Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce has proved to be a reliable point magnet for fantasy owners, but the soon-to-be 32-year old can’t produce like he has forever, so who might be heir-apparent to the TE throne?
The Kansas City Chiefs truly hit a home run when they drafted Cincinnati TE Travis Kelce in the third round (#63 overall) back in the 2013 NFL draft, instantly becoming a reliable fantasy football addition to anyone’s team.
Since then he has been nothing short of amazing on his way to six Pro Bowls, two straight Super Bowls, and three straight AFC Championship games.
The 3x All-Pro tight end still has Mahomes throwing to him so there should be no reason to believe that this upcoming season will be any different than the past five seasons–all of which he has finished #1 or #2 in TE fantasy scoring (according to FantasyData)–but that does not mean the average fantasy football user shouldn’t be contemplating the future, especially if they play in a “keeper” league.
Travis Kelce’s average draft position (ADP) is 9.40, which is much higher than any other TE in the league, and that comes after years of proving he’s a future hall of famer.
(For context, the next closest ADP is 49ers TE George Kittle with an average of 24.73.)
Fantasy football’s previous #1 tight ends all had their problems
Before Kelce was the obvious choice for fantasy football owners there were players like the Saints’ Jimmy Graham, Chargers’ Antonio Gates, and former Patriot Rob Gronkowski that were considered TE1 or easy decisions come draft day.
Sadly, all those players had different drawbacks in their game or were constant liabilities because of constant injuries (Google “Gronkowski injury history). Travis Kelce does not seem to carry any of those flaws in his game, nor does he show any signs of developing any of them.
Kelce has shown he can endure entire seasons by playing at least 15 games per season since he came back from an injury that kept him from competing during his rookie season back in 2013. This is one of Kelce’s best assets for fantasy team owners because with a 17-game season on the horizon there is no better ability than availability.
Sadly Kelce’s time at the top has to come to an end at some point in the future, whether it be sooner rather than later or in a decade when he’s entering his 40s, so who can carry the weight of his extremely high ADP once that future is a reality.
George Kittle (2021 projected pts: 237.41)
Kittle is projected to be TE2 in almost every fantasy football league and will definitely be selected early in most fantasy drafts this upcoming season, but he does have his downsides.
This is all due to his past performances during his four seasons in San Francisco, especially his 1,377-receiving yard season back in 2018 which has given every fantasy football member hope for the future.
But Kittle has shown in his four years that he is not always available because he cannot always stay healthy throughout an entire season, something that is obviously not his fault.
The 2x-Pro Bowl tight end actually has an 89% chance of becoming injured in the upcoming season and is projected to miss at least three games due to those injuries.
Darren Waller (2021 projected pts: 310.83)
Waller was originally selected in the 2015 NFL draft by Baltimore as a scrawny wide receiver but after getting a second chance under head coach Jon Gruden he has seamlessly transitioned into a forceful first-string tight end.
The 2021 TE3 is a player that can easily provide fantasy owners a full season’s worth of games, 85-100 catches, and possibly double-digit touchdowns which makes his future bright and his ceiling very high.
Waller has not only grown out of his misfortunate beginning but he has also grown in size (6″6′, 255lbs) and increased his football knowledge playing under head coach Jon Gruden.
Mark Andrews (2021 projected pts: 186.58)
Speaking of Baltimore, their TE Mark Andrews put up respectable numbers in the 2020 season (5th-most rec yds amongst TEs–701) and is still young enough (25) to be relevant whenever Kelce begins to slip into retirement.
Andrews’ main problem that is not necessarily his own fault: he has Lamar Jackson as his QB.
While that’s great in some aspects of fantasy football, especially if a fantasy owner has Jackson as their QB1, it doesn’t translate well for some of the weapons of such a dual-threat quarterback.
If Andrews is still on this run-heavy Ravens offense in a few years then he will have solidified himself as the TE that fantasy owners fear picking up because of how often he will be used as a blocker rather than as a pass-catcher.
Atlanta Falcons’ rookie TE Kyle Pitts is definitely going to be up for consideration sooner rather than later when it comes to fantasy tight ends. He not only has Matt Ryan, who averages 265.7 fantasy points per season, but he was also the obvious #1 receiving option to come out of the 2021 NFL Draft which bodes well for anyone who needs a point-magnet on their fantasy team.
Pitts has one of the best fantasy football quarterbacks in the NFL throwing to him for the foreseeable future and because of that, it would not be insane to believe that fantasy football owners should pick him up early in the upcoming drafts.
Time will tell whether Pitts evolves into the TE that everybody believes he can be based on his stellar stats (1,492 rec yards & 18 TDs in three seasons) that he put up as a Florida Gator.
T.J. Hockenson (2021 projected pts: 196.88)
Matthew Stafford, longtime Detroit Lions QB, is quite obviously the main reason that the Lions have given such reliable fantasy players over the past decade but with Jared Goff now under center it will be interesting to see if third-year TE T.J. Hockenson trends upward or downward until his rookie contract expires.
Hockenson is in a dysfunctional franchise that is synonymous with failure, disappointment, and wasting great potential (i.e. Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, Barry Sanders, Stafford) but with a new system, a new coach, and a new QB there could be light at the end of the tunnel.
Then again this could just be the beginning of a new kind of disappointment in Detroit which would not be surprising given their track record since their 1957 championship season which was four years before the Super Bowl era began.
No matter where Hockenson ends up he is going to be a force in the future, which makes him a solid pick-up in any draft after Kelce or Kittle.
Honorable Mentions: Indianapolis’ Mo Alie-Cox (2021 projected pts: 71.58), Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan (2021 projected pts: 97.2), and Miami’s Mike Gesicki (2021 projected pts: 130.26)
These were just a few of the possible replacements for fantasy team owners when it comes to the tight end position. There could be major surprises, massive fall-offs, or extremely talented high school players that could soon make names for themselves in college.
There could also be no change to the current dynamic amongst the TE position in the NFL for some time, especially if Kelce has Mahomes as his QB and Andy Reid as his head coach until he decides to hang up his jersey.
No matter who takes over for Kelce at the TE1 position, or when they do, it will be interesting to see just how differently they produce points and how efficient they can be in every aspect of the game.
Do you agree? Disagree? Did I miss someone that I should have mentioned? Let me know in the comments below or through my Twitter (@SportsGuyShawnO) and be sure to check out more daily free articles on Border Fuel Sports!