In a recent episode of the Heat Seekers live stream, the panel was asked to identify some TE’s that could jump up to the top 12 in 2020.
Over the last three seasons there has been significant transition of tight ends in and out of the top 12. Since 2017, there have been 25 different tight ends to have a top 12 fantasy finish. Only two have recorded a top 12 season the past three seasons, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz.
In 2019 alone, the top 12 consisted of 7 TE’s that were not in top 12 the year prior and 4 first time members of the TE1 club.
7. TE’s that could jump up to the top 12 in 2020 – The Locks
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce is one of two TE’s to be a top 12 TE the past three seasons. He has finished as the top scoring TE in three straight seasons, and has been a top 12 TE every season out of his 7 seasons. The only exception was his rookie season, one lost to a knee injury. Playing in an offense with the best quarterback on the planet, run by one of the best offensive minds in football, certainly benefits Kelce.
George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
The 6th round selection out of Iowa has been a top 12 TE in two straight seasons and finished as TE23 in his rookie season. The number one target in the San Francisco offense, Kittle will be a fixture in the top 12 for the foreseeable future.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Ertz began his career with two top 24 TE finishes before going on his current run of 5 straight top 12 seasons. In those 5 seasons, Ertz has averaged 86 receptions, 914 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
Mark Andrews broke out in 2019 and ended the season as the TE3 with 207.2 PPR points in 15 games. Andrews is the top target in the Ravens offense and will see an increase in snaps with fellow 2016 draftee, Hayden Hurst, off to Atlanta. He has been a little banged up at times in his first two seasons. His health, with an increase in snaps, is the only thing to be remotely concerned with.
Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
Henry’s biggest threat to falling out of the top 12 is injury. Hunter’s next 16 game season will be his first. In four seasons, Henry has missed 23 of a possible 64 games including the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL. 2019 was Henry’s first top 12 season, and he accomplished this feat in only 11 games played. A quarterback change to Tyrod Taylor, or potentially an early day 1 pick, benefits Henry in my opinion.
6. TE’s that could jump up to the top 12 in 2020 – Likely Holdovers
Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns
Hooper has finished as the TE6 in back to back seasons. In the process, he has averaged 92 targets, 73 receptions, 724 yards, and 5 touchdowns per season. Hooper possesses the talent to remain in the top 12, but will he have the volume of targets to remain? Joining a Cleveland Browns offense loaded with weapons, he will have to battle Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, and David Njoku for targets as well as Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb.
Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
Mike Gesicki saw an increase of 57 targets, 29 catches, and 368 yards in 2019 over 2018. In addition, he scored the first 5 touchdowns of his career in 2019. His 57% catch rate needs some work, but he appears to be a fixture in this Dolphins offense going forward.
5. TE’s that could jump up to the top 12 in 2020 – On The Bubble Guys
Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
Goedert was the TE I was the most excited for coming out of the 2018 draft class. A landing in Philadelphia behind Zach Ertz, however, has somewhat stunted his development. He still has managed to post a top 24 rookie season and followed it up with a 134.2 points in 2019 on route to his first top 12 TE season.
Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
Waller busted out in a big, bad way last season. He finished the season as the 5th ranked TE with 204.3 PPR points in 15 games. He had 117 targets and 90 receptions for 1,145 yards and 3 TDs. It is easy to forget that Darren Waller will be 28 when entering the 2020 season. Waller was relatively unknown to most football fans prior to last season. His productivity seemed to be linked to Hunter Renfrow being in the lineup. Waller did the majority of his damage early in the season and as Renfrow heated up down the stretch, Waller cooled off. The Raiders are expected to add a top WR in the upcoming draft, and the main question here is will there be enough for Waller in the revamped Raiders offense that now also includes Jason Witten?
Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints
The season before Darren Waller broke out in Oakland, it was Jared Cook leading that offense. Cook finished 2018 as TE5, and in his first season in New Orleans, he finished at TE7 in 13 games. The offseason addition of Emmanuel Sanders could eat into Cook’s targets in 2020. Will it be enough to knock him out of the top 12 TE for the first time in 3 seasons?
Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
Tyler Higbee finished 2019 as TE8 with 138.0 points in 14 games. Prior to 2019, his TE finishes were TE64, TE34, and TE32. His 2019 was a tale of two seasons as well. From weeks 1-10, Higbee was TE34, and after an injury to fellow TE Gerald Everett, Higbee went on a run to complete the season. He posted a finish as TE5 in weeks 10-16 with 92.1 fantasy points. Everett will be back in 2020, and Brandin Cooks is off to Houston. It remains to be seen how involved Higbee is in 2020.
Jason Witten, Las Vegas Raiders
Of all the top 12 finishers of a year ago, Witten has to be the biggest surprise. Jason Witten spent the 2018 season in the booth on Monday Night Football before returning to Dallas last season. He finished with 63 catches for 529 yards and 4 touchdowns, which was good enough for a TE11 finish. Prior to his brief retirement, Witten finished as TE9 in 2017.
4. TE’s That could jump up to the top 12 in 2020 – Best Bets
Evan Engram, New York Giants
In three seasons with the Giants, Engram has finished as TE4, TE16, and TE18. Other than his rookie season, the finishes don’t exactly jump off the page. What does jump off the page is this kid’s talent. His biggest obstacle, similar to Hunter Henry, is his ability to stay on the field. In his three seasons, he has missed 17 of a possible 48 games due to injury. The Giants made the move to Daniel Jones last season in week 3, and Engram and Jones played together from week 3-9. In those six contests, Engram was targeted 7.7 times a game, and he turned in 4.5 catches for 50.5 yards and .3 of a TD. It’s a small sample size, but that projects out to 123 targets, 72 catches, 808 yards and 5 touchdowns.
O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
His 2018 season, he was TE13, and he looked like a TE poised to take the next step in 2019. Instead, he slid to TE28 in 2019, averaging 6.5 PPR points a game. In 2018, he averaged 12.1 points per game. The biggest difference from one year to the next was touchdown regression from 5 TDs to 1.
New QB Tom Brady has completed 541 touchdown passes to 77 different receivers in his 20-year career; 78 went to Rob Gronkowski, 18 to Aaron Hernandez, and 17 to Ben Watson. That’s 21% of his career touchdown passes that went to the TE position. Now, OJ Howard is no Rob Gronkowski, let’s make that perfectly clear, but he is a rare breed of size and speed with good hands. Brady should make Howard very relevant again.
Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
Fant finished his rookie season with 66 targets, 40 receptions, 562 yards and 3 TD’s. His 109.6 PPR fantasy points were the 7th highest by a rookie TE since 2010. He enters 2020 with a healthy Drew Lock who will prepare all offseason to be the starting QB and with new Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur. Shurmur struggles as a head coach, but he’s a very solid OC.
In 2016 Shurmur started the season as the Vikings TE coach before eventually taking over the offense from Norv Turner. Kyle Rudolph finished as TE3 in 2016 and TE7 in 2017. In New York, Evan Engram finished as TE16 in 10 games and TE18 in 8 games in 2019. Both seasons, Engrams points per game ranked in the top 8 at the position. Shurmur is going to be a great addition to that entire offense, and as Noah Fant continues to learn the NFL game, he will continue to thrive as a Bronco.
3. TE’s That could jump up to the top 12 in 2020 – In The Running
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
Hockenson burst onto the NFL scene with a massive 6 catches, 131 yards, and a touchdown in week 1 vs Arizona. He failed to top 5 catches or 60 yards in the remaining 11 games he played in 2019. Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford was limited to 8 starts in 2019 due to back injury. From weeks 9-13, Hockenson was limited to 13 catches for 127 yards and no scores. His season ended early due to injury prior to week 13. Hockenson’s best days are certainly to come, and he has the potential to be a top 12 TE in his career.
Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans
Jonnu finished his best season last year as TE19 with 104.0 points. Smith, like the rest of his Titans teammates, took a step forward once the team transitioned to QB Ryan Tannehill. From weeks 1-6, Smith was TE46, and in weeks 7-16 he elevated to TE13. Heading into 2020, Jonnu’s stock is on the rise.
Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings
In his rookie season, Smith Jr. finished with 36 catches for 311 yards and 2 touchdowns. Those numbers were good for a TE33 season. Irv Smith Jr. enters 2020 with the opportunity to take a step forward. Stefon Diggs is off to Buffalo, and Kyle Rudolph enters his age 31 season. Rudolph’s production has been on the decline for three straight seasons, which likely led to the Vikings using the 50th overall pick on Smith Jr. in 2019.
Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
The Ravens were probably hoping for more from Hurst when they drafted him with the 25th pick of the 2018 draft. Hurst, unsurprisingly, was more productive when Mark Andrews had been sidelined. With Andrews on the field, Hurst has been targeted on just 16.7% of his routes and averaged a mere 1.3 yards per route run. Without Andrews in the huddle, though, he has been targeted on 23.3% of his routes and averaged 2.2 yards per route. Those marks would rank 10th and 6th in the league, respectively, among regular tight ends.
The Atlanta Falcons acquired Hurst to serve as their replacement for Austin Hooper. The past two seasons in the Falcons offense, Hooper has compiled 185 targets, 146 receptions, 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns. In those two seasons, he finished as the TE6 both times. It’s likely not a reasonable expectation to think that Hurst will simply slide into the role and become a top 10 fantasy TE; but is it too much to ask for 60% of his totals? 60% of Hooper’s fantasy points last season would amount to 108 PPR points. 60% of his receptions alone is 45. Hurst had a career high 71 points and 30 receptions last season.
2. TE’s That could jump up to the top 12 in 2020 – The Dark Horses
Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers
After trading for Vance McDonald in 2017 and Nick Vannett last year, Pittsburgh is replacing Vannett by handing Ebron a two-year deal. A healthy Ebron is an upgrade on both McDonald and Vannett. In 2018 in Indianapolis, Ebron finished the season as TE4 with 206.2 fantasy points. The Colts made Ebron a focal point of their offense with Andrew Luck that year, targeting him 110 times.
Ebron’s numbers fell in all categories last season with Jacoby Brissett. A returning Ben Roethlisberger gives Ebron the caliber of quarterback play to be relevant once again. If Ebron maintains his career averages in receptions and yards, and can score 6-8 times, he will land in the 145-150 PPR point range in 2020. Dating back to 2015, the 12th highest scoring TE averaged 129.6 PPR fantasy points.
Will Dissly, Seattle Seahawks
Will Dissly has appeared in 10 games out of a possible 32 in his two NFL seasons. He has totaled 31 catches for 418 yards and 6 touchdowns in those 10 contests. Dissly had both his seasons end as a result of significant injuries. If he could put together a full season, he might find himself on another spot on this list. His 10 games projected out over a full 16 game season equates to 50 catches for 669 yards and 10 touchdowns. 176.9 PPR points would have seen him land firmly in the top 12 dating back to 2010. The addition of Greg Olsen and his propensity for injury make this less likely.
Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys
With Randall Cobb off to state rival Houston, Jarwin should see a defined role in the passing game of this Cowboys offense. If Jarwin can successfully move around the formation and threaten teams as a move tight end, it would help the Cowboys and give Dak Prescott an extra weapon. In a limited role, Jarwin posted 85.5 PPR fantasy points and finished 2019 as TE26.
1. TE’s That could jump up to the top 12 in 2020 – The Top 12
12. Dallas Goedert
11. Darren Waller
10. Austin Hooper
9. Noah Fant
8. Mike Gesicki
7. O.J. Howard
6. Hunter Henry
5. Zach Ertz
4. Evan Engram
3. Mark Andrews
2. Travis Kelce
1. George Kittle
In the end, the answer to “the TEs that could jump up to the top 12 in 2020” is Noah Fant, O.J. Howard, and Evan Engram. Engram and Howard make a return trip to the top 12, while sophomore Noah Fant makes his first appearance.
Falling out of the top 12 in 2020 are Jason Witten, Darren Waller, and Tyler Higbee.
Witten is in a complimentary role in Las Vegas and likely won’t see the targets required for a top 12 season. In Waller’s case, Witten will eat into his workload, as will Hunter Renfrow and a newly drafted WR. I also expect Josh Jacobs to be more involved in the passing game. Higbee needs to show what he can do for more than five games to be considered a top 12 TE. It’s possible he will remain, but I am betting on Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee cannibalizing each other in Los Angeles.
Knocking on the door of the top 12, and some TEs that should be very relevant, are Jonnu Smith, Irv Smith Jr., and T.J Hockenson. 2020 isn’t their year, but their time is coming.