Landing a cheap tight end who can produce at a high level is one of the best ways to solidify a championship roster. It seems to happen every year; a new stud comes out from the back end of the top-20 and asserts himself as a fantasy difference-maker. In 2018 it was George Kittle, 2019 was Darren Waller, and 2020 was Logan Thomas.
Who will be that guy in 2021? I have selected three candidates who are routinely being taken around TE15 or later in dynasty startup drafts. Players I like to outperform their draft position and also have staying power for years to come. Each player is listed along with their age and dynasty average draft position from dynastyleaguefootball.com, then dynasty positional ranking from fantasypros.com, and campus2canton.com, respectively.
Cole Kmet, 22 years old (12/16/20)
I think that Chicago offensive weapons still have the stink of history on them. The Bears’ offense has been pretty bad for, well…ever. 2021 signals a new dawn for the windy city, and I think Justin Fields is a franchise-saving draft pick. He should be the tide that lifts all boats, and right now, all the Bears are undervalued. But this is a tight end article, and we should look no further than hometown hero Cole Kmet. He checks so many boxes, including youth, size, college breakout, athleticism, and draft capital.
However, what you may not realize is his impressive NFL production in the second half of 2020. Easily missed was that after the Bears’ bye week, Kmet saw a 16% target share over the final six weeks. This is a remarkable slice of the pie, especially for a 21-year-old rookie.
Matt Nagy has experience feeding an athletically superior tight end from his years in Kansas City. Now he has a quarterback who can execute an offense. Since being drafted in 2017, former starter Mitchell Trubisky has the second-worst EPA/play of any quarterbacks with 2000 plays at 0.057 (per rbsdm.com). Fields will not be any worse and is likely much better than Trubisky. Pair the quarterback upgrade with natural development, and Cole Kmet is primed to be a fantasy star for the Fields-era Chicago Bears.
Adam Trautman, 24 years old (20/20/28)
Trautman destroyed the FCS competition at the University of Dayton. He accounted for a massive 24% receiving market share over his final three seasons. After the New Orleans Saints selected him in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft, I made him my rookie TE1 in the class. After an underwhelming rookie season, the Saints moved on from Jared Cook and Josh Hill as expected, making Trautman the default starter heading into 2021.
The one thing Trautman lacks is a blistering forty-yard dash, as he posted a meh 4.8. However, he excelled at agility drills. He has good size, college production, draft capital, athleticism, and now a starting role. Sean Payton has a history of utilizing tight ends in a fantasy-friendly way. Gunslinger Jameis Winston will likely be spraying the ball all over the field in 2021. Trautman has a lot of fantasy potential in the near and long term, so his ADP is very enticing.
Gerald Everett, 26 years old (24/25/31)
The Seahawks seem interested in pumping resources into their passing game this offseason. The team extended Tyler Lockett, signed Gerald Everett, and drafted D’Wayne Eskridge in the second round. Everett’s contract is twice as much as the next closest tight end on Seattle’s roster, and he brings a smallish but hyper-athletic figure into the fold.
Originally drafted in the second round by the Rams, Everett entered the NFL with a history of dominant production. He registered over 30% of South Alabama’s receiving production in his final two years. Unfortunately, he shared the spotlight with Tyler Higbee, but he significantly outperformed his teammate on an age-adjusted scale. Will Dissly should handle an in-line blocking role, while Everett will see most of the passing game work at the position.
In the three years when Russell Wilson had Jimmy Graham, Graham saw roughly six targets per game; back-end TE1 volume. Of course, that was before D.K. Metcalf came to town. I am optimistic that Seattle will rely on Wilson and the passing offense more after making multiple upgrades this offseason. Given Graham’s former role and 106 targets to TEs in 2020, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think Everett could push for 75-95 targets. If he gets to the high end of that range, he’ll overshoot his ADP and reward drafters with a top-12 tight end season.