When it comes to fantasy football and DFS, there’s a very small handful of tight ends that matter. Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, San Francisco’s George Kittle, and Las Vegas’ Darren Waller are the Big 3. However, each season another couple of names typically remove themselves from the herd as being outstanding players. Baltimore’s Mark Andrews and Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan have recently crept into the conversation.
We’ll lay out the top 10 NFL tight ends for 2021 here based on a number of factors (below) for this coming season. All stats were pulled from Sports Reference.
How we determined the best NFL tight ends
In today’s NFL you first and foremost need a tight end that’s a receiving mismatch. Every team rosters a tight end or two that specializes in blocking, but the true stars are all serious receiving threats. For example, Travis Kelce nearly paced the NFL in 2020 in receiving yards at 1,416. Spoiler alert: He’s our number-one guy on this list.
The other stars mentioned above also shone with serious receiving talent, often presenting a go-to red zone or third-down target for their team.
Other factors that helped determine our order included physicality, versatility, production, and durability. After all, availability is the best ability.
ALSO READ: Top 10 NFL WRs for 2021
Best NFL tight ends for 2021
10. Logan Thomas, Washington Football Team
The converted quarterback had a breakout season for Washington last season, garnering 110 targets and six touchdowns. In response, he was given a three-year, $24 million extension. While Thomas isn’t the flashiest DFS pick and doesn’t pull in a ton of handle on futures bets, he’s a solid football player. At 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, and hauling a 4.6 40-yard time, he’s a severe mismatch for safeties and linebackers alike.
His 2020 numbers are more impressive when you consider the names of the players throwing him the football: Alex Smith (post-injury), Dwayne Haskins (cut before the season ended), and Taylor Heinike. In 2021, he gets gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw him the football. With more receiving options in town, 110 targets isn’t likely, but sportsbooks hold the line with projected receiving yards this year for Logan Thomas. He kicks off our list of top 10 NFL tight ends for good reason.
9. Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
On a Dolphins team devoid of receiving talent in 2020, Mike Gesicki saw 85 targets for 53 receptions and six touchdowns. In back-to-back years, he was targeted over 80 times and had over 50 receptions. However, his usage is changing in Miami for the better. Gesicki’s yards per reception increased over two years between 2019 and 2020 and in 2021 he gets a more confident Tua Tagovailoa.
This preseason, Gesicki is being used more as a downfield threat; he pulled in receptions of 50 and 30 yards on four receptions and averaged 24.5 yards per reception (albeit, on a small sample size). If Tagovailoa continues to play like he’s shown in preseason, the Dolphins offense is in for a big change.
Currently, sportsbooks slot Gesicki for yards and touchdowns.
8. Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
At the end of 2019, Tyler Higbee went on a tear for the Rams. From Week 12 on, he averaged 104.4 receiving yards on 11.6 targets per game and collected a pair of touchdowns. Unfortunately, that streak set Higbee up for failure in 2020, where his expectations began through the roof.
Higbee should be in good shape to produce in 2021 with counterpart Gerald Everette departed for the Seahawks, making Higbee the only tight end target left on the team. His receiving yards are a modest improvement over 2020 and settle him in the top third of tight end production.
How Matthew Stafford throwing him the ball instead of Jared Goff changes things, we have yet to see.
ALSO READ: Top 10 NFL RBs for 2021
7. Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
The highest-ever drafted tight end is looking promising so far. Placing him inside the top five tight ends before he plays a single professional snap is a stretch, but certainly within the range of outcomes. In 2020 at Florida, Kyle Pitts scored a ridiculous 12 touchdowns on 43 receptions in eight games.
Pitts is an apprehensive blocker, but his threat in the receiving game is undeniable– he posts a ridiculous 4.44 40-time at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds. Again, more needs to be seen in the pros, but oddsmakers like what they see in him. He’s to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, one of the best marks by a tight end, and slotted for receiving yards. Only Travis Kelce and Darren Waller posted more yards in 2020.
6. Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers
In 2020, Robert Tonyan was a touchdown machine for the Packers. Aaron Rodgers quickly found confidence in him, ultimately throwing 11 scores to him during the season on just 52 receptions (59 targets). He scored in six of the last seven games of the year and posted three touchdowns against Atlanta in Week 4. Also during that seven-week stretch, only two targets weren’t completed to him.
Numbers say Tonyan’s touchdown numbers are coming down this season, which oddsmakers pin at . As long as Rodgers is in town, Tonyan is a threat to score a high percentage of touchdowns in relation to his targets. However, his 2020 numbers may be an outlier.
5. T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
There’s a small handful of tight ends that are the first receiving option for their team; T.J. Hockenson is one of those players. He finished second in targets (101), yards (723), and touchdowns (six) with Matthew Stafford and the Lions. He was also one of just five tight ends to command 100 targets in 2020. In comes Jared Goff, who’s shown to favor tight ends in his time with the Rams.
The expectation surrounding Hockenson is that he takes a massive step forward in 2021, where sportsbooks slot him for yards. No matter how you dice it, Hockenson is one of the most talented tight ends in the NFL and will certainly be one of the most productive this coming season.
4. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
Like Robert Tonyan, Mark Andrews makes the most out of his targets. Over the past two seasons, Andrews scored touchdowns on 10 of 64 receptions and seven of 58 receptions. The Baltimore Ravens offense is one of the most efficient, posting the top passing offense in DVOA in 2019. He’s the perfect receiving complement coming off a strong run game and there’s no question Andrews is the Ravens’ top target.
What makes him so dangerous isn’t his 40 time (4.67), it’s his route running ability and his tendency to catch everything in traffic. Andrews is expected to continue his production in 2021, where oddsmakers slot him for yards and touchdowns.
ALSO READ: Top 10 NFL QBs for 2021
3. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
When on the field and completely healthy, George Kittle makes a run at being the best tight end and one of the most athletic players on the field. Up until last season, Kittle was available week-in and week-out. However, he sustained not one but two separate injuries last season that kept him off the field for half the year. The first was an MCL sprain suffered in Week 1 and the second was a foot fracture suffered in Week 8.
Can Kittle return to 100% from a duo of injuries for the 49ers? Absolutely. However, the history is there and raises the risk level of Kittle for 2021. Sportsbooks are hedging their bets, where they slot Kittle for yards this season (60.3 yards per game). That’s seven yards per game off his career average of 67.5.
2. Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
In the battle for TE2 between Darren Waller and George Kittle, availability was the final determining factor. Waller’s played all 32 games in the past two seasons, where he’s hauled in 90 and 107 receptions on 117 and 145 targets, respectively; he’s also broken 1,100 yards in each of the last two years. Waller finished just outside the top five in the NFL in targets and tied with Travis Kelce for the most among tight ends.
Bottom line, Waller is a freak. He runs a 4.46 40-yard at 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds. Also, nobody challenges Waller for the top target on the Raiders and hasn’t since 2018. Oddsmakers see a slight step back in overall production this season, slating him for yards and touchdowns.
1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Is there any question? There’s no reason to zig while everyone else zags here. The Chiefs’ Travis Kelce is the biggest weapon at the tight end position in the NFL, period.
His 1,416 receiving yards is most by a tight end all time and very nearly led the NFL (note: Kelce finished within 50 yards of the league lead but did not play Week 17. Stefon Diggs, the NFL leader in yards, recorded 76 Week 17 yards). Kelce’s a precise route runner, a target hog, athletic, and has a nose for the end zone.
At to lead the league in receiving yards and to lead in touchdowns, Kelce isn’t just one of the best tight ends in the league, he’s one of the best pass catchers. Sportsbooks have him statted for yards and touchdowns.