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4 tight ends to fade in 2021 fantasy football

Not all tight ends will perform as expected in fantasy football, and several present enough risk at their respective average draft position to justify avoiding.

Syndication: PackersNews Mike De Sisti / The Milwaukee Jo via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Just as identifying which players will over-perform expectation can determine the outcome of a fantasy league, figuring out which ones will not provide adequate return on investment can tilt how one’s team performs. Some players, whether due to health, opportunity, or other circumstance, simply won’t give fantasy managers what they anticipated at their respective draft slot.

The tight-end position is no exception, and several carry some major red flags from a fantasy perspective.

Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers

Even with Aaron Rodgers returning to the Green Bay Packers, Robert Tonyan could see his fantasy prospects fall significantly. Tonyan recorded 11 touchdowns and 586 receiving yards in 2020, but those came off just 59 targets. As if that didn’t seem unsustainable on its own, Tonyan caught a preposterous 88.1% of those targets, a figure that will decline by a tremendous amount assuming Tonyan stays on the field this season.

Tonyan remains a large part of the Packers offense and should have fantasy relevance this season. However, unless his ADP falls even further (currently in fringe TE1 territory), it makes sense to look somewhere else.

Evan Engram, New York Giants

The New York Giants’ passing game will only go as far as Daniel Jones can take it. Through two seasons in the NFL, Jones has not demonstrated the ability to lift the offense on a consistent basis. Perhaps that changes in Year 3, and the Giants certainly have placed their chips behind him. But the outlook remains concerning for the pass catchers depending on Danny Dimes to deliver.

Accordingly, tight end Evan Engram will probably have a hard time living up to his expectations in fantasy. Currently, Engram’s ADP sits 11th among tight ends in PPR formats. While he did set a career high in receiving yards (654) and came in one catch behind his best mark in receptions (63), he only reached the end zone twice, once as a rusher. Furthermore, Engram has struggled to stay on the field during his career and must also compete with Kenny Golladay for targets.

Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

By acclamation, Kyle Pitts enters the NFL as the best tight-end prospect in at least a generation and as close to a can’t-miss draft pick as possible at the position. Pitts’ combination of athleticism, size, skill, and youth (he doesn’t turn 21 until October) makes him a unicorn among tight ends and a potential superstar.

But even with all those advantages, nearly every tight end starts slowly out of the gate. Adjusting to NFL competition might not take Pitts an entire season given all of his advantages, but that doesn’t negate every hurdle in front of him. Pitts’ current ADP (fifth among tight ends in PPR formats) already places him among the elite at the position. He seems destined to get there, but the statistical returns might not arrive immediately.

Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots

As one of the big tight ends the New England Patriots landed during free agency, Jonnu Smith arrives with sizable expectations. He comes off his finest season as a pro, recording career highs in targets (65), receptions (41), receiving yards (448), and touchdowns (eight). He also joins an offensive system with a track record of producing multiple successful tight ends in the same season.

Still, Smith’s production pales in comparison to that of Hunter Henry, the Patriots’ other new tight end. Furthermore, Cam Newton remains the likely starter under center, and his ability to produce in the passing game has waned mightily in recent years. Smith could still live up to expectations, but his price doesn’t reflect his risk from a fantasy perspective.