in the league and anyone who tells you they know exactly what they are going to do is lying. We are just doing our best to make predictions and I laid out in many works in the article above why I think Henry will be the better bet in managed leagues. It’s actually not crazy at all to draft BOTH Henry and Jonnu at their ADP if you have the bench spots - their bye week isn’t until week 14 so you will likely know who to drop well before then. The question is whether it’s worth the draft capital.
The Advice - Current ADP TE16 in round 11-12 - draft as high as round 10 if Henry and/or Engram are gone. Based on his projected usage, he is most viable in bestball or standard leagues, if you play those formats.
Adam Trautman - Please Read Update At End Of This Section
The Good - Back in May I did a full write up on the high barriers to entry for rookie tight ends. One of those key concepts is this idea of the “tight end room” where the team looks at the group they have and figures out who can do what. Often there is an incumbent pass catching tight end which forces young tight ends onto the blocking side of the tree and that’s exactly what happened with rookie Adam Trautman with Jared Cook there. But guess what? Jared Cook is gone now. And with the room filled out with guys like Nick Vannett and Garrett Griffin, Adam Trautman is looking like the best pass catching tight end in that room.
What people might not realize is that Jared Cook’s role was surprisingly GREAT for fantasy football. He got injured which hurt his volume, but Cook lined up at WR on 66.52% of his snaps which was the fourth highest of any tight end. And 22% of those came while actually split out wide which was second only to the great Travis Kelce. Cook had an aDot of 12.4 which was 3rd best behind only Dan Arnold and OJ Howard and he was only asked to block on 1.18% of his pass plays which is second only to Mark Andrews. All good things. Now he’s gone and that role is up for grabs.
As for Adam Trautman, we’ve yet to see him in a pass-heavy NFL role yet but his college profile suggests that he’s actually a great pass catcher. He had a 38.7% college dominator rating at Dayton which is in the 97th% percentile per PlayerProfiler. He compiled 2,295 yards and 31 touchdowns over four years including 916 yards and 14 TDs as a senior which doesn't happen by accident. Here are those stats per PlayerProfiler. Impressive, to say the least.
The Bad - All of this is straight up speculation. Because Adam Trautman’s role was thoroughly limited in his one year. This isn’t a “Cole Kmet behind Jimmy Graham” situation where Kmet came in during the second half and took a bunch of the receiving work (more on that later). Adam Trautman had 15 catches in 15 games. His best game was 3 receptions for 39 yards. And in some of those games, like weeks 12, 16, and 17, he was playing a 60% to 70% snap share. So it’s not like he wasn’t out there. He WAS out there (gasp).... BLOCKING.
The bet we are making here is that the Saints will even continue to use a tight end the way they used Jared Cook. Even though he’s older now, Jared Cook has always been incredibly athletic. Adam Trautman runs a 4.8 forty at his pro day which is not impressive, to say the least. So they might not even have that role in the offense anymore. Not to mention, down the stretch in fantasy playoffs when they have Michael Thomas back to go along with Alvin Kamara, there might not even be a large target share to be had. On top of all that, in games he played last year, Trautman had a 33.8% route participation which doesn’t even register as a pass catching TE and his average depth of target when he was targeted was an abysmal 4 yards. He could take over that Jared Cook role or he could be Jack Doyle. That’s why he’s such a high ceiling, low floor player.
The Advice - If Irv Smith Jr. is the quintessential Yin tight end, then Adam Trautman is a textbook Yang. This dude has done nothing in the NFL. His floor could be nothing. But coming into the offseason he already had a potential path to second target behind Michael Thomas with the QB change, as some people were saying Drew Brees was driving the targets to Alvin Kamara. Not to mention, on that list of teams that had three guys get 100+ targets, nearly half of them had an RB in the mix. So a pass catching RB doesn't quite cap upside the way another WR or TE does. Now we find out that Michael Thomas is potentially going to miss half the season with knee surgery? At TE18 off the board in the 12-13th round, this is EXACTLY the type of guy you take as a Yang. Pair him with a safe guy and see what happens. If he’s bad, drop him and move on to the next upside Yang. Train keeps on rollin’.
***Edit 8/19***: In the first preseason game Adam Trautman only played three pass plays and blocked on three of them. Trautman lined up at WR three times. Juwan Johnson played 22 pass plays and only blocked on one. Juwann Johnson lined up at WR 16 times. It's preseason of course but Johnson seemed to be deployed in the better role so far. Trautman pass blocking three times on his limited snaps is a monster red flag considering Jared Cook pass blocked four times all last season.
***Edit 8/24***: In the second preseason game Trautman played 7 snaps before getting hurt. He blocked on five and ran routes on two. Two of those plays he blocked were pass plays. And now he is hurt. Adam Trautman should be removed from your draft boards and replaced with Juwan Johnson. More on him below.
Cole Kmet - Another new name!
The Good - It’s no secret that Matt Nagy has been attempting to replicate his offense from Kansas City. One of the first things he did was grab his split end which is the role Sammy Watkins played (Nagy gets the upgraded version in Allen Robinson). He then tried Taylor Gabriel in the speedy Tyreek Hill role before settling on Darnell Mooney. And Nagy prefers a one, balanced back system so he traded Jordan Howard then traded up to use their earliest pick on David Montgomery. But the real key here is that the offense uses a tight end to essentially play “big slot” as well as wide receiver. He needed to fill the Travis Kelce role.
We actually just mentioned in the Trautman section how Cole Kmet came up on the blocking side of the tree since Jimmy Graham has never blocked a day in his life. But an interesting thing happened towards the midpoint of the season last year which the stats below reflect.
Yes, over the last 7 games Kmet had more pass snaps, slot snaps, wide snaps, targets receptions, and yards than Graham. And this year Kmet so far is listed at the top of the depth chart. They even traded slot receiver Anthony Miller so maybe they'll use a lot of two tight end sets. Good times right?
The Bad - As Rocky Balboa might say, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Jimmy Graham is still there. And, even during that seven game stretch, Graham had 10 red zone targets with 4 end zone targets and Kmet only had 6 red zone targets with zero end zone targets. That led to Graham scoring three TDs to only one for Kmet. That’s part of the reason why we had Graham in our Yin-Yang article last year where he dramatically outperformed ADP. Clearly, the old basketball player can still rebound.
On top of that, the two of them might be fighting for a target share that doesn’t even have elite upside. Allen Robinson is going to be a target hog no matter what but Darnell Mooney has also emerged as a darling of fantasy pundits. Even if Mooney doesn’t get 100 targets himself, the targets may be too thin between ARob, Moondog, two tight ends, and two running backs.
The Advice - We are talking about the tight end 21 here in ADP. OF COURSE there is going to be some kind of downside. We are going to draft a safe, Yin tight end as well so all we care about is upside. If Cole Kmet can emerge to get that Travis Kelce role in Nagy’s offense, that’s about as upside as upside gets. He might be one year away and won’t fully be unlocked until Jimmy Graham is gone but who cares - the whole way we execute this plan is we rotate Yang tight ends on the bench until someone hits. He goes outside the top TWENTY tight ends, he’s free.
The Good - We won’t use up too much time in this section because we actually already had the “tight end room” discussion in the Dallas Goedert section of this article. And the short and sweet of it is that Dallas Goedert is such a good blocker that, when they are deciding who does what, they aren’t going to put Ertz in the in-line role and put Goedert in the slot - that doesn’t make much sense does it? So by default Ertz actually ends up playing the better role for pass catching and the better role for fantasy.
And guess what? We’ve seen Zach Ertz be an absolutely prolific pass catching tight end in this league as recently as what, the year before last when he was a top five tight end? People seem to forget that Zach Ertz got 72 targets on this team in 11 games last year despite battling injuries which is a 100 target pace. Ertz is back at training camp with something to prove now so it’s not crazy, especially at his ADP.
The Bad - Last year was easily Zach Ertz’s worst year. On the targets he did get he was not efficient at all - he only caught 36 of them which is a career low 50% catch rate. He hasn’t had a catch rate that low since he had a 63.2% catch rate his rookie year. As a guy who ran a 4.76 40 yard dash he has NEVER won with athleticism, it’s almost always been volume based. Now at 30 years old he’s not going to all of a sudden start breaking off big plays so he needs volume.
And that’s the big rub. He now has a mobile QB rather than a pocket passer. And this QB was big time inefficient - Jalen Hurtz’s completion percentage was 52% so it’s not just Ertz that is the problem. We are hoping that Jalen takes a step forward but it could be Zach Dirtz and Jalen Dirtz. Plus, Ertz is not only playing alongside another good pass catching tight end in Dallas Goedert but they used first round picks on wide receivers that last two years so the targets could be slim pickings.
The Advice - Once again, we are talking about DEEP picks here. These are half court shots. And Ertz is tight end 19. Do your homework and pick the one you like most. Trautman, Kmet, Ertz etc. - they should all be there. I have them in this article in the order I like them but you can take whoever you want. I’ll be right there on Twitter @CoopAFiasco telling you who to add/drop week one anyway so you aren’t alone. With this series I'm doing my best to hold your hand while you pick out the ice cream and if you don’t like it I’ll buy you different ice cream of waivers. How’s that sound?
Jordan Akins - If you are still reading this that means you actually care about absorbing as much fantasy football knowledge as your sweet little noggin can handle. And I love that about you.
The Good - A dumpster fire would look at this Texans organization and say “dude wtf is that, that’s gross”. But for us tight end dumpster divers, that just means opportunity. The Texans have Brandin Cooks. After that it’s who? They traded Randall Cobb. Anthony Miller is a slot specialist who has done zip. Nico Collins is kind of interesting but he’s a rookie. Jordan Akins is a veteran presence who skews on the pass catching side of the TE tree. If he can hold off the likes of rookie Brevin Jordan, he could potentially be one of the focal points of this pass attack, especially in the red zone. He was the top tight end target last year in only 13 games and now Darren Fells is gone. He also got 14 red zone targets which was only three less than Will Fuller. And now Will Fuller is gone. Is he a sexy pick? No. Can we create a narrative to upside? I literally just did.
The Bad - You can use your imagination here. Tyrod Taylor is the QB. Vegas has them slated to possibly be the one of the worst teams this decade with a 4.5 over/under win total in a 17 game season. Jordan Akins has never actually been good and anyone who has watched him knows he has a tendency to NOT catch the ball when you really need him to. Like when he got six END ZONE targets last year from Deshaun Watson and caught one. You think those will be any better coming from T-Mobile?
The Advice - They drafted Brevin Jordan and, if Brevin Jordan wins the job, then just replace him in this spot. Who cares? This is more of a very last round best ball pick or a deep league stash or a one week fill in then the guy who will start for you week one or at any point really. But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have one of these in here. Jordan Akins is currently TIGHT END 79 in ADP. Seventy Nine! Free, all leagues, all formats. His ADP is 320 which is round 27 for those that go there. So he’s not a guy you draft in most leagues but he’s in this article so that, when he finishes top 20, I can turn around and say “told ya so”.
Other Yangs to Consider In Deep Leagues or BestBall
**DO NOT IGNORE THIS SECTION** This section produces legit league winners. In 2019, we talked about Darren Waller in this section AND THEN Antonio Brown froze his feet off and called the GM a cracker AFTER the article. You could have been ahead of even THAT. Logan Thomas was also in this section last year. Even if you don’t draft these guys, add them to your watch list and start thinking about them before bed at night.
Kylen Granson - Director of Pro Personnel Kevin Rodgers said they drafted Kylen Granson to play the Trey Burton role. Mo Alie-Cox (who some misguided folks think will be a good fantasy tight end this year) said himself that Kylen Granson is “the spitting image” of Trey Burton. And Trey Burton got the best usage for fantasy football. Granson's current ADP is roughly a billion..
Jared Cook - Jared Cook is older. And he’s going to a new team. But he goes with Joe Lombardi who was with him with the Saints and knows how to use him as a red zone threat. Best ball is his ideal format but it’s always been because he's TD dependent. If Jared Cook is washed at this point, Donald Parham is waiting in the wings and is interesting in his own right.
Juwan Johnson - After week one of preseason the Saints Juwan Johnson HAD to be added to this list. Adam Trautman has largely been touted as the guy taking the Jared Cook role but in the first preseason game it was the second year Johnson who had the better deployment - 16 snaps at WR with only 9 in-line with 21 routes run. He was asked to pass block only once. Trautman lined up at WR only four times and ran six routes - was asked to pass block three times. It's only a pre-season game but that's concerning for Trautman to say the least.
***Edit 8/24***: In the 2nd preseason game Johnson ran 26 routes and pass blocked one time. Adam Trautman has no pass blocked more times this offseason than Jared Cook did the entire season last year. It is Juwan Johnson SZN and that that is reflected on our Yin Yang Cheat Sheet within the Draft Guide. The only rub here, and this is a big one, is that Juwan Johnson is currently not eligible at TE on some platforms like Yahoo. So you HAVE to use the Yin-Yang TE strategy and draft a safe TE for the early season until that changes. If it ever changes…
Rob Gronkowski - Rob Gronkowski breaks all the rules of elite tight ends. He’s not a top two target on his team. Probably not even three. He blocks too much. He’s 32 years old. But guess what? Rob Gronkowski has always broken all the rules of elite tight end - he was George Kittle before George Kittle. So as long as Tom Brady is QB, he’s a threat to score touchdowns. He was fourth in red zone targets last year and led all tight ends in end zone targets with 14. His best leagues are best ball or standard because he’s not going to be a target hog. Doesn’t need to be in those formats where touchdowns are king.
Eric Ebron - Similar situation to Gronk. He’s multiple injuries away from a legit target share but this team is almost always prolific in pass attempts. And Ebron quietly finished as the TE10 in full PPR in the fantasy relevant weeks 1-16. Most of the guys in this section are bestball plays as TD dependent options and he’s no exception.
Jimmy Graham - Last year we leaned on him hard and he produced - in weeks 1-16 when we actually play fantasy football he was TE11. And that's with an ADP outside the top 20. Cole Kmet changes that but he’s still a red zone threat if you are in VERY deep best ball leagues. We said early he can still box out and grab those touchdowns and his 11 end zone targets were fourth behind only Gronk, Andrews, and Kelce. And he tied Kelce by nabbing seven of them.
Jacob Harris - If converted basketball players are our favorite kind of tight end then converted wide receivers are second favorite. And that’s exactly what Jacob Harris is. And he runs a 4.48 forty yard dash which is in the 99th percentile for tight ends. He’s basically the opposite of what Tyler Higbee is and that’s what we want for fantasy football. Much like Juwan Johnson, Jacob Harris is a converted WR so he isn't eligible at the TE position yet on many platforms. Keep that in mind when crafting your roster.
Chris Herndon - ***UPDATE*** 9/1 See Irv Smith Jr. section for updated guidance on Chris Herndon. Chris Herndon played a similar number of snaps to Mike Gesicki but Adam Gase asked him to block on 21% of his pass plays so that’s 109 more routes he could have run. Well, Adam Gase is gone. Not only that but there is a new QB and offensive coordinator in town. Late in draft uncertainty is your friend. Unfortunately there are some rumors that suggest it’s uncertain whether Chris Herndon can figure out the new playbook.
Dawson Knox - Stefon Diggs is the target king of Buffalo. After that it’s not so clear. Emmanuel Sanders is aging. Cole Beasley is acting super weird. Gabriel Davis is a 4th round pick who’s best comparable player is Zach Pascal. The real problem is that they use so many four WR sets (15% of snaps) that the tight end doesn’t even get a full snap share even if he got all the tight end snaps. But there’s a small window there without two LOCKED IN top targets.
Tim Tebow - Just kidding.
Recommended Yang (draft ONE)
- Hunter Henry - round 9 or later (12 man league)
- Evan Engram - round 9 or later
- Jonnu Smith - round 10 or later
- Adam Trautman - round 12 or later edit - keep an eye on concerning pre-season usage noted above
- Cole Kmet - round 12 or later
If you like this flavor of stats and silly memes then follow Coop on Twitter @CoopAFiasco and make sure you grab the Fantasy Alarm Draft Guide where the vast majority of Coop’s articles live (including the single sheet printout the Yin-Yang TE Cheat Sheet).