Don’t waste an early pick on a tight end, wait until your last pick and take one of these breakout players.
The tight end position can be the most difficult to strategize for in your fantasy draft. If you don’t pay up early for Travis Kelce or George Kittle you may be left to wade through the murky waters of middle-round tight ends.
Avoiding the tight ends being drafted as backend starters may not be the worst idea. The uncertainty of players like Hunter Henry, Evan Engram, and Tyler Higbee is hard to ignore, not to mention the gigantic question mark that is Rob Gronkowski.
The best draft tactic is to be patient and take a tight end with one of your last picks. The ADPs of the tight ends that finished in the top 12 in PPR leagues last year were 1, 2, 21, 3, 12, 14, 7, 39, 6, 18, 23, and 43.
Half of the first 12 tight ends drafted by average ADP did not finish as a TE1. Mark Andrews was the only one of those 12 that exceeded his draft position. Kelce, Kittle, and Jared Cook all finished exactly where they were drafted.
Finding a breakout tight end can take a fantasy roster to the championship. Getting a top option at the position in the late rounds is the ultimate steal.
There are candidates to be that player in 2020. Here are some of the best fantasy tight ends currently being drafted outside the top 12.
Hayden Hurst ADP: 13
If you retain just one piece of information from this article let it be the name Hayden Hurst. He is the most likely tight end to breakout in 2020. This guy is going to be a league winner in 2020.
In most cases, a former first-round pick with 43 receptions and three touchdowns in two seasons would not be viewed as a helpful fantasy asset. But Hurst is different for a few reasons.
The most notable aspect in Hurst’s favor is the change of scenery. The Atlanta Falcons gave up a second-round pick to acquire him from the Baltimore Ravens. A team does not give up that much draft capital for a player it does not plan on using.
A new team and offense may be exactly what Hurst needs to finally unlock the potential that made him a first-round pick two years ago. He will also be escaping a fairly crowded tight end group in Baltimore.
The reason why he should be able to claim the starting tight end spot: the departure of Austin Hooper. Hurst is in Atlanta to replace Hooper and his 97 targets.
Atlanta uses the tight end as a big part of their offense. Hooper was the fifth-most targeted tight end in the league last year, and he played just 13 games.
Hurst may not possess the same talent level as Hooper, but he may get the same opportunities as him. If Hurst is used similarly and develops chemistry with Matt Ryan, he will be a huge steal in the late rounds of fantasy drafts.
Dallas Goedert ADP: 15
Dallas Goedert is a backup tight end, so why is he even considered as a fantasy option?
Well, in reality, Goedert is more of a co-tight end, with Zach Ertz, than his backup. Goedert was second on the team in targets and touchdowns in 2019 with 87 and five, respectively.
That production led to a TE10 finish in PPR leagues for Goedert. That sure does not seem like backup-level play. It is more of a breakout season for a backup tight end.
There is little reason to doubt a repeat of that caliber performance for him in 2020.
Philadelphia has proven its penchant to target their tight ends and involve them in the offense. The team clearly values Goedert very highly. They spent a second-round draft pick on him, their first selection in 2018, despite having an elite option in Ertz at the position.
Even if the Eagles wanted to rely on their tight ends less in 2020, there are not a lot of other proven weapons to go to. This is the same team that went into the playoffs last year with former college quarterback Greg Ward as its top receiver.
Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson, the team’s top two receivers, combined for just 13 games last year and do not have promising outlooks. Jeffery is on the active PUP list and may miss a portion of this upcoming season. Jackson is going into his age-34 season and has an injury history of his own.
Philadelphia does not have much behind those two. It is a group of unproven young players and rookie first-rounder Jalen Reagor.
Goedert figures to have a substantial role in the redzone offense, regardless of his use in the offense. He was targeted 11 times in that area of the field in 2019. Ertz received more redzone targets but was less efficient as both players had eight receptions.
Both players had the same production inside the 10-yard line. Catching four of five targets, all for touchdowns.
Goedert is not going to supplant Ertz in 2020, but he does not need to in order to have fantasy value. He has solidified his position as the number two receiving option. Combine that with his redzone efficiency and the recipe is there for a top-10 repeat.
Mike Gesicki ADP: 16
Don’t let the forgettable nature of the Miami Dolphins make you forget about Mike Gesicki. He may be a part of an uninspiring offense, but he is a vital part of that offense.
Gesicki finished second on the team in targets last year with 89. He caught 51 of those targets for 570 yards and five touchdowns.
He really caught on halfway through 2019; 30 of his receptions, 322 of his yards, and all five of his touchdowns came after week nine.
There are two schools of thought for explaining Gesicki’s late-season emergence.
The first explanation is that it took him a season and a half to reach his potential. A lot of rookies take some time to catch on and start producing. Gesicki may have needed some time to assimilate to the NFL game, especially on a struggling team like the Dolphins.
The second explanation is that rookie wide receiver Preston Williams went down with an injury. Williams suffered a torn ACL last season and played his final game of the season in week nine.
Gesicki became more important to the offense without Williams, who was targeted 60 times in eight games. He was the second-best receiving option for Miami during the second half of the season, which provided an uptick in his numbers.
The reality of Gesicki’s situation is that it was a combination of both explanations.
He probably did need time to learn how to play in the NFL and develop chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the fourth starting quarterback he had in two years.
He also definitely benefitted from the absence of Williams in the offense. Any opportunity to move up in importance in the offense is helpful for a player.
Gesicki’s redzone production is going to determine his fantasy relevance in 2020. He received nine of his 11 redzone targets after Williams went down with injury, but he was not able to do much with them. He especially struggled inside the 10-yard line, where he caught just one of his six targets.
If Gesicki struggles near the goal line again, or if Williams returns and takes those targets away, he may struggle to retain fantasy value. If Gesicki receives redzone work and capitalizes on it, he could be one of the biggest breakouts at the tight end position.
Blake Jarwin ADP: 17
Blake Jarwin is one of the leading tight end candidates to take a breakout in 2020.
Jarwin’s career stat line is an underwhelming 58 receptions for 672 yards and six touchdowns. It is possible he can reach those numbers in this year alone.
Witten had 63 receptions for 529 yards and four touchdowns last year, and now Jarwin will take over that role. Witten is also vacating 83 targets, most of which seem to be going to Jarwin.
Even if Jarwin gets just half of those targets, it will still be a substantial increase. It would double his targets last year, going from 41 to over 80.
Jarwin also figures to be more explosive and dynamic than the 37-year old Witten was. The Cowboys are able to open up their offense with Jarwin on the field.
He averaged 11.8 yards per reception last year, over three yards better than Witten. He also scored Dallas’s seventh-longest offensive touchdown in 2019, a 42-yard score against the Giants.
Jarwin is going to be a huge beneficiary of the abundance of talent surrounding him on offense.
The Cowboys have two receivers coming off 1,000-yard seasons in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. They also added promising rookie CeeDee Lamb with their first pick in the 2020 draft. And don’t forget Ezekiel Elliott, one of the best running backs in the league.
The number of weapons on the Dallas offense means opposing teams are not going to focus on Jarwin. He will likely have favorable matchups while the better defenders worry about Elliott or Cooper.
This could lead to easy targets for Jarwin. If those targets come near the goal line it could mean big fantasy production for him.
As long as Jarwin has chemistry with Dak Prescott, something he has had two seasons to do, he will play a big role in the offense and maybe on your fantasy team.
Jonnu Smith ADP: 21
Oddly enough, Jonnu Smith is actually being drafted below his fantasy finish from last season.
He finished as the TE20 in PPR leagues in 2019 but fantasy players are not drafting him like a breakout tight end.
Smith is going into his fourth season in the league, all with the Titans. He has shown improvement every year, increasing his catches in each season.
His growing receptions is not just a product of more targets. Smith has posted a better catch percentage in each season. He caught 79.5 percent of his targets last year, a team-high for players with double-digit targets.
The biggest reason to believe a Smith breakout is because former starting tight end Delanie Walker is gone. Walker, when healthy, relegated Smith to a backup role while taking up quite a few targets.
Walker had 31 targets last year despite playing just seven games. Smith had 44 targets even though he played in all 16 games.
With Walker now out of the picture, the starting job should be Smith’s to lose. Spoiler alert: he is not going to lose it.
Smith showed his potential once Walker got injured in week seven last year. Including that game, Smith had his four best games in terms of yardage and scored all three of his touchdowns after week seven.
He also provides the Tennessee offense with something the aging Delanie Walker could not: explosive athleticism.
A trend for these breakout tight ends is the ability to make big plays, Smith absolutely possess that skill. Most tight ends are not able to take a toss play for 57 yards, like Smith did last season.
Smith also showed his ability to make big plays in the passing game. He registered 12.5 yards per reception and 10 yards per target in 2019. The only other Titan to rack up more yards per reception was AJ Brown, one of the best deep threats in the NFL.
Smith is the type of player that can win you a week with a huge play, a huge benefit for your fantasy roster. He also should have enough of an increase in targets to be fantasy relevant even when he does not record big plays.
The fact that Smith is available in the last round makes him an even more intriguing and potentially valuable asset.