Broncos & Raiders’ Breakdown
By Matt Morrison (@dynastyjerk)
Today I will be presenting a double dose of team breakdowns. As I mentioned in my previous article, I had skipped a team breakdown two weeks ago. In an attempt to make up for that, I will be breaking down a tight end from both the Broncos and Raiders. We have a lot to talk about today so I’m going to move right into the meat of the article.
Tight End Rankings
I approached the tight end position the same way I approached every other position. I’m ranking based on Dynasty Owner value and not based on a single year’s projections. There is little doubt in my mind that this Top 10 list will not reflect the Top 10 point scorers for tight ends at the end of the 2021 season. Rather, this hopes to give you a good understanding on where to value certain players, especially the high-salary ones. For example, Travis Kelce would be my number one tight end for 2021 if we were not playing dynasty or had a salary cap to worry about. With that being said, here are my early tight end rankings…
|Rank||Player||2020 DO Finish||2021 DO Proj Finish||Years Remaining||Salary|
|TE8||Irv Smith Jr.||22||12||2||$1,449,609|
Darren Waller is my Dynasty Owner TE1. As I stated above, I don’t project him to produce the most fantasy points this year, but long term, he is a better value than Kelce or Kittle. It’s also interesting to note that he is cheaper to own than Kyle Pitts (my TE4). This is a strange occurrence. Rarely does an established player make less than a rookie. This happened in part because Pitts was drafted as the 4th overall pick in the 2021 Draft. (By the way, this makes him the highest drafted tight end in the history of the NFL). The other part is the fact that Waller played in only 22 games over his first three NFL seasons. Waller was a late bloomer and therefore, received a smaller contract than he would qualify for now. The point is that Waller is in the “sweet spot” of contracts. Here is what I wrote about contract “sweet spots” back in January.
“Woods is in what I would call “the second contract sweet spot.” He is old enough to have made it past his first contract, but he was not so productive in that first contract that he demanded top tier wide receiver money. And much like Devante Parker, he broke out late.” This was true of Robert Woods and Devante Parker. It is also true of Darren Waller. Waller should be making Kittle and Kelce money (right around $15,000,000 per year), but unfortunately for him, the cycle of his contracts worked out so that a top tier contract will have to wait another three years. (There is always a chance the Raiders sign Waller to a contract extension, but I wouldn’t expect that to happen any time soon). Suffice to say, if I’m drafting in a DO start up draft, I’m taking Waller as my first tight end if he is available.
Travis Kelce finished 2020 as the TE1, and I expect the same result in 2021. While I think it is possible that Kittle or Waller takes over as number one, I would put my money on Kelce. What’s interesting about tight ends is the idea that they have a very defined tier. The top three tight ends are in a tier above the rest. Some may argue that Kelce is in a tier of his own. I don’t think I agree with that (especially when it comes to Dynasty Owner), but Waller, Kelce and Kittle are clearly the top three. I think that my TE4 has a chance to break into that top tier, but I’m unable to make that claim so early in the offseason.
George Kittle had several speed bumps in his 2020 season. He suffered a knee injury in Week 1 which caused him to miss two games. He then missed six games from Week 9 through Week 15 with a broken bone in his foot. It’s tough to analyze someone’s season when they miss half of it, but I will try anyway. Kittle finished 2020 with 15.6 Dynasty Owner fantasy points per game. There were only two tight ends that produced more…I’m sure you can guess they were Waller and Kelce. Yes, I know that fantasy points per game may still be a little skewed due to the fact that Kittle was most likely playing through injury and pain during those games. While that is probably true, I’m sure that’s also true for the majority of NFL players. If healthy, Kittle is a lock for Top 5 fantasy points for a tight end. If Waller and Kelce are drafted, I would feel comfortable taking Kittle as the third tight end off the board.
Kyle Pitts ranks as my fourth tight end. I was reluctant to put him at the four spot. The reluctance comes not from his lack of talent, but at the fact that tight ends typically have the hardest and longest time developing compared to other position players. As I mentioned above, Pitts is the highest drafted tight end in NFL history, and he will have a fantasy productive career, but I’m a little worried that it may be slow going in the first year. There are two reasons I placed him at TE4. First, the tight end landscape is shallow and mediocre (fantasy wise) after the Top 3. A player with as much potential as Pitts almost requires me to place him in the Top 5. Second, he will retain his rookie contract for the next four years. While a little over 8.2 million dollar per year isn’t the cheapest tight end salary, it does look better when you think about the fact that everyone else below him in my rankings will be receiving a contract increase within the next two years.
I really wanted to rank Mark Andrews higher than I did. I would have ranked him higher had he not come into 2021 with a single year left on his contract. He is on, by far, the cheapest contract of any Top 10 tight end, but he will look to make at least 10 times that number next year. I am also discouraged about the low volume he received last year. He finished 2020 with 58 receptions while missing two games. It’s sad to say, but I predict every other tight end on this list will have more than 58 receptions. I would be happy to roster and/or draft Andrews, but just know he is not going to be a 100 reception player. Chances are he won’t even reach 80 receptions.
T.J. Hockenson finished as the TE3 in DO last year. That may be tough to believe. I had to double check that stat for myself, but it is indeed true. It is worth noting that TE3 (177.3) had over 100 points less than TE2 (282.6) though. (Remember what I said about the large tier gap between tight ends.)
The second part of my team breakdown today is discussing Noah Fant. Fant ranks at TE7 for me and a lot of it has to do with his salary. Would I trust Fant to be my starting tight end this year? Probably not. Hopefully if you draft Fant, you draft him as your second tight end. If you don’t, know that you are still getting a value of a tight end. Saving on him early may allow you to take a chance on a more risky, expensive tight end later on. Rob Gronkowski, Tyler Higbee and Hunter Henry all come to mind when I think of late tight ends. None of these three will lead tight ends or jump anywhere close to the top tier, but they should provide enough production throughout 2021 so that you can piece together an above average tight end squad. I love Fant as a value, but temper expectations. Know that you are going to have an uphill battle if you intend on winning your league with him as your number one producer for the position. Fant should finish as a Top 10 tight end in terms of 2021 fantasy points, but as I showed earlier, the difference between TE2 and TE10 is further than you would like.
Rounding out my rankings are Irv Smith Jr., Mike Gesicki and Dallas Goedert (in that order). All three of them could be interchanged as you please. I’m not going to argue with you if you like Goedert over Smith Jr. I will note that Irv Smith Jr. has one more year on his rookie contract than Gesicki and Goedert which is what makes him more appealing to me. He is also three years younger. I’m very interested to see how Smith Jr. produces this year as the number one tight end on his team. We saw bursts of excellence last year as he had two games with two touchdowns. Yes, touchdowns are fluky, but the willingness to trust him with the ball in the Red Zone is certainly encouraging.
Before we wrap up, I wanted to drop three names of tight ends that I was unable to rank in my Top 10, but deserve to be mentioned. These are players that I would not be surprised to see in my Top 10 starting in the 2022 off-season. All three of them are talented enough to be Top 10 tight ends, but for one reason or another, have not had the opportunity. The three players are…
- Blake Jarwin
- Adam Trautman
- Cole Kmet
That finishes up my tight end rankings, and it also concludes my rankings theme that I’ve been doing over the past month. Next month I’m going to get back into more traditional team/player breakdowns. I’ve had fun with the blind comparisons and rankings, but as we approach the “fourth quarter” of my offseason articles, we will start to settle down and focus more on individual players. It’s hard to believe we’ve gone through 24 teams already. Message me on Twitter (@dynastyjerk) and let me know what you agree with or disagree with as far as my rankings go. I would appreciate it if you followed @Dynasty_Owner on Twitter as well as subscribed to Dynasty Owner on YouTube. Thank you all. Take care and be safe. TheJerk