Last year, I played in my first tight end premium league. In hindsight, I’m shocked it took so long. I played in a league with punters before I played in a tight end premium league.

What’s wrong with me?

Let me tell you, if you haven’t made the leap into that realm yet, give it a shot. It’s a blast, and made me actually care about tight ends that fall outside of the “elite” category. Additionally, it let me get away with playing three starting tight ends and going all Tight End Attack on people like I was playing Madden!

Good times; highly, highly recommend…

Anyways, enough about my fantasy team.

The point is: The tight end position is great.

These guys have to go out there and catch like a wide receiver, block like a tackle, and if you’re Jonnu Smith, run like Derrick Henry (okay, fine, it was a Jet Sweep for a 1-yard score, but last year he reeled off a 57-yarder). The moral of this story is that Tennessee needs to give Smith more rushing opportunities.

I digress once again.

Now, for those of us who have begun digging into the 2021 draft class, we know this is going to be a fun group. If 2020 was rather, well, let’s call it “meh“, 2021 should melt our faces off. Pat Friermuth, Brevin Jordan and Hunter Long all look great. But in case you don’t know, Kyle Pitts is already a top-5 dynasty tight end and we’ve yet to hear his name called this spring at the draft. Needless to say, this class is going to wreck some depth charts. 

And yet, for as good as this class is, we know some things about tight ends: 1) Tight ends usually take longer to breakout than other positions. Again, this is an extremely difficult position to learn and play. 2) Due to their “dual nature” in style of play, they are more susceptible to injury. For these reasons it’s always important to 3) have depth at the position — both on the football field and on our fantasy rosters.

And so, whether or not these rookies wreck a depth chart of a sleeper tight end that we like or not, it’s a good idea to have upside tight end options at the back-end of our rosters when injury or rookie struggles arise. 

In honor of the greatness of the tight end position, we need to pick out some players to target as dart throws. The position is, after all, rather top-heavy, so finding any type of production will be helpful.

Grabbing Dalton Schultz at the beginning of the year would have helped us reach the playoffs if we didn’t have someone elite. However, it’s even better to unload roster-cloggers and back-fill your team with these players now while they are cheap and have low ownership — rather than waiting until the beginning of next year when the training camp buzz is out of control.

Editor’s Note: The percentages shown next to each player’s name are current ownership percentages via Sleeper.

Kahale Warring, Houston Texans (24%)

Houston has been squeezing everything they can out of the two-headed monster known as Jordan Akins and Darren Fells. The duo has combined for 41 catches, 550 yards and 4 scores. Akins, the third-year player out of Central Florida, has performed admirably given his profile. He does have an impressive 122.3 Burst Score (75th) and his 10.6 Yards per Target are good for No. 4 in the league. It’s just hard to see an already 28.6-year old (again, it’s only his third season), who topped out at a 12.9-percent College Dominator (32nd) keep a firm hold on the job.

Fells, the 34.6-year old journeyman, has a knack for finding the end zone. He pulled in 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons with Houston. This likely stems from mere necessity more than anything as Houston hasn’t had a reliable option recently. We always have to respect a vet who staves off Father Time and makes plays on the field. However, his age and lack of a ceiling probably mean that given a better option Fells will revert back to depth.

Enter Kahale Warring.

One thing we have discovered in Warring’s two seasons is that his hamstrings need work.

He missed the entire season last year with a hamstring injury and was on the injury report with one this preseason. However, Warring has now been activated from the IR, so it’s go time. The Texans will likely ease him in, but the hope is that since the Texans are toast this year, that Warring will get a chance to shine.

He looks like an upgrade over both Akins and Fells with his nice college profile. At San Diego State, he posted a 19.6-percent College Dominator (61st) and a 20.5 Breakout Age (70th). The Texans saw enough from him to grab him at the 3.22 a year after grabbing old-man Akins. The primary reason likely being his excellent athleticism. He checks all the boxes there, highlighted by his 106.8 Speed Score (83rd) and 124.9 Burst Score (85th). His 6’5 frame also gives him an impressive 10.21 Catch Radius (84th). He looks like he can do-it-all athletically if only he can stay healthy. He’s absolutely worth rostering now in hopes that he shows out this year, and secures the lead role going into next season.

Dalton Keene, New England Patriots (42%)

New England approached a lackluster rookie tight end class this season with the mentality of quantity. They scooped up Devin Asiasi at the 3.27 and Dalton Keene at the 3.37. Regrettably, both have landed on the IR, leaving Ryan Izzo as starter.

Izzo, a 2018 7th round pick, is a warm body at least. He just doesn’t get anything resembling consistent targets. He’s not much of an athlete with his 4.94 40-yard dash (11th) and has been thrust into the starting role for his blocking more than anything.

Now, you could certainly grab Asiasi, but I prefer Keene.

While they have similar 40 times (Keene 4.71, Asiasi 4.73), Keene blows Asiasi away with a 122.0 Burst Score (74th) and an 11.26 Agility Score (85th). Note that Asiasi has a 110.9 Burst Score, good for 23rd-percentile and no recorded Agility Score. They also have similar College Dominators with Keene logging a 19.3-percent and Asiasi a 19.5-percent (59th and 60th respectively).

The number that pushes me to Keene over Asiasi, in addition to their athleticism, is age. Keene had a 20.4 Breakout Age at Virginia Tech, whereas Asiasi had a 22.1 Breakout Age at UCLA. Knowing how close they are as prospects, I’ll take the guy who is only 21.5-years old over the one who is 23.3. Either way, the Patriots tight end room is wide open for one of these rookies to take over next year.

 Josh Oliver, Jacksonville Jaguars (29%)

Jacksonville is a tight end wasteland this year. Granted, the quarterback play isn’t propping anyone up, but we are still seeing nothing from these guys. Atop the depth chart sits the ghost of Tyler Eifert. Unfortunately, 2015 and his 13 touchdowns that year are a faint memory. Did we mention that injuries are a problem for tight ends? Eifert has logged 16 games only once in his career. So at this point, he’s a sad tale of “what could have been”. Beyond Eifert, James O’Shaughnessy has run 130 routes (No. 36) and profiles as nothing more than depth at 28.9-years old. This barren depth chart seems awfully inviting for a rookie to land.

However, we are only two years removed from the Jags’ selecting Josh Oliver out of San Jose State at the 3.05.

Oliver, like Eifert, has been bitten by the injury bug, though, leading to low ownership (which is good for us). He sadly came down with a foot fracture in the preseason this year, costing him the entire season. We, and Jacksonville, just haven’t gotten much of a look at him as he has a paltry three catches for 15 yards. 

And yet, if we are looking for a shred of hope, Oliver has a solid profile: It took him awhile to get going at San Jose State (maybe not the best sign), but in his senior season, he had a respectable 20.6-percent College Dominator (66th). Admittedly, where we get the most excited is with his superb athleticism. At 249-pounds, Oliver ran a 4.63 40-yard dash (87th) which is good for a 109.2 Speed Score (87th).

He also checked in with a 113.0 SPARQ-X (70th), giving us a picture of a player who could make plays in space and beat the defense up the seam. He looks like Hayden Hurst in a good way; Hurst is top-10 in Deep Targets and Yards After the Catch. This is the ideal guy to grab and stash on the IR this season if you have the space in anticipation of a lead role in 2021. 

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