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Tight ends who should be going higher in fantasy drafts: George Kittle a first-round pick?

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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 (Average Draft Position, which differs from site-to-site). This will be an ongoing series highlighting some big differences between ECR and my own ranks. In general, it’s usually best to regress to the market some, and knowing your league’s ADP remains equally important when drafting, but I rank the following players a lot higher than the general fantasy community.

Players who should go higher: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs
Players going too early: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (ECR = Overall No. 20 vs. DDD = Overall No. 12)

Ranking Kittle as the TE1 this year isn’t anything special, but I also have him as a first-round pick. I’m going extremely RB heavy in most drafts, but if there was one player I’d consider at a different spot it’s Kittle, who has the upside to separate himself from the rest of his position unlike anyone else. Kittle led the NFL in yards per route run and RACR (Receiver Air Conversion Ratio) by wide margins last season (including wide receivers), when he also finished fourth in target share (only Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins and Davante Adams saw higher). He should be looking at even more targets this year with the 49ers’ defense certain to regress and as San Francisco’s clear No. 1 receiver, especially with Deebo Samuel suffering a Jones fracture.

Kittle scored the same number of touchdowns as Travis Kelce last season despite missing multiple games and also leading the NFL in TDs called back, as Jimmy Garoppolo threw the seventh-most red-zone passes on an SF team that scored the second-most points per game. Kittle comes with some injury risk, but he’s a monster (he has the most 20-plus yard catches in the NFL over the last two seasons and was just PFF’s highest-graded player) with an extremely favorable looking schedule, and the situation is right for him to return first-round fantasy value.

Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons (ECR = TE11 vs. DDD = TE6)

Hurst has been a punch line to jokes thanks to being drafted ahead of Lamar Jackson (as an old prospect), but few players saw their fantasy value increase more over the offseason. Hurst is no slouch athletically and is coming off a season in which he finished No. 7 both in yards per target and fantasy points per pass route. Baltimore’s environment no doubt helped those efficiency stats, but Hurst is about to see a big increase in volume. There’s some concern about joining a new team during a year without preseason games, but Hurst and Matt Ryan got together throughout summer, and the Falcons are a terrific setup for tight ends.

With a narrow tree featuring Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and little else with Austin Hooper gone and new lead back Todd Gurley finishing last in yards per route run last season, Hurst is set to score a bunch of touchdowns and is going to be a top-five fantasy tight end. Hooper would’ve easily led tight ends in red-zone targets last year had he not missed three games, and just imagine if Ridley or 31-year-old Jones goes down.

Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys (ECR = TE19 vs. DDD = TE8)

Jarwin finished top-seven in yards per target, fantasy points per route and fantasy points per target last year. While he’ll be competing for looks with the NFL’s best three wide receiver set, Randall Cobb and Jason Witten and their 83 targets apiece are gone. Moreover, the Cowboys led the NFL in yards per play while averaging a whopping 440.9 yards per game last season, so there’s plenty of production to spread around (Witten saw as many targets inside the 10-yard line as Mark Andrews and more inside the five). Not all targets are created equal, and Jarwin is going to eat in this Dallas offense that’s one of the favorites to lead the NFL in scoring this season.

C.J. Uzomah, Cincinnati Bengals (ECR = TE37 vs. DDD = TE23)

He’s now the Bengals’ clear No. 1 tight end, has good speed and if you lower the minimum to 40 targets, actually tied Kittle last season with an impressive 1.55 RACR. Uzomah will compete for targets with a loaded WR group, but he’s an afterthought in fantasy drafts despite intriguing skills and a clear path to a much bigger opportunity with a potential star at quarterback throwing to him. Joe Burrow is likely to be very good right away.

Jordan Akins, Houston Texans (ECR = TE39 vs. DDD = TE27)

The Texans quietly finished among the league leaders in touchdown catches by tight ends (nine) last season despite pedestrian Darren Fells leading the way, and they dealt DeAndre Hopkins (No. 2 in the NFL in target share last season). Kahale Warring may be the more interesting dynasty stash than 28-year-old Akins, but the latter was drafted in the third round, could take over Houston’s H-back role in 2020 and is an intriguing deep sleeper available at the end of drafts. Will Fuller is one of the most injury prone wide receivers, while David Johnson could very well be finished (draft Duke Johnson instead), so there should be a legitimate opportunity for Akins on a team with a superstar quarterback throwing to him.

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