2021 Rookie Tight End Landing Spots and the Fantasy Implications

by Neil Dutton, May 20, 2021

The NFL Draft is finally and firmly in the rearview mirror. This means fantasy football time is here. Rookie drafts are upon us, and a chance to restock our rosters is here.

The slowest developing position in fantasy football is the tight end spot. This year’s class features one “can’t miss” prospect. But the players after Kyle Pitts may be unknown to the bulk of fantasy managers. Let’s get to know the 2021 rookie class and see how they fit in their new homes. We shall start, of course, with the best of the bunch.

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Kyle Pitts, Pick 1.04, Atlanta Falcons

It should come as no surprise that the rookie tight with the best chance of being fantasy relevant in 2021 is Kyle Pitts. Shocking, I know. But when a team makes a player the highest-drafted tight end in NFL HISTORY, you have to assume that they have a plan to use him.

As has been mentioned throughout the pre-draft process, Pitts is a special prospect at the tight end spot. Freakishly athletic and dominant at the collegiate level, he posted a 24.1-percent (74th-percentile among qualified tight ends) College Dominator Rating at Florida.

The Falcons already had Hayden Hurst on the roster. The former first-round pick of the Ravens had decent counting stats last season. He caught 56 (No. 10) passes for 571 (No. 14) receiving yards with six (No. 9) touchdowns on 87 (No. 11) targets. But he averaged a mere 10.2 (No. 21) Yards Per Reception and a far from stellar -6.9-percent (No. 22) Target Premium. Last year with Kyle Trask feeding him the ball, Pitts averaged 17.9 yards per grab. Atlanta also declined Hurst’s fifth-year option, a sure sign that his days are numbered.

The defense did not appreciably improve from the woeful unit it was last year, and the team only added Mike Davis to a running back room now minus Todd Gurley and Ito Smith. They should once again rely on Matt Ryan‘s arm, which is good news for Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and of course Pitts.

Pat Freiermuth, Pick 2.23, Pittsburgh Steelers

2017 taught us many lessons, in life as well as in football. One of the most valuable football lessons was to not assume that the best tight end in a draft class will come in the first round. Evan Engram, O.J. Howard and David Njoku were all taken in the first round back in 2017. This trio has combined for 433 receptions, 5,301 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns in their careers. Fifth-round tight end George Kittle has 264 catches, 3,579 yards and 14 scores all on his own.

If Pitts isn’t the stud of this year’s group, then it could be Pat Freiermuth. The Steelers kept him in Pennsylvania when they took the Penn State tight end in the second round of the draft. He was dominant in college, with a 24.8-percent (77th-percentile) College Dominator Rating, with an early 19.9 (81st-percentile) Breakout Age.

Freiermuth has a good chance to see plenty of playing time as a rookie, with his blocking skills and the complete disintegration of the Steelers offensive line giving him an edge over Eric Ebron. The Steelers believe that adding a first-round running behind a woeful offensive line is a good idea, and when they realize that they can’t punch holes for Najee Harris with their linemen alone, Freiermuth should play a healthy amount of snaps. Working close to the line of scrimmage should make him an easy target for the noodle-armed Ben Roethlisberger, too.

Freiermuth’s five Best Comparable Players on PlayerProfiler are Hunter Henry, Harrison Bryant, Jason Witten, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. If he can come close to the receiving skills of this group, then the Steelers have themselves a player. Although it may take until 2022 for him to become a true multipurpose tight end when Ebron leaves in free agency. This explains his current place on our dynasty rankings, as his time is clearly in the future.

Hunter Long, Pick 3.18, Miami Dolphins

Mike Gesicki, one of Freiermuth’s predecessors at Penn State, finished the 2020 season with 53 (No. 12) receptions for 703 (No. 4) receiving yards and six (No. 9) touchdowns, good for a 10.6 (No. 8) Fantasy Points Per Game average. He is a free agent after this season, however, and you have to wonder what Miami’s plans for him are considering they used a third-round draft pick on Hunter Long.

Boston College is historically a “run first, run often” school, and as such has no great production line of pass-catchers who’ve enjoyed NFL success. But Long posted a 21.8-percent (69th-percentile) College Dominator Rating, leading the team with 57 receptions a year ago. The idea that he’s been brought in to be the blocking tight end, allowing Gesicki to continue in his primary receiving role, would seem to be an incorrect assumption. Gesicki certainly won’t be used as a blocker, evidenced by his 82.6-percent (No. 8) Route Participation rate in 2020. This move smacks of a “blood and replaces” situation in 2022.

Tommy Tremble, Pick 3.20, Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have a plethora of options for Sam Darnold to target in their passing game in 2021. D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson have been joined in the wide receiver room by Terrace Marshall. Christian McCaffrey should be back fit and healthy two years after setting the NFL receiving record for a running back. One player who I do not expect to be commanding a healthy dose of targets is rookie tight end Tommy Tremble.

Tremble was not a dominant nor particularly productive part of the Notre Dame passing offense in college. His 8.2-percent (14th-percentile) College Dominator Rating  and 35 total career receptions can attest to this. What he was, and what he probably will be in the NFL, was a tremendous run blocker. The Panthers Fan Nation wrote that “The moment you flick on Tremble’s tape, you get carried away with watching him plow people over and throw people around as a blocker.” Sounds great, but unless you play in a league that awards points per plow (PPP?), this does nothing for fantasy.

Tremble could lead all rookies in terms of snaps played, especially after the Panthers lost one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL in Chris Manhertz. But he should, and probably will finish with fewer receptions than any of the players mentioned earlier. Check back on him in a few seasons when his role and skills have been firmly established.

Tre’ McKitty, Pick 3.34, Los Angeles Chargers

Most of the footballing world is dying for Donald Parham to be a thing for the Chargers in 2021. Hunter Henry‘s exit via free agency seemed to suggest our… sorry, THEIR, wishes would be coming true. But the Chargers then signed Jared Cook and drafted Tre McKitty. Why can’t we have nice things?

With a 108.2 (59th-percentile) SPARQ-x score, McKitty is a fairly unspectacular athlete who enjoyed two very different college careers. In three seasons with Florida State, he caught 50 passes for 520 yards, scoring twice. In the final year of his collegiate career with Georgia, he hauled in just six receptions for 108 yards. 2021 might not be Donald Parham SZN. But it would be a shock if it was a banner year for McKitty.

John Bates, Pick 4.19, Washington Football Team

If Tre McKitty is something of a project, then I’m not sure how best to describe John Bates. He has decent size for the tight end position, standing 6-5 and weighing 250-pounds. He also posted an 11.20 (89th-percentile) Agility Score. But as a receiver, any ability he has is yet to be fully realized.

John Bates Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Bates had 47 receptions in 46 games for Boise State. He brings into the NFL a 7.4-percent (12th-percentile) College Dominator Rating. He never boasted a Target Share of more than 7.5-percent in a single season. Washington has Logan Thomas as their main tight end in 2021. But the depth behind him is questionable. Still, it would be a surprise to see his dominance challenged by Bates during his rookie year.

Kylen Granson, Pick 4.21, Indianapolis Colts

Now we come to an intriguing prospect in Kylen Granson. His workout metrics all look well above average, except for his 47th-percentile Speed Score. He broke out at 18.4 years old (97th-percentile) for Rice with 33 receptions for 281 yards and two scores in 2018. He has a College Dominator Rating of 21.5-percent (67th-percentile) and a 16.0 (86th-percentile) College YPR average on his resume. Add this up, and throw in his landing spot, and you’ll see why I’m intrigued.

Granson was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts, a team that has been most friendly towards tight ends in recent years. Last season, they targeted their tight ends on 23-percent of their pass attempts. Annoyingly for fantasy managers, no tight end managed more than a Target Share of 11-percent, while the trio of Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox and Trey Burton chipped in with 66.1, 82.4 and 83.3 PPR points each. So there is not a dominant player in the position. But there is a chance for another player to have weeks in which they makes some fantasy noise. Granson has a good chance to be that player, but the presence of Doyle and Alie-Cox seriously caps his overall fantasy value. I love him in best ball though, and think I can get behind his present Underdog ADP of pick No. 215.6.

Luke Farrell, Pick 5.01, Jacksonville Jaguars

It’s hard to imagine the Jaguars utilizing the tight end much as pass-catchers in 2021, given the players on their roster. Chris Manhertz, a free agent signing from the Panthers, is the proud owner of 12 career receptions in 70 games played. Luke Farrell, a player they took with the first pick in the fifth round of this year’s draft, had 34 receptions for Ohio State in his four seasons on campus. This production sees him with a College Dominator Rating of just 7.5-percent (12th-percentile), to go along with a a 12.2 (39th-percentile) College YPR average.

Farrell may see plenty of playing time. But with the other pieces on the Jaguars’ offense behind new quarterback Trevor Lawrence, it would be stunning if he emerged as this year’s George Kittle.

 

 

Brevin Jordan, Pick 5.03, Houston Texans

At one stage, Brevin Jordan was thought of as a contender to be the TE2 in this class behind Kyle Pitts. An elite 18.1 (99th-percentile) Breakout Age and a 27.9-percent (85th-percentile) College Dominator Rating had tight end enthusiasts drooling. Then his Pro Day happened, and his athletic testing was disappointing across the board. Average speed and burst scores, allied to woeful agility figures, saw him drop to the Houston Texans with the third pick in the fifth round of the draft.

Jordan joins a crowded tight end room, with players like Jordan Akins, Kahale Warring and Ryan Izzo for company. No one among these players is anything special. But the turbulent nature of the Texans means we don’t know who will be tasked with sending the ball their way in 2021 and beyond. Jordan could emerge as this year’s Chris Herndon. An unspectacular prospect who was able to post decent fantasy production as a rookie. But betting on anything positive emerging from the Texans at present is a gamble I would not like to take.

Noah Gray, Pick 5.18, Kansas City Chiefs

The wall has to be coming for Travis Kelce at some point, you would think. Kelce has been the dominant tight end in the NFL for the best part of half a decade. It is only sensible that the Chiefs begin to look ahead at this position. That being said, I’d be stunned if Noah Gray is the next in a line of great Chiefs tight ends.

Gray was a middling dominator in college, with a 19.7-percent (62nd-percetile) College Dominator Rating. His workout metrics are also above average. But his 8.6 (4th-percentile) College YPR average is a worry.  Especially as he will be playing behind a tight end who excels in racking up the yards after the catch. Gray is a hold against anything bad happening to Kelce, but only on the deepest of fantasy rosters.

Zach Davidson, Pick 5.24, Minnesota Vikings

Zach Davidson is something of a wild card, as there is a good chance that his NFL future involves him switching positions. Not switching to a wide receiver, or running back, but to a punter. Davidson had 40 receptions for 894 yards with 15 touchdowns for the Central Missouri Mules in 2019. But he was named first-team All-MIAA at both punter and tight end. He averaged 40.3 yards per punt in his final college season.

He is behind both Irv Smith and Tyler Conklin for the Vikings. Unless you play in leagues where punts score fantasy points, I’d be stunned if he made much fantasy noise in his career.