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Fantasy Football Drafts: 2021 tight end sleepers

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Just to be perfectly clear: It is the official position of the author that you should draft a tight end who is verifiably, undeniably good — ideally, one of the top-6. Doing so is a huge advantage. Travis Kelce and Darren Waller were both on the short list of players who appeared on the highest percentage of Yahoo league winners last season. Those two obliterated the position's scoring average. If you had 'em, it was awfully hard to miss the playoffs.

And yet there are many possible paths to a fantasy championship, not all of which involve spending an early round pick on a tight end. Robert Tonyan and Logan Thomas were both waiver gems last season; those guys contributed to a few league-winners as well.

Today, the mission is to flag a few sleeper-ish players at this spot, because obviously not everyone can land Kelce or Waller or the people's tight end...

Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings (ADP 120.9)

Did you happen to know that Smith ranked second among all tight ends in fantasy points per target last season, behind only Tonyan? Well, he did. He may have only drawn 43 targets last year, but 12 of them were red-zone looks and five were inside the 5-yard line. Kyle Rudolph is out of the mix this season and Smith is making plenty of noise in camp...

Smith is 23 and entering his third pro season, likely headed for a jump in snaps and targets. If you're worried at all about Mike Zimmer's offseason praise for Tyler Conklin ... well, yeah, that's fair. But summer nonsense/misdirection in Minnesota (and everywhere else in the NFL) isn't exactly unusual. Smith was a valuable weapon for the Vikings last year and it's difficult to imagine his role remaining the same.

Adam Trautman, New Orleans Saints (ADP 132.8)

Things are a little messy for New Orleans at this stage, with a position battle raging between two flawed QBs and the rehabbing Michael Thomas locked in a cold war with his team. It's a weird transitional time for the Saints. It's not at all clear that the offense will support multiple fantasy starters beyond Alvin Kamara.

Still, Trautman has a real chance to see a massive jump in workload. Remember, Jared Cook and Emmanural Sanders have relocated, plus Thomas' early-season targets are up for grabs. We're talking about a bunch of pass attempts that need to go somewhere. Cook and Sanders combined for 142 targets last season.

Trautman had only a small supporting role as a rookie, catching 15 balls for 171 yards on 16 targets. He flashed occasionally...

...if not consistently. His services are very much needed this year, clearly. Trautman has the necessary size (6-foot-6) and he was outrageously productive as a collegiate player, facing sketchy competition at Dayton (70-916-14 as a senior). There's a decent chance he'll be a volume receiver for either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill.

Gerald Everett, Seattle Seahawks (ADP 130.0)

Yeah, OK, he's teased us before. Perhaps you've fallen for Everett sleeper hype in previous years. This happens occasionally with tight ends, a slow-developing position. We pushed Jared Cook as a sleeper for like 17 seasons before he broke out with Oakland, his 12th team. (<— slight exaggeration.)

Let the record show that Russell Wilson has used the word "phenomenal" to describe Everett's work in camp and the team's offense under OC Shane Waldron (previously a McVay acolyte) might just suit him. At the very least, it should look a little different — fast-paced, with more short and intermediate passing. Everett is a talented dude and it's not at all unusual for a tight end to finally break out with their second team.

Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears (ADP 136.2)

It's probably a year too early to get truly excited by Kmet, but he showed enough as a rookie to establish himself as a player of interest. Kmet saw at least six targets in four of the Bears' final five games, which is no small thing. Jimmy Graham vacuumed up all the goal-to-go targets, however, drawing 12 looks inside the 10-yard line, second most in the league.

Did I just inadvertently put forth an argument to draft Graham? Apologies. Kmet is the ascending player capable of a significant yardage season...

...and Chicago's receiving corps is not especially deep beyond Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney. As with Everett, this is not a guy to consider in 10-team formats, but he's a fun flier anywhere else.

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