The tight end position has been brutal for fantasy owners over the past few seasons. So much so that several fantasy experts have made the argument that Travis Kelce should be a top-five pick this season. Kelce was 3.3 PPG better than the TE2 (Darren Waller) and 8 FPPG better than the TE3 (Robert Tonyan). We are not on board with taking a tight end in the first round, but if you miss out on one of the top three guys, you better have some quality sleepers you can target in the back half of your draft.
This article will identify five tight ends that could dramatically outperform their current ADP. Speaking of ADP, we are using the current ADP at Underdog Fantasy, to give us accurate, updated draft data. We will update this ADP data throughout the offseason and adjust our sleeper picks if needed.
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|Sleeper||TE Rank||Current ADP|
TE Rank – 11 | Current ADP – 117
The fact that Irv Smith got through the offseason with the Vikings failing to add another option at tight end or WR3 (Chad Beebe and Bisi Johnson are back!) is a great sign for his 2021 fantasy outlook. In four games without Kyle Rudolph in the lineup last season, Smith put up 15/183/3, good for 13 FPPG. That pace would have had him finish the year at TE2 overall!
The bump in production coincided with Smith’s highest snap counts in the season. Translation: if he’s on the field, he’s productive. With Rudolph now on the Giants roster, we have Smith projected at a 75% snap count for the 2021 season.
Clearly, the Vikings view Smith as a primary red-zone target. He racked up 12 red-zone targets despite missing 3 games and losing snaps to Rudolph. Look for that role to expand even more in 2021. That being said, he is not nearly as touchdown dependant as several of the tight ends currently being drafted ahead of him.
If you miss out on that first group of tight ends, grabbing Irv Smith in rounds 9 or 10 gives you a ton of upside with a high floor given an increased role in the Minnesota offense and red-zone production.
TE Rank – 16 | Current ADP – 144
The fact that Smith is going to play the Z position in the Patriots offense is not a knock on Henry, or Henry’s potential fantasy upside. Gronk was arguably the greatest tight end in fantasy football history playing in-line in this system. Smith is simply the better athlete, has more big-play ability, and has more fantasy upside, which is what we are looking for in a sleeper tight end pick.
Of all the fantasy assets Arthur Smith had at his disposal in Tennesee, Jonnu Smith was the one guy that didn’t meet or exceed his upside. Will Josh McDaniels be able to tap into Smith’s undeniable potential? We know he has speed (has had a 57+ yard reception each of the last three years), we know he can dominate in the red zone (8 touchdowns on 41 receptions in 2020), but can he be a 90 target guy in this league? We have yet to see that.
Need further proof of potential upside? Smith finished 2020 as TE10 with 65 targets. Hunter Henry finished as TE13 with 93 targets. If those numbers flip in 2021 we see Jonnu finishing the season as a top-5 fantasy tight end, which makes him an absolute steal as a late 12th, early 13th round pick.
TE Rank – 21 | Current ADP – 165
Another familiar name in a new place, Gerald Everett steps in as TE1 for the Seahawks and will have an immediate role in Seattle’s offense. Just how big of a role can be tricky to project.
New Seattle offensive coordinator Shane Waldron was the passing game coordinator and tight end coach with the Rams. He obviously played an integral role in getting Everett to Seattle and will run a similar system to what Everett played in with the Rams.
That being said, it has been a far from productive four seasons. In 61 career games, Everett has only 8 starts and 8 touchdown receptions. We have seen flashes of the upside that spurred him to be drafted in the second round in 2017. Boasting a 4.6 40 and sub-7 second three-cone, Everett can move as well as any tight end in the NFL. It simply hasn’t translated on the field.
What is his upside in this offense? Will Dissly finished TE8 in FPPG in 2019 for Seattle but that feels like Everett’s ceiling for 2021. He hasn’t been productive enough in the red zone over his career to project him any higher than that. Nevertheless, we think he finishes as a high-end TE2 and could sneak into the TE1 discussion if he carves out a role in the red zone for the Seahawks this season.
TE Rank – 27 | Current ADP – 196
We had high hopes that the Adam Gase regime would be able to figure out how to get Chris Herndon back to the player we saw his rookie year in New York. He missed all but 18 snaps in his second year and was never part of the offense last year.
His new offensive coordinator, Mike Lafleur, brings in the Kyle Shannahan playbook and Jets beat reporters are already calling this a potial breakout season for Herndon. Clearly, this is a tight end friendly system, George Kittle has been a fantasy mainstay, and even Jordan Reed was fantasy-relevant with Kittle out last season.
While there is plenty of competition for targets in New York with Crowder and Mims returning and Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Keelan Cole all arriving for 2021, Herndon will have a role in the Jets passing attack working as the TE1. Again, Herndon represents upside given his potential role in a TE-friendly system and undeniable athletic ability.
TE Rank – 29 | Current ADP – 209
For the fifth time in this article, we are targeting a tight end with high-end athletic traits that have yet to put everything together for a full season in the NFL. Howard looked poised to be one of the best tight ends in fantasy football after finishing 2018 as TE5 in FPPG while averaging 16.6 YPC.
However, a scheme change, an influx of competition for targets, and injuries have derailed Howard’s fantasy production. Can Howard return to the player we saw in 2018, and even if he can, will there a role for him in this offense?
The key here is the fact that Tampa Bay picked up Howard’s fifth-year option at $6.1 million. Understanding how much of a tightrope the Bucs had to walk to bring everyone back this offseason, the fact they were willing to drop $6.1 million on Howard when they could have just let him walk says a lot.
Additionally, if we look at Howard’s pace prior to his injury last season, he was on track to put up 44/584/8. While those numbers are far from locking up a fantasy title for owners, he would have finished the season as TE8. While that production far exceeds his current ADP, we think he could see even more looks this season with Gronk another year older and unlikely to play a full 17 game season.
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