If you play more than one fantasy sport, you know that each has its own position where there are only a few sure-fire stud players and then everyone else is a dart throw when it comes to production. In Baseball, those positions are usually the Catcher and the Shortstop. In Basketball, that position usually falls on the Center. Even in Hockey, if there is one position where only two or three are no-doubt-about-it players it would usually the Right and Left Wings. In fantasy football, that position would be the Tight End. If your name is not Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, or George Kittle, then the chances are high that no one knows who you are. Those are the red carpet Tight Ends of the NFL and it is very likely that all three will be gone by the 5th round of your draft.
After that, who else is there? Rob Gronkowski? Unless he scores a TD, he’s not the week-in, week-out automatic stud he once was. Plus he’s on the wrong side of 30. Mark Andrews? Maybe. Will Lamar Jackson throw for 200 yards, or will he rush for 200 yards? (Andrews: 5 Touchdowns in first 5 weeks of 2020, 2 Touchdowns from Weeks 6-17, no 100-yard games, and only 3 games with 6 or more receptions; Jackson: 1 game with 250+ yds. passing in 2020)
TJ Hockenson? He’s coming off a pro bowl year so he’s a very good option. The problem is that his quarterback, Jared Goff is not. Hunter Henry? Can’t stay healthy and he’s sharing targets with Jonnu Smith. Not to mention, they play for Bill Belichick.
Robert Tonyan? I’d give it another year before we start trusting him, especially if A-rod leaves.
Zach Ertz? As an Eagles fan, I’d love to recommend him, I really would. But he’s also on the wrong side of 30. Maybe a change of scenery will help him? Clearly, the Tight End position is a volatile spot in fantasy football. You just don’t know what you’re getting and whether it can last the better part of a now, 17 game season.
Let me introduce you to the new kid on the block: Bears TE Cole Kmet.
Kmet was the Bears 2nd round pick in last year’s draft and was seen by many as the best player at the position. His size was seen as one of his biggest assets. Checking in at 6’6” and 260 lbs. Kmet was a mammoth player with above-average receiving skills. He finished his first year with the Bears catching 28 passes for 243 yards and a pair of scores. Those numbers aren’t anything special but most tight ends usually do not start their careers blowing the doors off the league. Hall of Famers like Tony Gonzalez and future Hall of Famer Jason Witten had pedestrian rookie years. Shannon Sharpe, the great player who now entertains sports fans on TV had 7 catches for 99 yards in his rookie year. Quiet beginnings do not mean that a player will stay there. In fact, it usually means that they are headed for a pro bowl campaign the year after. Take a look at some famous 2nd year jumps for recent Tight Ends:
Travis Kelce (2013: did not finish the season due to injury -> 2014: 67 receptions, 862 yards, 5 touchdowns followed by a PRO BOWL third season in 2015.)
Jason Witten (2003: 35 receptions, 347 yards, 1 Touchdown -> 2004: 87 receptions, 980 yards, 6 touchdowns. PRO BOWL)
George Kittle (2017: 43 receptions, 515 yards, 2 touchdowns -> 2018: 88 receptions, 1377 yards, 5 touchdowns. PRO BOWL)
Rob Gronkowski (2010: 42 receptions, 546 yards, 10 touchdowns -> 2011: 90 receptions, 1327 yards, 17 touchdowns. PRO BOWL)
Jimmy Graham (2010: 31 receptions, 357 yards, 5 Touchdowns (4 of which came in the final 3 weeks) -> 2011: 99 receptions, 1310 yards, 11 touchdowns. PRO BOWL)
Some of the greatest Tight Ends that have ever played usually do not start their careers on fire. Kmet’s rookie season is no different; it’s about what you’d expect. That being said, I do expect Kmet to make a reasonable jump this year. Not only does he have a talented new QB in Justin Fields to throw him the ball, but he should take over the starting position from the aforementioned Jimmy Graham who is nothing more than an aging red-zone dart throw in his career at this point and should not be viewed as a threat to the younger more spry Kmet, provided that he is even on the roster come September.
It’s early to say that Kmet will be the next great Tight End in the NFL and fantasy football, but after the usual suspects, you could do much worse at the position. I think Kmet will only improve in his second year and I would feel comfortable drafting him when the double-digit rounds begin as a TE2 with upside for a mini-breakout player. A season with around 800 yards and 7 Touchdowns seems like a fair ask of the Notre Dame product.
2021 Fantasy Projections: 60-70 receptions, 700-800 yards, 6-8 TDs
2021 Round Projection: Early 11th-Mid 12th