The Next Tier 1 TE
The TE position is one of the most difficult positions to evaluate when it comes to fantasy football. Consequently, it is the position that fantasy managers must show extreme patience with because in most instances the TE position could make the difference in sustaining long-term dynasty success or not.
Tier 1 TEs have been referred to as ‘cheat codes’ and ‘leagues winners’ because of how valuable a fantasy asset they can be. TE premium and 2TE leagues are growing in popularity which has resulted in the TE position once again becoming a prominent part of fantasy football. Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller are all consensus tier-one TEs.
Travis Kelce has been the epitome of the gold standard at TE. Kelce has finished as the TE1 across all formats for five straight years. At the age of 31 years old, he is currently going 13th overall in the July ADP from DLF. He is also tied to Patrick Mahomes for what probably will be the remainder of his career and Kelce is showing no signs of slowing down. George Kittle and Darren Waller are equally as good as Kelce but they come with some flaws. Waller has been a top-three TE over the last two years but he hasn’t been able to show the longevity/consistency that Kelce has. Kittle set the NFL receiving record for a TE in 2018 but has dealt with a laundry list of injuries. Nevertheless, these three TEs are the best of the best when it comes to their respective position in fantasy football.
The tier two group of TEs are probably just as talented as tier one, but for one reason or another, they don’t see the same target share or aren’t as much of a focal point of their offense. This tier includes players like Noah Fant, TJ Hockenson, Dallas Goedert, and Mark Andrews. So, which of these TEs is the next cheat code?
What Makes A Tier 1 TE?
In order to determine this, I will be looking at the common factors between the consensus ‘big 3’ TEs; Kelce, Kittle, and Waller.
The very first thing I noticed is that each of these TEs consistently receives a high number of targets.
Kelce has averaged 134 targets per season over the last five seasons. During this span, he had an average target share of 24% per season.
Waller has averaged 131 targets per season over the last two seasons. During this span, he had an average target share of 25% per season.
Kittle averaged 122 targets in 2018/2019. He missed a lot of 2020, so I did not include those numbers. During this span, he saw an average target share of 24% per season.
The second thing I looked at was receiving yardage and receiving TDs.
Kelce has averaged 1129 receiving yards and 8 receiving TDs per season over the last five seasons.
Waller has averaged 1171 receiving yards and 6 receiving TDs per season over the last two seasons.
Kittle averaged 1215 receiving yards and 5 receiving TDs per season in 2018/2019.
The third and final thing I looked at was yards per target. I want to see if they’re running routes downfield consistently.
Kelce has averaged 9.0 Y/TGT per season over the last five seasons.
Waller has averaged 8.9 Y/TGT per season over the last two seasons.
Kittle averaged 10.0 Y/TGT per season during the 2018/2019 seasons.
So, what makes a tier-one TE?
120+ targets with at least a 24% target share, 1100+ receiving yards with at least 5 receiving TDs, and roughly a 9 Y/TGT.
“28 TEs have seen 120+ targets in a season over the past 10 years. 19 of them (68%) have finished top 3 in PPR points. 26 of them (93%) have finished top 6.” - @SmolaDs
I believe a tier-two TE is about to make the jump into tier-one this season.
Playing Second Fiddle
For the last three seasons, Dallas Goedert has been playing second fiddle to Zach Ertz but that seems to be coming to an end soon as the Eagles are poised to move on from Ertz. Even if Ertz stays (he isn’t), Goedert would still be the clear-cut TE1.
During this time Goedert was still able to amass three top 20 finishes and even finished as the TE10 in 2019. During his 2019 campaign, Goedert saw 87 targets which were good for 58 receptions, 607 yards, and 5TDs. That was the same year Zach Ertz saw a whopping 135 targets and finished as the TE4.
Goedert played 42 games over the last three seasons averaging 4.6 targets per game.
During Jalen Hurt’s 3.5 starts last season, Goedert saw 6, 8, and 3 targets respectively; and he was not available for week 17. This was good for an average of 5.6 targets per game.
There was a stretch of games last season where Ertz was injured and Goedert was the featured TE. In those games, Goedert averaged 7.3 targets, 5.3 receptions, and 61.7 yards per game (the exact pace for 120+ targets and 1100+ yards).
The Eagles under Doug Pederson and Frank Reich ran a lot of 2TE sets. Last year, Reich ran out of 2TE sets 29% of the time, which was more than any other team in the league. The new-look offense in Philadelphia under Sirianni will not feature 2TE sets nearly as often, making Goedert even more likely to make the jump into tier one.
2021 Breakout Season
Nick Sirianni has been in a prominent coaching position in the NFL since 2018 (OC or HC). During this time, he has never not had a TE1.
Sirianni orchestrated Eric Ebron’s break-out season in 2018. Ebron amassed 110 targets that resulted in 750 yards and an incredible 13 receiving TDs. Ebron finished as the TE4. (Jack Doyle missed the majority of the 2018 season.)
Frank Reich was able to go back to his preferred 2TE sets in 2019, which prevented Ebron from repeating his outstanding numbers from the year before. Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle combined to finish as the TE11.
The combination of Mo-Alie Cox, Trey Burton, and Jack Doyle combined to finish as the TE12 in 2020. (They saw a combined 120 targets.)
I already know what you’re thinking, how does a combination of players help me when I want one TE to do it all?
Look at these NFL ranks over the last three years at the Colt's TE position under Sirianni.
2018 – Targets (3rd), Receptions (3rd), Rec Yards (4th), Rec TDs (1st)
2019 - Targets (6th), Receptions (10th), Rec Yards (8th), Rec TDs (9th)
2020 - Targets (15th), Receptions (14th), Rec Yards (15th), Rec TDs (13th)
Nick Sirianni LOVES to target his TEs!
Here are the WR ranks over the past three seasons which further emphasizes how much Sirianni targets TEs.
2018 – Targets (9th), Receptions (8th), Rec Yards (8th), Rec TDs (19th), PPR Rank (11th)
2019 - Targets (28th), Receptions (29th), Rec Yards (30th), Rec TDs (16th), PPR Rank (29th)
2020 - Targets (24th), Receptions (26th), Rec Yards (21st), Rec TDs (26th), PPR Rank (25th)
Nick Sirianni prefers to take a more ‘WR by committee approach with a featured TE rather than use the WRs as the primary pass catchers.
(Side Note: Do not sleep on Jalen Reagor. Sirianni’s bread and butter are scheming targets to the TE position and slot WRs. All reports indicate that Reagor will be playing in the slot a lot more in 2021. This isn’t to say DeVonta Smith won’t be good and he will certainly still see his fair share of targets, but Reagor and Smith are going to finish much closer statistically than people probably realize.)
Sirianni began to force-feed Ebron in 2018 after Jack Doyle went down. When Doyle came back, it was Reich who wanted to go back to his preferred 2TE sets which resulted in more of a committee approach at the position.
Since Sirianni has been hired as the head coach in Philadelphia, three things have taken place that affects the TE position. They’ve publicly said they’re looking to trade Zach Ertz, they re-signed Richard Rodgers, and they’re working on a contract extension with Dallas Goedert. I don’t know about you, but Richard Rodgers doesn’t scream frequent 2TE sets.
There is also this quote from an Eagles insider; “… starting with the coaching staff which has developed plans to move forward with Dallas Goedert as the TE1 for the 2021 season. Head coach Nick Sirianni also has a desire to play more 11 personnel (three receivers) in an effort to get more speed on the field, per a team source.”
The 2021 Eagles offense will feature three primary pass catchers: DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, and Dallas Goedert. In 2020, the Eagles had the 10th most pass attempts and were 4th in ‘team pass plays' per game. I fully expect the Eagles to be a top 10 passing offense again.