Fantasy Football Slack and Forth: Diving Into 2020 Tight End Strategy

In 2020 fantasy football drafts, the tight end position consists of two distinct tiers. One tier has Travis Kelce and George Kittle, and the other tier has everyone else.

In fact, over at BestBall10s, there's a 27.3-pick gap in average draft position (ADP) between Kittle (23.29) and the next closest tight end, Mark Andrews (50.62). That's pretty damn close to a three-round difference.

Three tight ends -- Andrews, Zach Ertz (52.3), and Darren Waller (66.2) -- come off the board between picks 50 and 66. After a brief gap in tight end draftage, another cluster -- Evan Engram (79.5), Tyler Higbee (84.0), and Hunter Henry (90.2) -- is being selected within an 11-pick range.

In order to figure out how to best approach the position once Kelce and Kittle are gone, I chatted (on Slack) with fellow numberFire editor and noted Jack Doyle enthusiast Austan Kas.

Here's what we had to say.

Elisha Twerski:
Aside from drafting Jack Doyle in the fourth round, what's your strategy for attacking the tight end position once Kelce and Kittle are off the board?

Austan Kas: Obviously, every draft is its own beast, but with the way things are shaping up ADP-wise at the position, I see myself waiting pretty long to take a tight end as there are a couple guys going late I like -- or have at least talked myself into. And typically, I'm a wait-on-tight-ends guy anyway as I like to pepper away at running backs and receivers early, so I usually miss out on the elite options.

How about you? What are you doing at tight end once Kittle and Kelce are gone?

Elisha Twerski: After a bit of research, I’m altering my strategy from what it had been in the past.

I used to prioritize drafting a tight end in the first seven or so rounds due to how thin the position was, but I’ve begun to notice the holes in that thought process. Since 2012, on average, the TE4 is scoring fewer points than the WR20, and given that you can still get a guy like Adam Thielen in the 40s this year, that's the kind of value you'd be surrendering.

In fact, if you looked at the tight ends that were on the highest percentage of ESPN Championship rosters over the last three years, you can see that the proper strategy is either, "Go early or wait."

Last year, the six most common tight ends on those rosters were Higbee, Waller, Kelce, Goedert, Kittle, and Andrews. Two of them had ADPs inside the top 30, and the other four were being drafted after pick 150.

In 2018, the most common tight ends were Kelce, Ertz, Kittle, Ebron, and Cook. Again, two in the top 30, and the rest were 130 or later. Ditto for 2017.

In short, if I can't get Kelce or Kittle, I'm joining you on the "wait on a tight end" train.

Are there any specific tight ends you're targeting when you wait?

Austan Kas: That's some good info right there. Cool stuff.

My favorite late-round tight end right now is Mike Gesicki, but I like a few. Going as pick 114 and the TE12, Gesicki is cheap, and I'm not sure there will be a significant production difference between him and the tier above him (Cook, Henry, Higbee), so I see very little reason to take one of those guys at their current cost.

Gesicki really came on at the end of 2019, and he's got a drool-worthy athletic profile, which puts him in the 97th percentile in SPARQ rating, per PlayerProfiler. From Week 10 on last season, Gesicki was eighth among tight ends in target share (22%) and ninth in air yards share (21%), according to He ranked as the TE8 in terms of PPR points per game in that span. The return of Preston Williams -- whose last game came in Week 9 -- may peck away at Gesicki's target share numbers, but the Miami Dolphins didn't add much this offseason at the skill positions.

Usually, cheap tight ends have a terrible floor, but I think Gesicki is an exception. I see a decent floor with some respectable upside for him in 2020.

Which late-round tight end are you zeroing in on?

Elisha Twerski: If I'm waiting on a tight end, I'm going to take a couple of shots at it to increase my odds of hitting.

One guy I'm very intrigued by is Hayden Hurst. The Falcons traded a second-round pick to Baltimore to acquire his services, so they obviously value him highly.

Hurst is also stepping into an ideal situation. Atlanta was the most pass-heavy team in 2019, averaging 2.03 passes for every run, and they have the most vacated targets from a year ago -- nearly 70 more than any other team. Also working in Hurst's favor is the fact that, aside from him, the Falcons added no new weapons to their receiving corps.

Hurst is a former first-round pick who got pushed down the depth chart in Baltimore, but this will be his first real opportunity to shine. He was pretty solid in the rare moments when he was actually called upon last year. According to PlayerProfiler, he ranked inside the top-10 in yards per target, yards per route run, true catch rate, QB Rating when targeted, and fantasy points per pass route.

Not too shabby for a guy with a current ADP of 131.06.

I know I have a couple more in mind, but I'd like to let you get a word in. Are there any other tight ends you're targeting in the deeper parts of drafts?

Austan Kas: I dig Hurst, too. I think tight end might be kind of deep for once. Well, maybe not legit deep, but at least not the kiddie-pool deep it has been in recent years. There's a few other cheapies I like -- Jack Da God Doyle (ADP of TE18), T.J. Hockenson (TE16) and even down to Chris Herndon (TE22).

Of that group, I really like Herndon as a guy I'd be comfortable with as my TE1 in a deeper league (14-plus teams). But he's likely to go undrafted in most leagues (as of now), so I want to dive into Hockenson instead.

Hockenson has a chance to be the clear number-three option in the Detroit Lions' passing attack after Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. He has the athletic ability to make big plays and be a productive red-zone weapon. Matthew Stafford was playing excellently prior to getting hurt last year, recording his best-ever campaign by our Net Expected Points metric, so this could be a pretty good offense this fall.

When our Brandon Gdula simmed out the season 10,000 times, Hock (if that's not a nickname for him, it should be) produced a top-eight tight end campaign 24% of the time, the 13th-best rate at the position. He's a good value right now and checks a few boxes as a breakout candidate.

Do you like any of the guys I just mentioned? If not, which other late-round tight end is appealing to you?

Elisha Twerski: Damn. You stole my next guy.

Hockenson's another tight end going after pick 120 who I'd love to get my hands on. Like you said, he has the perfect storm of talent and opportunity to break out.

Austan Kas: Sorry not sorry! But that does make me feel good. He's someone I expect to have a decent amount of breakout buzz leading up to draft season, so his ADP may rise a bit. I'm good with that -- up to a certain point.

Elisha Twerski: Great minds think alike! I was about to say that his ADP may rise to a point where I'm uncomfortable taking him.

In any case, there's still plenty of other tight ends in the later rounds that tickle my fancy.

I can certainly get on board with your guy Doyle or Herndon, for that matter. But I also find myself targeting two NFC North guys, Irv Smith Jr. and Jace Sternberger.

Neither the Minnesota Vikings nor the Green Bay Packers will throw as much as they used to, but both players could see plenty of opportunity.

This could be the year that Minnesota passes the torch from Kyle Rudolph to the younger, more talented Smith Jr. And with Stefon Diggs gone, Kirk Cousins will need all the help he can get.

Sternberger plays for a Green Bay team that inexplicably failed to add any reliable targets to their arsenal...ugh. Don't get me started on that again.

With breakout tight ends, there tends to be "buzz" surrounding them leading up the season, and we've seen that buzz start quite early for Sternberger. He was in the 60th and 63rd percentile in speed and agility scores, per PlayerProfiler, so he certainly has the athleticism to make an impact.

Are you interested in either of those guys this year?

Austan Kas: I'm pretty much always going to be willing to listen when it's a cheap pass-catcher in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense, so I'm intrigued by Sternberger. He should be on the field plenty and have a chance at volume, which, in short, is what I'm looking for with a cheap tight end. And if he doesn't pan out, you can cut bait and stream, a strategy that should be even more viable in 2020 than in past years.

Elisha Twerski: Exactly. And for what it's worth, our editor-in-chief, JJ Zachariason, seems to agree.

Anyway, this seems like a good spot to wrap it up before you start talking about why Doyle will be the TE1.

It appears that you and I are in (rare) agreement that it makes a lot of sense to wait at tight end if you miss out on the big two, and unlike most years, there are a couple cheap options you can feel good about.

It's always a pleasure chatting (Slacking?) with you. Great insight, as always.