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Who Will be a TE1 in 2021?

(Image credit: Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz/USA Today)

By: Jett Rosenstein

Twitter: rosey_jett

In recent years, the TE position has been subpar, to say the least with only a few guys maintaining elite production from year to year. In 2021, it will be no different. After the top 3 guys are off the board (Kelce, Waller, Kittle), there is some potential, but for the most part, a bunch of question marks. In 2020, we saw a few guys come out of nowhere and emerge as top 12 options (Tonyan, Schultz, and Thomas). We are sure to see some surprises again along with some disappointments in 2021. Here are my Top 12 PPR TEs for 2021.

1. Travis Kelce (TE-KC) 2020 Rank: 1st

There may be some confusion on how his last name is pronounced, but there is certainly no debate about who the best TE in football is. Travis Kelce has sat at the top of the TE throne for the past 5 seasons, finishing as the TE1. Kelce is a part of the most prolific offense in football and will continue to see an enormous amount of volume. Even with Kelce approaching age 32, there is no indication that his performance will be slowing down anytime soon, so look for him to secure his 6th straight TE1 finish.

2. George Kittle (TE-SF) 2020 Rank: 19th

In 2020, it was a year to forget for George Kittle. He missed 8 games due to injury. In 2021, he will look to inch back into the top 3 after doing so in the previous two years. Kittle is the go-to guy in this 49ers offense despite there being several other decent options around him. Health is obviously a concern with him, but fantasy managers need to put that aside and draft him in the early rounds to capitalize on a position that is very shallow.

3. Darren Waller (TE-LV) 2020 Rank: 2nd

After many in the fantasy community expected Darren Waller to take a step back in 2020 after a stellar 2019, he defied the odds once again. Down the stretch, he came up clutch with several big performances that turned him into a fantasy heartthrob (45 in Week 13 and 30 in Week 15). Waller is back in 2021 and looks to remain among the elite TEs in fantasy. After earning 145 targets in 2020 (T-1st among TEs), Waller should once again receive a ton of volume on a Raiders offense where he is viewed as the focal point. The common theme among these first 3 TEs is volume. Volume is king in fantasy and these guys have proven why they deserve to be in the top 3 year in and year out.

4. TJ Hockenson (TE-DET) 2020 Rank: 5th

After finishing his rookie season 31st among TEs, TJ Hockenson broke into the top 5 in 2020. Despite him being on the Lions, a team that is expected to struggle in 2021, Hockenson should have a good amount of volume going his way from his new QB Jared Goff. There may be fewer scoring opportunities for him in 2021, but due to the lack of other formidable names on the depth chart, Hockenson should find his way back into the top 5, but keep in mind that the gap between Waller and Hockenson is larger than you think.

5. Dallas Goedert (TE-PHI) 2020 Rank: 20th

We may be seeing the torch passed at the TE position in Philadelphia. Dallas Goedert is in a great position to take a firm grasp as the TE1 on the Eagles depth chart, regardless if Zach Ertz is still with this team in week 1. With a new look offensive system being put in motion to go along with a full year of Jalen Hurts, Goedert is poised to receive the production that will catapult him into the top 5 at his position. With a lack of experience surrounding Goedert in the receiver room, look for him to be one of Hurts’ go-to guys in 2021. If you missed out on one of the top 3 TEs, scoop up Goedert in the 8th round and have yourself a value pick.

6. Mark Andrews (TE-BAL) 2020 Rank: 6th

Coming into his 4th season in the NFL, we know what to expect from Mark Andrews. He has finished within the top 6 in each of the previous 2 seasons. I also think that this is his ceiling unless we see a shift in the Ravens' offensive philosophy and an uptick in Lamar Jackson’s ability as a passer. Andrews is still going to be Jackson’s go-to guy between the hashes and in the red zone, despite the new additions the Ravens brought in during the offseason. Despite Andrews not having as much upside as some of the other guys on this list, you should definitely look to draft him from round 6 on since he is able to provide steady performances from week to week.

7. Logan Thomas (TE-WFT) 2020 Rank: 4th

In 2020, Logan Thomas became a late-season waiver wire gem for many fantasy owners. Coming into 2021, Thomas looks to maintain his status as a TE1. He will have to contend with some new weapons added to his offense, but after accumulating 16 receptions in the red zone in 2020 (2nd among TEs), it is clear this team trusts him where it counts most. Look for Thomas to score a bunch in 2021 and be a very usable option in fantasy lineups once again.

8. Kyle Pitts (TE-ATL) 2020 Rank: N/R (Rookie)

Kyle Pitts became the highest-drafted TE in NFL history after going to the Falcons at pick #4. Now with such high expectations going into his rookie season, will he be able to defy the odds and make noise at a position that hasn’t been kind to rookies? He will definitely see his fair share of work in a Falcons offense that has been a very fruitful environment for fantasy production. I don’t believe he has the potential to finish within the top 5 in year 1, but with the amount of talent he possesses, he could very well be a weekly starter on fantasy teams. Temper your expectations though because we cannot forget he is still a rookie.

9. Jonnu Smith (TE-NE) 2020 Rank: 16th

To start off 2020, Jonnu Smith showed flashes of what many drafted him to be. Unfortunately, he never seemed to get enough volume on a Tennessee offense that relied so heavily on the run. Now he joins a New England team that paid him a lot of money (4 years-50 million) to be one of their main targets in 2021. There are no reliable options in the Pats receiving room, so look for whoever is quarterbacking this team to give Smith a ton of looks. With Smith going in the 13th round in most leagues right now, you won’t be able to find another pick that has as much upside as him during this portion of the draft.

10. Noah Fant (TE-DEN) 2020 Rank: 8th

As talented as Noah Fant is, we still have not seen that breakout year from him and it is unlikely to take place in 2021. There are plenty of mouths to feed in this Denver offense with the return of Courtland Sutton and the potential emergence of Jerry Jeudy. His upside is capped and he just won’t be able to see enough volume to warrant him finishing within the top 5. Don’t shy away from drafting him, as he can be a steady contributor at a weak position, but just know there are other options that present more upside.

11. Tyler Higbee (TE-LAR) 2020 Rank: 17th

After being drafted as a TE1 in 2020, Higbee seemingly was underwhelming for a majority of the season and proved to be overvalued. However, the tide will look to change in 2021. Higbee’s kryptonite in Gerald Everett is no longer with the Rams. Some of Higbee’s best games have been without Everett on the field which is a positive development for fantasy owners. See his historic finish to 2019 (4 straight 100 yard games). He has a 12th round ADP at the moment and should bring back significant value for fantasy owners.

12. Cole Kmet (TE-CHI) 2020 Rank: 41st

I planted my flag on Cole Kmet in an earlier article, and I have not wavered from that position. The only thing holding Kmet back from being higher up on this list is due to Jimmy Graham still being on this Bears roster. However, as the season progresses, I expect Kmet to receive the bulk of the snaps and build a nice rapport with whoever his QB is. With Kmet largely going undrafted in many leagues, it is the type of pick that can pay huge dividends with very little risk associated with it. If you are someone who likes to wait until the very end to pick a TE, this is one of the guys I would keep my eye on.

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