In the world of fantasy football, running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers make up the foundation of most successful teams. However, a stud tight end can turn a solid squad into a championship one, which is why players like Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (1,229 receiving yards in 2019) are regularly drafted in the first few rounds.
Sleepers can be uncovered at the position, though a tight end's rise in production isn't always as dramatic as it might be at another position.
Darren Waller of the Raiders emerged from relative obscurity last year to 1,145 yards and three touchdowns, but such an explosion is rare for a tight end. More often, a sleeper tight end proves to be starting-caliber in fantasy and little more.
Mike Gesicki of the Miami Dolphins, who had 570 yards and five touchdowns last season after having 202 yards and no scores the year before, is a more classic example of a tight end sleeper.
Still, there's a lot of value to be found in solidifying other starting positions before landing your top tight end. Here, we'll examine some 2020 tight end sleepers who could help you do exactly that.
Chris Herndon, New York Jets
New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon flashed his potential as a rookie in 2018. He caught 39 passes for 502 yards and four touchdowns. However, he disappeared last season, as suspension and injury limited him to just one game and one reception.
Now, Herndon is back and regaining the trust of quarterback Sam Darnold in camp.
"Chris is making plays, man," Darnold told reporters. "He's making plays all over the field, and it's good to have him back."
Herndon should be one of Darnold's top targets in 2020, both because of his own ability and the lack of proven depth at receiver. As veterans go, the receiving corps primarily consists of complementary guys like Breshad Perriman, Jamison Crowder and Chris Hogan. Rookie second-round pick Denzel Mims is an unknown.
While Herndon might not see a meteoric Waller-type rise, he should be a quality fantasy starter. With an average draft position of 181, according to FantasyPros, he could be a late-round steal.
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions used the eighth overall pick in last year's draft on T.J. Hockenson. However, the former Iowa tight end only produced 367 yards and two touchdowns as injuries limited him to 12 games.
While Hockenson claims that he "still notices" the ankle injury, he appears on pace to start in Week 1.
"Yeah, I'm out there running around, I'm doing everything I was able to do last year, just trying to improve on it," Hockenson told reporters. "The ankle is still there, I still notice it, but I'm getting there."
As long as quarterback Matthew Stafford is also healthy—his season was cut short after eight games because of injury—Hockenson should be in store for a bounce-back season and a potentially strong one for fantasy managers.
With the Hawkeyes in 2018, Hockenson racked up 760 yards and six touchdowns on 49 receptions. He could have similar numbers in 2020 and, with an ADP of 155, should be considered a valuable middle-round target.
Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers
While we're on the topic of bounce-backs, it's worth mentioning Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron, who just might have one in 2020.
Ebron had a stellar 2018 season with the Indianapolis Colts, catching 66 passes for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns in Andrew Luck's final season. However, he was limited by an ankle injury last year and had just 31 catches for 375 yards and three scores.
Now healthy and paired with future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Ebron could reclaim the fantasy shine he had two years ago. Roethlisberger missed 14 games in 2019 but passed for a whopping 5,129 yards in 2018.
It is worth noting that Ebron will split time with Vance McDonald, and that could be why his ADP is just 173. However, McDonald believes that both on the field will be beneficial for the Steelers' passing attack.
Brooke Pryor @bepryor
Vance McDonald had a big catch over Edmunds yesterday, and I asked him if he did anything differently in training. Said he told Ebron yesterday: "You were the missing link. ... Eric's the missing piece. Expect me to dunk on everybody this year now that we have Eric on our team."
Just as importantly, it's worth noting that Ebron was splitting time with Jack Doyle during his standout 2018 campaign. He has proved that he can be a viable fantasy starter in a two-tight-end offense, and he's worth a late flier on draft day.
Other Potential Tight End Sleepers
- Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
- Ian Thomas, Carolina Panthers
- Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys
- Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans
- Devin Asiasi, New England Patriots