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Fantasy Football: Where experts go wrong on tight end rankings

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ECR stands for “Expert Consensus Ranking,” which means the average ranks of many members of the fantasy football industry and is typically similar to ADP (which differs from site to site). This will be an ongoing series highlighting some big differences between ECR and my own ranks. Knowing your league’s ADP/scoring remains equally important when drafting, but I rank the following tight ends higher than the general fantasy community.

Other overlooked players by position: Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver

Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders (ECR = TE2 vs. DDD = TE1)

Waller and Travis Kelce had nearly identical second halves last season (74-57-802-5 vs. 77-57-806-5), but Waller is three years younger and the Raiders lost their clear WR1 (Nelson Agholor) from last season.

All that said, I don’t find it particularly controversial ranking Waller as my No. 1 fantasy tight end.

Waller ranked fourth in target percentage last year among all receivers, including second in first-read target%. In other words, only Davante Adams saw a higher percentage of targets as his quarterback’s first read in 2021. Waller’s 23 red-zone targets were also second only to Adams.

Waller’s workout metrics are off the charts, he plays indoors and is slated to see all the targets he can handle once again. Kelce, on the other hand, will soon turn 32 years old and just played deep into February coming off a Super Bowl run. There’s no rule you must draft him first just because he’s coming off the best season.

Waller is set up to finish as fantasy’s No. 1 tight end for 2021.

Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams (ECR = TE12 vs. DDD = TE8)

Higbee disappointed fantasy managers with high expectations last year after he finished 2019 with 56 targets, 43 catches, and 522 yards over the final five games. But Gerald Everett is now gone (Jacob Harris is intriguing but he’s a long-term prospect), and the Rams made a major upgrade at quarterback with Matthew Stafford. Higbee finished seventh in yards per target and eighth in fantasy points per target among tight ends last season, so an expanded role in an offense that should be among the league leaders in scoring should result in easy top-10 fantasy TE numbers. I rank Cooper Kupp above ECR and like him plenty, but he’s also a real injury risk with an ongoing knee issue, so there’s a path here for even bigger upside for Higbee.

Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys (ECR = TE19 vs. DDD = TE12)

He ranked top-five in fantasy points per route in 2019 yet remains plenty affordable at draft tables thanks to missing all of last season after tearing his ACL in Week 1. Jarwin should be Dallas’ starting tight end in 2021 and plenty involved in a Cowboys offense that figures to live in the red zone. It’s a terrific fantasy situation with the Cowboys averaging the most combined plays per game last season and now getting Dak Prescott back.

Gerald Everett, Seattle Seahawks (ECR = TE22 vs. DDD = TE16)

While Seattle hasn’t produced any reliable fantasy tight ends lately, it’s not because Russell Wilson doesn’t target the position, and newcomer Everett is going to be given an opportunity as the team’s new starter. Everett has impressive workout metrics and shouldn’t split work as he did in LA with Tyler Higbee. Everett has a connection with Seattle’s new OC Shane Waldron, who was a big reason he signed with Seattle, while Pete Carroll is predicting a breakout. No quarterback in the NFL consistently attempts more passes in the end zone than Wilson, and Everett will be a beneficiary of that this season.

Anthony Firkser, Tennessee Titans (ECR = TE24 vs. DDD = TE17)

Firkser is Tennessee’s new starting tight end with Jonnu Smith leaving for New England, yet he’s still barely being drafted as a top-25 option. The Titans added Julio Jones to soak up more targets, but he’s 32 years old and increasingly likely to miss time with injuries. In fact, Jones is unlikely to take away more opportunities than the departed Corey Davis, who ranked top-25 in target share and top-five in yards in per route run last season.

The loss of Arthur Smith is the real concern when it comes to Tennessee’s offense (although it should help Firkser that he’s being replaced by the team’s TE coach), but that could be offset by increased volume. Derrick Henry has nearly 800 carries over the last two years, so it would hardly surprise if the Titans were forced to throw at a far greater frequency in 2021, and there aren’t many options after Jones and A.J. Brown. Firkser is “going to be elite” according to a former teammate, plays in a division featuring the Texans and Jaguars defenses, and looks like a good reason to wait on the tight end position if you miss out on the top tier.

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