Pitts' Picks: 2020 Tight Ends
By Pat Pitts
One hundred thirty three. My notes for the upcoming fantasy season are one hundred thirty three pages long. There better be a damn season.
After watching hours of highlights, reading endless reports, and drinking thousands of iced coffees that America allegedly runs on, I decided that I was going to do something different when it came to the Tight End position. Why? The TE is the biggest crap shoot in all of fantasy football. “Location. Location. Location.” has never applied more to this position.
Obviously talent plays a big role for this position, but look at a guy like Jimmy Graham after he left New Orleans and catching passes from Drew Brees. He has been passed around the NFC like a hot potato; finally cooling off in the Windy City. He had all the talent in the world, but it hasn’t been great for Graham since leaving the Big Easy.
Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz have solidified themselves as the top tier at the position in actual football and even more so in fantasy football. They average WR1 type numbers along with their blocking abilities that help their respective teams in the run gamel.
We’ll leave those three guys on the shelf in this discussion because in all reality, do you want to spend a 3rd round pick on one of them, or would you rather grab your RB2 that will add more value to your overall roster? James White at RB2 isn’t going to help you hoist a trophy in December.
I could have taken diligent notes on every fantasy relevant TE and ranked them, but that’s boring and honestly nobody cares about the position past the Top-10. Genuinely, I’m only interested in drafting a handful of TEs this season. As someone who waits until the double digit rounds to draft this position anyway, I’m letting you know it’s worth the wait.
Enough chit chat, here are some tight ends to realistically draft for 2020.
Yards per Game: 72
Darren Waller melted football fans’ hearts last season on HBO’s “Hard Knocks”. His comeback story made you become a fan, but his play made you jump out of your seat. Waller finished last season as the overall TE3 and his production should only continue to increase in the Las Vegas offense.
The Raiders as a whole are a question mark this season as they relocate to Vegas, adding new pieces to the offense like Nelson Agholor, Jason Witten, and QB controversy by signing Marcus Mariota to a hefty contract in free agency. The one constant will be Waller and how he will be the passing game darling for Jon Gruden and company.
Waller caught damn near everything thrown his way last season as he caught 72 percent of passes thrown his way which was Top-5 for TEs. The one thing fantasy owners will want to see is Waller being used more in the red zone, even with the arrival of Witten. Waller only had three touchdowns in 2019, all coming in the red zone.
Waller’s ADP is around the fourth round and even has a chance to fall to the fifth round which would not be a bad time to take him, but you would have to be extremely confident in your first four picks to grab him in that spot. He will finish as a top three tight end again this season, so snagging him just before the mid-rounds isn’t the worst decision you could make on draft night.
Receptions per Game: 5.8
Yards per Game: 60.5
The Hooper-star did it again as he finished in the Top-7 in 2019, but sits as the 14th ranked TE heading into 2020, according to ESPN.. Signing with the Browns this offseason was a great decision by Hooper as he lands in a situation where the offense has a lot of potential to be more explosive than the one he was in in Atlanta. If Baker Mayfield can finally be protected and the new coaching staff actually works out, Hooper could be in for a MASSIVE first season with the Dog Pound.
Last season, the Browns targeted their tight ends on 13% of passing plays, which was in the bottom five in the NFL. David Njoku missed a lot of time due to injury and Ricky Seals-Jones just didn’t do the trick when he was in the lineup. Hooper has been one of the most consistent TEs since entering the league. Since 2017, Hooper has finished as a Top-12 TE close to 40 percent of the time and finished in that discussion 62 percent of the time in 2019. For a position that lacks elite talent, that’s damn good consistency.
Hooper is currently garnering an ADP of 9.05, which is lower than Gronk. Hooper will fall to the early 10th in most leagues which would be a great spot to snag him to be your TE1. Hooper is in my Top-10 and will finish 2020 in that echelon too, book it.
Receptions per Game: 2.7
Yards per Game: 30.6
If there was a year for this hyped up rookie to miss some time, it was indeed his rookie season. Everyone who would be a factor for the Lions success fell one by one due to lingering or even season-ending injuries. David Blough was the starting quarterback on Thanksgiving Day and nothing made sense for Matt Patricia’s squad. Nobody should have banked on Hock to make a legit impact on such a dysfunctional roster.
ESPN ranks Hockenson as the 15th overall tight end with an ADP of 13.04. Matthew Berry ranks him as TE18. Matthew Stafford is still an elite QB, the WR group in Detroit isn’t too ideal so Stafford will be relying on his safety blanket a lot in 2020 which will allow Hockenson to EAT.
While Hockenson will be a reilabe target in the open field, his value lies with his success in the red zone. Stafford has a red zone success rate of nearly 70%. Hockenson is a complete mismatch for defenders with his size, and that should result in a plethora of red zone targets for him in a Lions offense that will rely on him a lot. Hockenson did not get a fair shot last season and now with Stafford back healthy, drafting him in the thirteenth round could be a fantasy steal of the season.
Receptions per Game: 2.0
Yards per Game: 23.0
Jarwin received his own stimulus check at the beginning of this offseason when Jerry Jones opened the checkbook and handed him a $24.5M extension to be the successor to Jason Witten. Amari Cooper led the Cowboys in targets last season with 119, Gallup finished with 113, and the team drafted CeeDee Lamb in the first round of the NFL Draft to replace the 116 targets left behind by Randall Cobb who signed with Houston in free agency.
Jarwin finished 2019 with 41 targets, and as he assumes the role of TE1 in the Dallas offense, he’s going to see an uptick in targets, especially in the red zone. For a reference, if Jarwin sees 30 more targets than he did in 2019, he would be in the same range of targets as Chargers TE Hunter Henry, who finished last season as TE9. Jarwin has also finished with a 75% catch rate the past two seasons, which is higher than Henry.
Jarwin’s ADP makes him a deep sleeper in most fantasy leagues as he’s projected to be picked in the 14th round. A round made for throw away picks could be a chance to find a diamond in the rough in Mike McCarthy’s pass happy offense.
Receptions per Game: 2.5
Yards per Game: 35.1
Drew Lock became a late-season darling for Denver Broncos fans in 2019 when he replaced Joe Flacco towards the end of the year. But no one is talking about this sensational TE who is going to take a giant leap in 2020. Denver made it a point to improve the offense during the offseason. Drafting Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler to pair with Courtland Sutton. However, Fant will be the name to target in your drafts.
Lock technically being a “first year” starter plays into Fant’s fantasy value immensely. First year QBs tend to rely on their TEs to move the ball down field and generally as the safety blanket of the offense. Fant can expect to play more of a role in the red zone offense as he was only targeted nine times in eleven games and scored only one touchdown.
Fant ended the season as TE16 and heading into 2020, ESPN has him ranked as TE12. However, Fant is poised to have a breakout year with all the speed around him and Lock also needing someone he can depend on with checkdowns. With an ADP of 9.05, Fant becomes an attractive pick at this spot for a player that’s going to set the world on fire. Fant is someone that is high up on my draft board and should be someone that you have on your draft boards without second guessing.
These aren’t your household names when it comes to the TE position, but if you want to snag superstars across the rest of your roster and have a guy that will give you incredible production, these five players should be bookmarked in every draft day planning guide you have for 2020. Don’t say I didn’t give you the advice you need in order to bring home the hardware in December. You'll be hearing these names everywhere sooner rather than later.