We’re in the midst of Training Camp Season. With about a month before the regular season begins, these practices, combined with pre-season games, will help determine the depth chart heading into the regular season. Over the next four pieces, I’ll be looking at a few battles at QB, RB, WR, and TE, considering the competitors, the situation, and offering a prediction. Today I conclude with tight ends, looking at three competitions that could greatly impact the 2021 NFL season.
- Jimmy Graham: 76 targets, 50 receptions, 456 yards 8 TDs (2020 with the Chicago Bears)
- Cole Kmet: 44 targets, 28 receptions, 243 yards, 2 TDs (2020 with the Chicago Bears)
Situation: Last off-season Kmet was the top tight end taken in the NFL Draft, but he entered without a clear path to meaningful touches after the Bears signed veteran Jimmy Graham from the Green Bay Packers. Graham, indeed, was the starter, and not only that, he put up a solid season. Graham snagged eight touchdowns and finished as TE13. Though the Bears have better QBs in 2021, little else has changed as both men remain on the roster heading into the season. So, who has the advantage?
Though Graham was the higher scoring player and more involved in 2020, Kmet started to emerge late. In total, 36 of his 44 targets came from Week 10 on, and Kmet saw six or more targets in four of the last five games. It seemed that the position was shifting, giving more to consider heading into 2021.
Prediction: It takes time for rookie TEs to develop in the NFL, and the fact that Kmet was already coming on at the end of 2020 is a promising sign. Graham will likely still play and may well be a trendy Red Zone option, but I think Kmet steps forward this season. I suspect he finishes higher and jumps into the TE2 range.
- Blake Jarwin: 41 targets, 31 receptions, 365 yards, 3 TDs (2019 with the Dallas Cowboys)
- Dalton Schultz: 89 targets, 63 receptions, 615 yards, 4 TDs (2020 with the Dallas Cowboys)
Situation: Heading into 2020, it was supposed to be Jarwin’s time to shine. In 2019, playing alongside future Hall of Famer Jason Witten, Jarwin was a steady contributor. He caught 31 passes and looked poised to snag the position. Early in Week 1, he saw a target, which he caught for 12 yards. He also injured his knee, ending his season. In his stead, Schultz stepped in. Schultz, a fourth-round draft choice in 2018, made the most of his chances. He saw 89 targets and caught 63 passes for more than 600 yards, finishing at TE11.
Now, in 2021, both players are back healthy. The Cowboys still have a loaded passing game with CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup at receiver and running back Ezekiel Elliot. At best, the TE is likely a fourth or fifth option, but the high-volume Cowboys’ passing attack has targets to spare. Jarwin and Schultz combined for 90 targets in 2020; the question is how those 90 to 120 targets get split in 2021.
Prediction: Some think it’s Jarwin, no question. I understand that’s the way it was tracking in 2020, but it’s impossible to ignore Schultz’s 2020 season. I think more likely Jarwin leads a committee, meaning they split 100 or so targets. Given that, it’s possible neither finishes Top 24.
- Dallas Goedert: 65 targets, 46 receptions, 524 yards, 3 TDs (11 games in 2020 with the Philadelphia Eagles)
- Zach Ertz: 72 targets, 36 receptions, 335 yards, 1 TD (11 games in 2020 with the Philadelphia Eagles)
Situation: This has been frustrating. Since he was taken in the second round in 2018, many have thought Goedert was the future at TE for the Eagles. But when will that future begin? Ertz has been rumored to be on the block all off-season, but he’s still there. And, when he’s been healthy, Ertz has commanded a large share of the targets, posting 100-plus targets from 2015 to 2019. In only 11 games, Ertz saw 72 targets, even last season, though he was less productive than Goedert. It feels like 2021 could be the year Goedert ascends, but it’s unclear if that’s possible with Ertz still on the roster.
Prediction: I have had Goedert as a TE1 all off-season, going as high as TE6 for him. I believe in the talent, and he had good chemistry with Jalen Hurts to close 2020. But Ertz is still there, and it looks like he’ll remain there for the season. That puts a ceiling on Goedert’s value, and then it’s fair to wonder if he’s back in 2022. This could be a frustrating situation all season, with both men finishing in the mid-tier TE2 range.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.