Fantasy Football Draft Tiers: Tight end shuffle up

Fantasy football draft season is here. Time to sort through the positions and hash out the tiers and the salaries. In the leadoff spot is the tight end position.

Everyone line up behind Travis Kelce. 

A few of the usual caveats upfront. The salaries are unscientific in nature, merely used as a way to compare players within their position. I do not compare salaries outside of position — the salary of a running back is only meant to be considered within his positional class. I am generally far less expectant with injury-returning players, so don’t be surprised when I like them less than you do.

Every Shuffle Up is done from scratch. I think it’s counterproductive to justify an old, dated list.

Players with the same salary are considered even. Assume a half-point PPR scoring system.

The Big Tickets 

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, NEVADA - JULY 10: NFL athlete Travis Kelce tees off on the second hole during round two of the American Century Championship at Edgewood Tahoe South golf course on July 10, 2020 in South Lake Tahoe, Nevada.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Travis Kelce, still swinging sweet after all these years. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

$33 Travis Kelce

$29 Darren Waller

$28 George Kittle

$22 Mark Andrews

$22 T.J. Hockenson

Kelce steps into an age-32 season, which makes you a little nervous given the attrition of the tight end position, but heck, the guy’s finished as the top tight end in four of the last five years (and he was second in the other season). And remember, that dominance dates back to the Alex Smith days. All Hail No. 87 . . . Waller is the clear target hog for the Raiders, and while Derek Carr isn’t a star, he’s good enough. Waller wasn’t as explosive downfield last year, but a handy touchdown spike made up for it . . . Although Kittle remains fantasy royalty, we have to accept that he’s a better real-life player than he is a fake-football attraction. There are no points for blocking and competitiveness. The Niners have yet to unlock Kittle as a touchdown scorer — he’s never had more than five — and we’re not sure how San Francisco will handle the quarterback situation . . . Hockenson will likely lead the Lions in red-zone targets and perhaps overall targets. Although other skill positions often hit the ground running, we still look for Year 3 as a likely breakout for tight ends. Hockenson (and his old running mate, Noah Fant) both step into that key season. 

Weekly Starters 

$18 Kyle Pitts

$15 Noah Fant

$15 Dallas Goedert

$14 Tyler Higbee

$13 Logan Thomas

$12 Mike Gesicki

$12 Robert Tonyan

$10 Irv Smith Jr.

$10 Rob Gronkowski

Pitts probably doesn’t apply to the narrative about fading rookie tight ends — the Falcons didn’t get him for blocking. Pitts won’t have his hand on the ground very often; he’ll be used as a hybrid wide receiver . . . I’d love to be higher on Fant, a player I fell for the first time I saw him rumbling downfield, but the Broncos don’t have a great answer at quarterback, and the receiver room is overflowing with talent. Fant could easily be third or fourth on this team in targets . . . Higbee broke fantasy football with a monster run in December 2019, then tripped up anyone who chased those numbers last year (though he was still fine on a per-route basis). Blame part of it on Gerald Everett’s presence, but now Everett is gone. And the Rams have clearly upgraded at quarterback, swapping Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford . . . Smith steps into his third season and has a good chance to score seven or more times, given how narrow the Minnesota passing tree is . . .

I faded the Gronkowski comeback and felt validated for much of 2020 — you could argue Tampa wanted Gronk as much for his blocking as anything else. But Gronk did score nine times in his final 15 games (including two Super Bowl spikes) and got better as the rust wore away. His upside is out the window this deep in his career, but he’s been mildly underrated in the early draft market . . . Tonyan was an obvious regression candidate to begin with, and now we sweat the Aaron Rodgers drama. I’ve been ignoring Tonyan in early drafts . . . Goedert was ordinary during the Jalen Hurts period, and the Eagles have better wideouts now . . . If Thomas were in his mid-20s, I’d have him several slots higher. We have to be careful with breakouts out of nowhere at age 29. But the WFT offense looks like a delight, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is an unquestioned upgrade over the previous quarterbacks. 

Plausible Upside 

$8 Evan Engram

$8 Jonnu Smith

$8 Hunter Henry

$7 Adam Trautman

$7 Austin Hooper

$7 Blake Jarwin

$6 Eric Ebron

$6 Cole Kmet

$6 Jared Cook

$5 Anthony Firkser

$5 Gerald Everett

Henry and Smith will likely cannibalize each other in New England, and this is another team where multiple quarterbacks are likely to play . . . Trautman’s excellent blocking marks a spot on the field, and he was an efficiency darling on limited targets. Now that Jared Cook is gone, the Saints can slide Trautman into a starting role . . . If Kmet doesn’t get a much higher snap share than Jimmy Graham, I’m going to start throwing things . . . The best thing we can say about Jarwin’s ACL tear is at least it came early, the first week of 2020. It’s plausible that he’s a good player in his comeback year, though the time to really invest is next season . . . Everett can’t be a volume hog in Seattle’s passing game, but Russell Wilson’s sleight of hand at the goal line should lead to a handful of cheap, short touchdowns.

Bargain Bin 

$4 Zach Ertz

$2 Hayden Hurst

$2 Dawson Knox

$2 Dan Arnold

$1 Chris Herndon

$1 Mo Alie-Cox

$1 O.J. Howard

$1 Jack Doyle

$0 Jordan Akins

$0 Dalton Schultz

$0 Jimmy Graham

$0 Pat Freirmuth

$0 Donald Parham

$0 Will Dissly

$0 Kyle Rudolph

$0 Ian Thomas

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