How to approach drafting Tight Ends in Best Ball
In typical re-draft leagues, you can get by with fading the top tight ends and using a combination of late-round guys and streaming options for your team. This can work since there are only ever 4-5 TEs who consistently produce throughout. The hope for owners is that when you face the teams that have the top-tier TEs, you maybe catch them on a bye week or one of their few below-average weeks. Even if you do run into a big week of production, it doesn’t cost you too much since it’s just one or two weeks a season.
That mentality just doesn’t apply when it comes to best ball fantasy leagues. Since total points are what matters and not head-to-head match-ups, you are facing off versus the top TEs every week. So the gap between the top couple options and your mid-tier production will be impossible to hide from. Travis Kelce in a “down” year last season finished at TE2 with 216.8 half-point PPR last season. That was 45 points more than TE3 and 100 points above TE14 Tyler Higbee. The most common way to try to match the points of an elite TE is to take 2 or 3 mid-tier TEs and hope that their spike weeks combine well enough to shrink the gap. That though is easier said than done.
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To try to match Travis Kelce‘s point production in his 16 games, you would need to combine the 8 best games from each of Dawson Knox (TE8) and Dallas Goedert (TE10) for a combined 218.6 points. That is also assuming that none of their top 8 weeks are overlapping each other. That also doesn’t take into account that whoever is owning Travis Kelce has their own back-up TE to help replace the few bad scores he would have.
Another factor that favors taking a top tight end is when you are playing in large field best ball tournaments. There are so few tight ends who can even crack 20 points a game, much less 30+ like some of the elite guys can. If you can get those 20 or 30+ point games in the playoffs, it can be a massive separator versus the other teams left in the tournament. There is a way to overcome an elite TE in best ball, but you must be ready to grab multiple mid-tier guys and three total tight ends.
These are my rankings currently for best ball tight ends. You will see some clear differences between ADP and my rankings, but I’m searching for upside and opportunity too.
Tier 1: Travis Kelce
Kelce deserves a tier to himself. Not only has he finished as either the TE1 or TE2 in .5 ppr from 2016 on. Kelce is tied to an elite quarterback and one of the highest passing offenses in the league already. Now with Tyreek Hill leaving, there is a real chance that Kelce is the true number 1 option on this team. Kelce had just 4 games under 10 fantasy points last season, while delivering 3 over 20. He is just too valuable to ignore and he is well worth his late 1st round ADP. If you select him in best ball you can wait until the late rounds to find a back-up or two.
Tier 2: Kyle Pitts, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller
Pitts is 2nd for me as his talent level is so enticing. He might be attached to a bad QB and a questionable offense, but he is so gifted as a receiver that I’m willing to bet on the upside. The Falcons are likely going to have to be throwing a lot as they figure to be down in most games. Pitts will only really have Drake London as a major target threat this year. It would not be surprising if Pitts ends up with 130+ targets. The only real question is will he score enough touchdowns to be TE2. That’s a little risky, but they can’t afford to ignore him in the red zone like they did a year ago.
Andrews is TE2 by ADP and after leading all TEs in production a season ago, I think most would have him in the same tier as Kelce. The problem with Andrews is that he’s very unlikely to repeat his production from last season, given the Ravens being more of a run-first team. Baltimore had to drastically increase their pass rate last season due to their top 2 backs being injured, and the defense giving up a lot of points. The other factor to take into account from last year is that Andrews averaged 3.5 more catches and 37 more yards in his 6 games where Lamar Jackson missed. With Jackson back healthy will he even get the same target share he did down the stretch last season. Even with Marquise Brown leaving, Andrews is likely to see a decent dip in opportunities this year.
Waller for many should slide down a tier, as he’s coming off a disappointing season. The Raiders also went out and acquired Davante Adams, who is the best red zone wide receiver in the league. Last season though was a tough season to evaluate for the Raiders given all the drama going on off the field. In addition, Waller dealt with injuries that limited him. Adams will likely be the top receiving option on this team, but Derek Carr is a good quarterback, and Waller’s skill set hasn’t changed. In fact, now defenses can’t focus on him as they have in the past. Josh McDaniels knows the value of a top tight end, and there should be more than enough opportunity for Waller to be a difference maker.
Tier 3: George Kittle, Dalton Schultz, Zach Ertz
Kittle from a pure talent standpoint should be in a tier above as he’s one of the most talented tight ends in the league. Kittle has shown the ability for massive spike weeks, but he’s inconsistent due to a lack of opportunity. The 49ers’ offense just doesn’t pass enough and features Kittle to push him up. Now even more questions are there as Trey Lance takes over at QB. Potentially they will open up the offense and throw the ball more with his arm talent, but he also could take away TD chances with his legs. Given the uncertainty, I consider Kittle a bit below the 2nd Tier.
Schultz finished as TE 3 in total .5 PPR points and TE5 in points per game. He is attached to an elite quarterback and in one of the highest-powered offenses in the league. The opportunity could actually be stronger for Schultz this season as Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson left this offseason, and Michael Gallup is recovering from a major injury. He’s not as dynamic as most of the other TEs in the top 3 tiers, but the situation couldn’t be better.
Ertz found new life after a trade to Arizona in the middle of last season. If his production in Arizona was extrapolated over the entire season, he would have had 87 catches and about 900 yards with 5-6 TDs. The Cardinals gave Ertz a big deal in the offseason to keep him around, yet for some reason, his ADP is the lowest of the top 3 Tiers and even behind some guys in Tier4. Not only is Ertz tied now to a top QB and a high-volume offense, but DeAndre Hopkins is out the first 6 weeks due to suspension. Even when he is back it shouldn’t hurt Ertz’s role too much.
Tier 4: Dawson Knox, Dallas Goedert, T.J. Hockenson, Irv Smith, Pat Friermuth, Mike Gesicki
This is the Tier that you probably need to try to grab two of these players if you want to combine for top-level TE production. Knox is intriguing given his red zone usage and the fact that he’s tied to one of the best offenses in the league. Buffalo could look to expand Knox’s targets this season, which would probably push him up a tier.
Goedert and Hockenson are going higher currently in drafts, and both players offer good floors. The ceiling and spike week potential is more up in the air. Both are tied to below-average quarterbacks, and in Goedert’s case, the Eagles figure to finish near the bottom in passing attempts. They are still likely 2nd or 3rd on their team in market share and have the talent to be consistent producers.
Smith, Friermuth, and Gesicki all have a combination of quality of offense, previous production, and role, that they could finish in the top 10. Smith is probably tied to the best quarterback, and he typically has the lowest ADP of this whole tier.
Tier 5: Hunter Henry, Gerald Everett, Albert Okwuebunam, Cole Kmet, David Njoku, Austin Hooper
Tier 5 is a group with a mix of intriguing upside and solid opportunities. Henry has a clear red zone role for the Patriots and the hope is they will throw more as a team. He does have some TE competition on his team, which probably limits his overall target numbers. Everett finally gets the situation that could allow him to have major production. He’s always been incredibly gifted as an athlete, but he split time in LA and Seattle. Now he goes to an offense with an elite QB and no other real TE competition.
Kmet is a player who likely will be the Bears’ number two target this season. While that’s not the most friendly fantasy offense to target, that kind of opportunity is intriguing. Last season Kmet didn’t have a single touchdown on 60 catches. He should hopefully see positive TD regression, which would give him a pretty decent stat line. David Njoku is tough to evaluate with the DeShaun Watson suspension unclear at this time. He’s shown flashes, but never put it all together. Despite that, the Browns gave him a mega deal, which should be an indication of how they view him this season. He has multiple spike week upside, and could even have a floor this year.
Tier 6: Evan Engram, Robert Tonyan, Tyler Higbee, Noah Fant, Cameron Brate, Hayden Hurst
This is a high-risk/moderate reward tier. For the most part, they project as solid floor plays with maybe one or two spike weeks in the 15-20 point range. Engram has always had an athletic profile and he could do well with the change of scenery and opportunity. He’s now paired with a young upside QB in Trevor Lawrence who could end up being the best QB Engram has really played with. Noah Fant is in a similar boat of an athletic tight end, who is in a questionable situation. Even worse than the QB play questions is the fact of how run-heavy Seattle could be. Fant has natural talent, but it’s tough to get too excited about him.
Tonyan, Higbee, Brate and Hurst are all likely the clear number 1 tight ends tied to great quarterbacks. Unfortunately, none of them figure to be the 1st or 2nd option on their teams, and they might not even be the 3rd option in some cases. That will make it tough for them to have season-long ceilings, but in best ball they naturally have spike week potential since their offenses will just produce more TDs and yards.
Tier 7: Brevin Jordan, Mo Alie-Cox, C.J. Uzomah/Tyler Conklin, Logan Thomas/John Bates, Ricky Seals-Jones/Daniel Bellinger
In this tier, there are a couple of spots that have an unclear starting tight end. The Jets signed multiple free agent tight ends, and one of them figures to be the primary starter. My early guess is it will be Uzomah, but this role could end up being split. Logan Thomas has been effective on a per-game basis the last two seasons, but he’s coming off a major late-season injury. Early reports have him not ready to start the season. If you believe he will be back, he could be an intriguing 3rd TE that you hope is back late in the year.
The two clear starters in this group are Jordan and Alie-Cox. Both have some value as solid floor plays who can be your third TE, and both could end up as a solid 3rd option on their respective teams. There isn’t a lot of upside here, and even spike weeks could be tough to come by. They have a firm enough starting role that they are worth taking for injury and bye week projection.