It’s no secret that the tight end position in fantasy football has seen better days. You can probably count on one hand the real difference makers the position has yielded. Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe, and Rob Gronkowski are the first three names that come to mind. Antonio Gates and Jason Witten were no slouches either. Boom! Five! Got it.

Going into 2019, there was no arguing the top three studs – Kelce, Kittle, Ertz. And they delivered. However, there was a lot of buzz/debate last year about who could be the next one to join them at the top. Evan Engram was expected to, but his season got derailed by injury. Darren Waller was a name to keep an eye on and he certainly delivered. But it was Mark Andrews who would take home top prize, finishing as the TE3 in PPR leagues at a TE14 ADP. It’s the kind of investment, paired with the super-sized leap you hope that particular player takes, that can pay off by season’s end with a championship. And now, it’s no longer Kelce, Kittle, Ertz – it’s Kittle, Kelce, Andrews, Ertz.

So, who in 2020 has a chance to take an “Andrews-sized” leap? I will discuss that below with four names I believe have the best opportunity, along with some to keep an eye on.

TJ Hockenson – Detroit Lions

In Week 1 last season, Hockenson burst onto the scene for 6/131/1 against the Arizona Cardinals, who we would find throughout the season were atrocious against tight ends in 2019. However, after Week 1, Hockenson came down to earth and would eventually have his season cut short on Thanksgiving Day due to injury. It is common for a rookie tight end to go through his growing pains as he enters the NFL. But 2020 is a different story, and Hockenson has a lot of factors working in his favor to be the one who breaks out. The first thing being, his franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford is medically cleared and 100% healthy heading into this season. Next, his offensive coordinator(Darrell Bevel) has a track record of incorporating a talented tight end into the weekly gameplan by year two. For example, the two tight ends Bevell has coached during his time as OC in Minnesota and Seattle both finished as top 5 fantasy tight ends in year two under his system(Visanthe Shiancoe – 2008; Jimmy Graham – 2016). Bevell clearly has a track record of making a star at the position when he knows he has one. And finally, the last factor – draft pedigree. Hockenson was the #8 overall selection in 2019 for the Lions and comes with the backing of the current regime in the front office as the ones who picked him. He will get every opportunity this year and moving forward to prove that that draft capital can pay off. He’s currently the TE10 in dynasty and TE14 in redraft leagues. Hockenson makes for an exciting investment if you decide to pass on the studs.

Hayden Hurst – Atlanta Falcons

The off-season buzz continues to grow for Hurst heading into 2020. He’s probably the consensus selection out of all the late round tight ends to be the one who takes that next leap into the elite stratosphere. Like Hockenson, Hurst was also a first round pick(25th overall in 2018) and finds himself in Atlanta to replace Austin Hooper. Ironically, in 2018, Baltimore drafted both Andrews(3rd round) and Hurst in hopes of finding a replacement for Dennis Pitta. It ended up being Andrews, which resulted in Hurst being dealt to the Falcons in March when free agency opened. Now, Hurst will get the shot to prove his worth and showcase his talent as the TE1. And he has a great chance to succeed. Consider, under Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez averaged 120.6 targets for the five years he was in Atlanta. After Gonzalez retired, the Falcons drafted Hooper(3rd round, 2016) and by 2018, Hooper enjoyed a 14.2% target share and followed 2019 with 14.1%, finishing as the TE7 overall. As of June 2020, Hurst has a TE15 ADP, and coupled with his opportunity and situation, has every chance to finish at or near the top 5 tight ends.

Jonnu Smith – Tennessee Titans

With Delanie Walker gone, Smith will finally get his chance to be the guy in Nashville and step in as the TE1 for the Titans. Smith is an athletic freak and showed off his skills when the lights were brightest during the playoff game against the Ravens last January. If he can do that throughout the course of a full season, Smith will easily outshine his TE17 ADP price tag. Now granted, he will have to fight for targets with AJ Brown as the alpha, but there is every chance that he can be the #2 option in the passing game. But understand, the Titans are a run first team designed to feed Derrick Henry. However, between Smith and Delanie Walker(when he was on the field) the two combined for 75 targets – which would have been second on the team behind Brown if all of those went to Smith. And, as I mentioned before, with Walker now out of town, those other 31 targets are up for grabs to be directed towards Smith. If he’s talented enough to command that workload, he will shine as a worthy late round investment.

Jace Sternberger

The last one on this list seems to be flying under the radar, as Sternberger will get his shot to solidify the tight end position in the frozen tundra. Jimmy Graham left for Chicago in free agency. Sternberger flashed in the playoffs last season and showed the potential of what could be for fantasy football purposes. It seems the Packers have not had a legitimate threat at tight end since Jermichael Finley was there to catch passes from Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay drafted Sternberger in the 3rd round in 2019, and there is basically no competition to beat out this summer in training camp. It is his job to lose. Not to mention, the wide receiver situation except for Davante Adams is atrocious – which means Sternberger has a realistic shot to move up the depth chart as the #2 option in the passing game. A role that would prove valuable and pay off dividends for fantasy owners.

Others to consider
Irv Smith – Talented. Athletic. But Kyle Rudolph is signed for another four years. 2021 seems more realistic.

Dallas Goedert – Kind of had a mini-breakout last year, but expected to take the next step in his third year. Ertz still reigns as the tight end king in Philly.

Blake Jarwin – A lot of mouths to feed in Dallas, but Witten is gone that vacates 83 targets. The only question is, will McCarthy allow Kellen Moore to call as many throws as he did last year.

Super Deep Sleeper: Kahale Warring
Watson has yet to have a legitimate threat down the seam in his young career. Warring is a huge target at 6’5 252 and comes into 2020 healthy after a stint on injured reserve his rookie year. Big, athletic, and fast are three words to describe the former Aztec. I’d throw some FAAB down now and hope he can catapult to the top of the depth chart in 2020.