2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers: Tight Ends
We are entering home draft season! In my sleeper article 1.0 I talked about players who could potentially rise up and make fantasy impacts. In this article, I’ll go over players who are quickly rising up the boards and will possibly make impacts. Several of these players likely will be in my first waiver wire article so get them now before the price costs you your top waiver! If you miss out on the top tier of tight ends, the best strategy is to sit and wait. The options below are some I’ve been targeting with my later picks. Usually, I’ll add two of these targets, and see which one hits.
Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots
Jonnu Smith is a Stack Attack favorite. The newly signed tight end from the Tennessee Titans signed a four-year deal for fifty million dollars this offseason. This is signaling a major role in store for him, and the value is going to increase. Jonnu was a third-round pick in 2017 by the Titans. Jonnu was injured for the last few weeks but has since returned to practice.
Cam Newton and Mac Jones are the quarterback options for the Patriots. Cam Newton had great success with Greg Olson as his tight end. Mac Jones is a rookie, and a rookie’s safety blanket is their tight end. Smith caught 8 touchdown passes last season, and heads to a New England offense who loves throwing to tight ends, see Rob Gronkowski. On top of the receiving touchdowns, Smith also added a rushing touchdown.
The presence of Hunter Henry doesn’t concern too much, only because New England historically has operated very successfully with double tight end sets.
Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns
It seems so long ago that Austin Hooper had a 97 target season in 2019 from the Atlanta Falcons. Hooper signed a contract with the Browns in 2020 and still managed to see 70 targets. Hooper is going late in drafts, almost undrafted in some leagues.
If you miss out on the top-tier tight end talent, there is nothing wrong with waiting till the back end of the draft and taking a flier on Austin Hooper. I wouldn’t worry about Odell Beckham’s return taking away from targets. Hooper missed three games last year and still managed 70 targets.
Jared Cook, Los Angeles Chargers
Exit Hunter Henry, enter Jared Cook. The newly signed free agent from New Orleans enters the Chargers offense as the immediate TE1. In 2019, Jared Cook had nine touchdown receptions. Last season he had seven. Cook is 34 years old, but his 6’5 frame makes him an ideal red-zone target. One the Chargers are seeking to find since Antonio Gates departed.
Justin Herbert has Keenan Allen and Mike Williams to throw to, but with the injury history of Williams, and even Keenan at times, Cook could elevate himself and see more targets than initially thought.
Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
Higbee’s ADP has been rising recently, as he’s going right before Jonnu Smith. Higbee benefits from Gerald Everett’s departure in Los Angeles and now upgrades at quarterback to Matthew Stafford.
In 2019, Higbee had a breakout season with 69 catches on 89 targets. In 2020 he battled injuries and saw a dip in the numbers. Now, with Everett gone, Higbee is fully healthy and looking to repeat those 2019 numbers, or improve on them.
Tyler Kroft, New York Jets
Chris Herndon, in his fourth year, entered this offseason as the projected starter for the Jets, but not without numerous question marks. The seven-year veteran Tyler Kroft was brought in this offseason from Buffalo to a one-year deal. The 6’6 tight end already made an impact against the Packers showing some swift moves as he caught 2 touchdown passes from rookie Zach Wilson. A tight end is a rookie’s safety blanket, and Herndon has shown nothing in this training camp to separate from Kroft.
Kroft by no means is a TE1. At this moment, he’s pushing low-end TE2 with the touchdown upside. With Mike LaFleur, tight ends play a big role in the Shanahan offense, see George Kittle. Maybe we have something brewing here?
Anthony Firkser, Tennessee Titans
With the departure of Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser enters in as the TE1 in Tennessee. With the addition of Julio Jones, Firkser lost some touches, but I still believe he will carve standalone value. I think Firkser is a great TE2 with a TE1 ceiling. Firkser has had a quiet preseason but has pretty good upside if he can get the target share Jonnu Smith had.
A hidden factor in his possible success is the offensive coordinator in Tennessee. Todd Downing was the TE coach for the Titans for the last couple of seasons and is now calling the plays. Downing was the OC for the Raiders in 2017, and Jared Cook saw 86 targets. Keep that in mind when looking for a late flier at TE.
Irv Smith, Jr., Minnesota Vikings
Irv Smith is starting to gain steam in drafts, and he’s having a great camp to add to it. With the departure of Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith entered camp as the TE1 for the Vikings. He steps in as the number three target outside Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Kyle Rudolph’s production dropped in recent seasons, and the hope is Smith can make an impact with Kirk Cousins.
Last season, Smith received 43 targets and five touchdowns. Kyle Rudolph leaves behind 37 targets. The hope is the former Alabama standout will absorb these targets which will make him a solid TE2 for fantasy purposes.
Adam Trautman, New Orleans Saints
With the news of Michael Thomas being out for more than the first quarter of the season, Trautman receives a giant boost. It appears Trautman avoided major injury against the Jaguars. The Saints traded up to get Trautman in the 3rd round of the 2020 NFL draft. He is 6’5 and 255 pounds, and I feel Sean Payton will try and turn him into a Jimmy Graham type TE with the mismatches he can create due to his size.
News of Jameis Winston winning the quarterback is beneficial as Winston loves his tight ends. Cameron Brate caught 27 touchdowns and OJ Howard 13 across five seasons with Jameis at Tampa Bay.
For any questions about these options, or even more options, check me out on Twitter @NMimi. Otherwise, you can catch me streaming live every Wednesday at 9pm on the Stack Attack Fantasy Podcast, now proudly part of the Fantasy Six Pack YouTube Channel family of podcasts.