Rankings: 2020 TE Rankings (PPR)

(Photo Credit: Jack Kurzenknabe)


Malcolm McMillan (@McLateralFF)
The Lateral Writer


Ah, August. It is so humid you dread going outside, so you set the AC to be working harder than an RB in a contract year. Yes, that is correct, it is officially #RankingsSZN.

Jokes aside though, this is where you need to get serious. Sure a month ago you laughed while downing some White Claws as your buddy did their fifth mock draft on Sleeper, but that was July. August is when your commissioner starts collecting league dues and setting draft dates. So get off your couch, and sit down at your computer, because it is time to do some draft prep.

The easiest way to do some draft prep? Check out some expert rankings. While a few fantasy articles and the odd championship do not an expert make, these TE rankings do have a methodology and are backed by data rather than simply intuition. Also, bear in mind projected rankings are simply that, and even the best experts are hoping to be right a bit more than half the time. So take these with a grain of salt, but trust that, to quote Deadpool, maximum effort was made.

Methodology

To create these rankings, I used a few different resources:
This allowed me to compile a list of 35 TEs that I suspected could have potential fantasy relevance. For the most part, I did not consider back-ups, but I did consider teams with potential viable twin TEs. The TE position is actually pretty durable unless you are Will Dissly, so I preferred to stick to starters, given I was only going to ultimately rank 28 TEs.

Once I had this list, I examined historical data (with an emphasis on last season) to create projections for Targets Per Game (TPG), Receptions Per Game (RPG), Yards Per Game (YPG), Touchdowns (TD), and Games Played (GP). Using these figures, I was able to compile a projected point total for the 2020 season in a PPR format. Note: I did not take turnovers into account because it is difficult to be a starter and turnover prone at the TE position, and I found it to be a statistically insignificant factor.

ONE FINAL WARNING

Rankings and projections should always be taken with a grain of salt. Always. Do not take these as gospel, but instead compare them against your own thoughts and other evidence to create your own educated opinions. That being said, these are my official rankings, and I do stand by them, even though I will surely get something wrong by the time the season is over.

2020 TE RANKINGS (PPR)

Tier 1: The Locks

1. Travis Kelce (KC)
2. George Kittle (SF)

What is not to love about Travis Kelce? Zero games missed since the start of the 2014 season? Guaranteed over 100 targets every year? The guy is the gold standard at TE. But if Travis Kelce is the gold standard for TE, then George Kittle is at the very least silver with some gold plating. Kittle is also guaranteed over 100 targets a year, and another 1,000 yard/5 TD season should be a lock barring injury. 

Kelce gets the nod over Kittle here because San Francisco should have a few more weapons for Jimmy Garoppolo this year. The combination of rookie WR Brandon Aiyuk and the perennial TE wild-card Jordan Reed should give Kelce just enough of an edge in targets over Kittle. Kittle also has had some slight injury concerns over his 3 seasons in the NFL that Kelce has not, and every bit matters at the top. Still, it is him and Kelce by themselves in Tier 1.

Tier 2: The Near Locks

3. Mark Andrews (BAL)
4. Darren Waller (LV)
5. Zach Ertz (PHI)
6. Hayden Hurst (ATL)

Tier 2 is the near locks. Basically, these guys are not Travis Kelce or George Kittle. Still, they are absolute studs if healthy, and are far enough ahead of the rest of the pack to give you a significant edge at the TE position.

Mark Andrews did not need much help to maintain Top-5 TE status in 2020, but it did not hurt when Baltimore shipped Hayden Hurst off to Atlanta. This should allow him to cross 100 targets in 2020 for the first time in his career. 

Darren Waller was another newcomer to the Top-5 in 2020, and with Derek Carr not likely to improve much on his 30th best average depth of target in the 2020 season, Waller seems ripe for another heavy usage season. Zach Ertz meanwhile, continued a career of fantasy dominance, leading TEs in TPG (9 TPG), despite some TD regression and Dallas Goedert breathing down his neck. 

The real unknown here is Hayden Hurst, who Atlanta gave up a 2nd Round pick to bring him in after letting Austin Hooper go. However, Hurst's 76.9% catch rate from 2019 should maintain a smooth transition from Hooper, finished TE6 overall, TE3 for PPG, and finished Top-5 in YPG, TPG, RPG, and TDs.

There are some slight, but notable downsides to everyone in Tier 2. Mark Andrews could fall out of Tier to if TD regression is harsher than projected (8 TDS in 2020 vs 10 TDs in 2019). Zach Ertz has genuine competition in the form of Dallas Goedert, though his floor should still be pretty safe with such a high TPG. Darren Waller is still a semi-unknown quantity, with last year potentially a one-hit-wonder, but at least there is more of a sample size for him than Hayden Hurst, who has never been a starter and is projected heavily based on Austin Hooper's past success.

Tier 3: High, High Hopes

7. Evan Engram (NYG)
8. Tyler Higbee (LAR)
9. Hunter Henry (LAC)

Tier 3 is where things get fun. The talent here? Huge. The upside? Substantial. The impact injuries have on everyone in this group?

Absolutely massive.

Evan Engram is pretty simple to analyze: He is very, very good, and is often very, very injured. That is why he finished TE7 in PPG, but TE18 overall in 2019. Hunter Henry is also very similar to Evan Engram. Great talent, high usage, struggles to stay healthy. He finished TE8 in PPG, and TE9 overall last season.

Engram says he has rehabbed and is ready to go, but even giving him some benefit of the doubt, I only projected him playing 13 games in 2020. If he plays a full season, he could finish as high as TE3. I am a little more optimistic about Hunter Henry's health than Engram's, but not much. I still expect him to pick up a knock or two and be limited to only 14 games in 2020. If he finishes all 16 games? TE7, but closer to TE6 than TE8. 

Tyler Higbee is not injury prone like Engram or Henry, but he has a ceiling that could be predicated on the health of his teammate. 

Higbee frustrated fantasy managers in early 2019 because, unlike Zach Ertz, he only averages 6 TPG instead of 9 TPG, but is still part of a TE group. However, once teammate Gerald Everett went down with an injury that held him to 1 target from weeks 13-17, Higbee shined and was TE1 during that time. The breakout potential is there, especially if Everett gets injured again, but I expect Sean McVay to utilize Everett just enough to prevent Higbee's ascendancy into Tier 2.

Tier 4: The Starters

10. Jared Cook (NO)
11. Blake Jarwin (DAL)
12. Austin Hooper (CLE)
13. Ian Thomas (CAR)

These are the guys who are unlikely to set the world on fire but should finish the season as stream-able starters. Too good to fail, but each of them has their own issues that really limit their potential to be elite TEs.

Jared Cook is TD-dependent, and his low receptions per game hamper his reliability. Blake Jarwin, while occupying the starting TE spot with little competition, will be fifth in the pecking order behind three WRs who will be expecting 100+ targets apiece. Austin Hooper left TE-friendly Atlanta for the TE wasteland that is Cleveland, so his opportunity could greatly diminish, particularly given their very versatile backfield. Ian Thomas is largely unproven, and there is no evidence that first-year coach Matt Rhule even knows that the TE position exists.

However, there is still upside here to consider when drafting. Cook is TD-dependent but also boasts league-high yards per reception among starting TEs, and for him, TD regression could still mean a healthy 6 TDs in 2020 instead of the whopping 9 TDs from 2019. Blake Jarwin may be considered low ceiling by some due to the stacked WR corps in Dallas, but he also comes with a very high floor given the lack of competition at the position and 83 targets vacated by Jason Witten. Austin Hooper finished as TE6 in 2018 and 2019, so if new Head Coach Kevin Stefanski falls back to his Minnesota days (Kyle Rudolph was TE7 in 2018), Hooper could see opportunity drastically improved from what Cleveland TEs had under Freddie Kitchens. Finally, Ian Thomas is the biggest wild card in the group, but he shows signs of promise when given the ball (5/57/1 line against Atlanta in Week 14 last year), and is replacing Greg Olsen, who finished TE13 in 2019.

Tier 5: The Best of the Rest

14. Dallas Goedert (PHI)
15. Rob Gronkowski (TB)
16. Jack Doyle (IND)
17. Mike Gesicki (MIA)
18. CJ Uzomah (CIN)

This tier and the previous tier bleed together to bit, and to be honest everyone from here on out until Eric Ebron is fairly comparable because they fit the low floor/high ceiling mold.

Well... all except Dallas Goedert. Goedert is projected at TE14, and that is closer to his floor than his ceiling. He is limited almost entirely by fellow TE Zach Ertz, and if Ertz goes down, Goedert could be Top-5 instantly.

The others though, all have more negative limitations. Rob Gronkowski is a Hall of Famer, but his last season was in 2018, and he barely made it through that season alive. Jack Doyle has a potential Hall of Fame QB in Philip Rivers, who loves a TE, but what if he loves Trey Burton instead? Mike Gesicki should be considered a fairly stable talent, finishing TE12 last year (TE15 in PPG though), but is attached to a QB battle where the winner could be Ryan Fitzpatrick. That could bode well for the week or two that FitzMagic (Trademarked) looks like a Hall of Famer, but maybe not so much for the other weeks where he becomes PicksMagic (also Trademarked). 

Finally, there is CJ Uzomah, who I am much higher on than others in the industry. Reason why? Tyler Eifert is gone, vacating 4 TPG, and the Bengals have not done anything to upgrade the position. Maybe newcomer Tee Higgins takes some targets, but I expect that he hurts John Ross III, more than changing how Cincy schemes for the TE. Expect a nice opportunity from Uzomah in a TE friendly scheme with a TE friendly QB in Joe Burrow, but worry about his ability to capitalize on it. 

Tier 6: On the Bubble

19. Jonnu Smith (TEN)
20. Greg Olsen (SEA)
21. Noah Fant (DEN)
22. Irv Smith Jr. (MIN)
23. Jace Sternberger (GB)
24. Eric Ebron (PIT)

Honestly, if I am wrong about anyone on this list, it is going to be Jonnu Smith, and I almost considered moving him up to Tier 5. He has good hands, lacks competition in 2020, and historically TE has been solid for Tennessee. He has upside that could reasonably see him finish in Tier 4.

The issue? The TE was not actually targeted a lot in Tennessee last year, and I do not see that changing in 2020. They run a lot, and Tannehill likes to air it out, particularly to new favorite target A.J. Brown. There is a chance of favorable red zone usage and Jonnu Smith taking on all of Delanie Walker's workload, but temper expectations in 2020.

As for everyone else? Greg Olsen is easy to analyze: He is old, he is banged up, and 16 games is unlikely. However, Seattle likes to use only one TE at a time, so for the games that he is healthy, expect a borderline starter. Noah Fant is an exciting talent, but not exciting enough to stop the Broncos from drafting Albert Okwuebunam, QB Drew Lock's TE from Missouri. This could be a huge problem given Fant's already does not get enough targets. 

Irv Smith Jr. and Eric Ebron both face guaranteed competition from a fellow TE in the form of Kyle Rudolph and Vance McDonald respectively. Irv Smith Jr. is an intriguing and explosive talent, but Kyle Rudolph vulturing multiple TDs is a certainty, killing Smith Jr.'s upside. Eric Ebron by comparison should see less significant competition from Vance McDonald, but he has never finished as a Top-12 TE outside of 2018 where he literally caught all the TDs in Indianapolis (ok, not literally, but 13 TDs??). Given his history of missing a couple games and the competition from McDonald, he has streaming potential at best.

Finally, just ahead of Eric Ebron is Jace Sternberger at TE23. Sternberger is another young prospect, who is expected to come out from Jimmy Graham's shadow this year and exceed his 1 target from 2019. However, Graham was TE21 last year while playing a full 16 games, and Green Bay has had as many Top-12 TE finishes since 2012 as they have had TE36 finishes (2 apiece!). On average, Green Bay's top TE since 2012 finished at TE24, and I do not expect much different from Sternberger despite the buzz. 

Honorable Mention: The First Four Out

25. Dan Arnold (ARI)
26. Gerald Everett (LAR)
27. Tyler Eifert (JAX)
28. Jordan Atkins (HOU)


Follow The Lateral on Twitter (@TheLateralFF)

Comments