Seemingly every year we discuss the alleged depth at tight end and the future stars who make it so deep. Quite often those tight end sleepers disappoint and leave their drafters in a streaming situation. The first part of the equation is starting the same in 2020, but there are a couple of sleepers who look like they may just pay off.
Blake Jarwin and Chris Herndon are in quite different situations. Jarwin is behind Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and (probably) CeeDee Lamb in the pecking order, but he plays on what should be one of the best offenses in football and his quarterback has an extensive history of targeting tight ends. Herndon flashed as a rookie before a lost year in 2019. Now a big part of the reason he's emerging in 2020 is the Jets' complete lack of depth at wide receiver. Robby Anderson and Demaryius Thomas are gone while Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims can't get on the practice field. It's quite possible Herndon is second on the team in targets behind Jamison Crowder.
For what it's worth, both tight ends have drawn rave reviews at training camp and they both have ADPs in Round 13. I lean towards Jarwin because it's hard to get too excited about anyone on an Adam Gase offense, but they're both guys I'm targeting if I don't get a surefire starter.
Before we get to the rest of the re-draft tight end analysis, it's worth noting we have plenty for your Dynasty managers as well. Our Dynasty tight end rankings are here and our Dynasty Tiers can be found here.
The state of the tight end position is one of uncertainty right now. There are certainly at least two very elite options at the top, and you could make a case for up to four more you should feel very good about. Then there's a whole lotta maybe. Maybe Rob Gronkowski regains his form in Tampa Bay. Maybe those last five games from Tyler Higbee were real. Maybe Hayden Hurst takes the Austin Hooper role in Atlanta. Maybe Evan Engram can finally stay healthy. You get the point, except that's only where the maybe begins.
After the maybes comes a long list of sleepers led by Jarwin and Herndon. If it didn't sound so terrible we could call them the "hopefullys." Yeah, I don't think that's going to stick. You can talk yourself into a lot of different strategies at tight end this season, but some of them are better than others.
If you don't want to think about your tight end all year, there's a really easy solution; just draft Travis Kelce or George Kittle in Round 2. They're absolutely worth it, in fact they're probably worth a late first in most leagues. Of course, if you pick early in the draft there's a chance you don't get a chance at either late in the second. In that instance, I'm hoping for Zach Ertz or Mark Andrews late in Round 4. If you miss the top four tight ends, it's time for patience. Odds are one of Engram, Darren Waller, Hunter Henry or Hurst will fall to Round 8. If they do, scoop them up. If they don't, you're drafting two tight ends, and that's OK, too. Just make sure you feel good starting one of them Week 1.
Blake Jarwin TE
DAL Dallas • #89
Age: 29 • Experience: 6 yrs.
The Cowboys pass-heavy scheme under Kellen Moore means that there could be enough room for Blake Jarwin to emerge even with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb all in the mix. Last year they gave Jason Witten 83 targets despite dedicating 54.6% of their targets to Cooper, Gallup and Randall Cobb. That was enough to place Witten among the top 12 tight ends in both formats. Jarwin is more athletic and should do more after the catch than Witten, which could very well lead to a top-10 season.
NO New Orleans • #86
Age: 28 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Herndon totaled 502 yards and four scores on just 56 targets as a rookie. It's not unreasonable to think he could approach 90 targets if he stays healthy. Herndon also profiles as the best red-zone option for the Jets heading into Week 1 and he has built-in rapport with Sam Darnold.
Hayden Hurst TE
CAR Carolina • #81
Age: 30 • Experience: 6 yrs.
Dirk Koetter has dedicated 125 targets per season to the tight end position the past three seasons, and now Hayden Hurst will be the main beneficiary. The former first-round pick takes Austin Hooper's role, and Hooper himself was on pace for 119 targets last year. There's top-three upside for Hurst at the tight end position, and you don't have to be that creative to see it. Before Hooper was injured in 2019, he was the No. 1 tight end in Fantasy.
Jonnu Smith TE
ATL Atlanta • #81
Age: 28 • Experience: 7 yrs.
With Delanie Walker completely out of the picture, Jonnu Smith should get a chance to prove he can be a starting Fantasy tight end. He has the athleticism and could very well be Ryan Tannehill's second-favorite target in the passing game. Smith needs the Titans to throw a little more than they did last year to crack the top 10, but the odds are they will. Smith scored at least 11 PPR Fantasy points in three of his final four games of 2019 and was tied for second on the team in targets in their three playoff games.
TB Tampa Bay • #87
Age: 34 • Experience: 12 yrs.
There is way too much uncertainty about Gronkowski's role in Tampa Bay to be taking him in Round 6 ahead of Evan Engram and Hunter Henry. It's highly unlikely he'll see the target share he did in New England due to the presence of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. In fact, with the buzz O.J. Howard is getting, I'm not even sure Gronkowski will see a high share of the tight end targets.
Jared Cook TE
LAC L.A. Chargers • #87
Age: 36 • Experience: 14 yrs.
Even if everything remained the same in New Orleans, I'd advise against drafting Cook due to his low target share in 2019 and the massive regression that's coming in 2020. But everything didn't stay the same, the team traded for Emmanuel Sanders and now have a true No. 2 receiver. It's hard to see Cook averaging even five targets per game.
Numbers to Know
4 -- Travis Kelce has been the No. 1 tight end four years in a row and outscored every other tight end by at least 33 Fantasy points in 2019. That's worth a first-round pick.
10.0 -- George Kittle is one of four players, and the only tight end, to receive at least 200 targets over the past two seasons and average more than 10 yards per target. If he ever scores more than five touchdowns, he could make a run at Kelce.
10.6 -- Mark Andrews' 10.6 aDOT was the best among tight ends with at least 25 targets in 2019. Any bump in targets would help make up for the coming touchdown regression.
13.8% -- Jared Cook scored on 13.8% of his targets last year, a number you'd expect no one to repeat. He also averaged an outlandish 16.4 yards per target. Regression, and the presence of Emmanuel Sanders, makes Cook no more than a streamer.
34.6% -- Mike Gesicki played more than a third of his snaps in the slot. He wasn't productive, but if Gesicki is essentially used as a slot receiver again in 2020, we'd expect better results.
Draft to Stream
Ian Thomas Week 1 vs. Las Vegas, Week 2 @Tampa Bay
Defense versus tight end numbers are statistically noisy even in the same season, but the Raiders were the third-worst against the position last year and Tampa Bay wasn't much better. More importantly, these should both be high-scoring games that help Thomas' target and touchdown projections.
Jack Doyle at Jacksonville, vs. Minnesota
This is less about matchups and more about the fact that Doyle should start the year healthy with little competition for targets. The Colts have always used their tight ends extensively, and with Eric Ebron gone, Doyle is the main option. I worry that as the season goes on Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman carve out a bigger role, but the targets should be there early in the year. Also, the Jaguars should be awful on defense, which doesn't hurt anything for Doyle.