If ever there was a position in fantasy football where you’d hope to find some sleepers, it’s TE. As the most scarce position in fantasy, finding production at tight end outside of Travis Kelce, George Kittle, or Darren Waller presents a challenge on a week-to-week basis. Nevertheless, there’s always a player or two that comes out of nowhere to become a TE1 on the season. So, which tight ends will be the sleepers of 2021?
2021 Fantasy Football TE Sleepers | AFC
Which AFC players stand out as TE sleepers in 2021?
Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns | ADP: 143.4 (TE19)
I’m the first to admit that when Austin Hooper signed with Cleveland in the 2020 offseason, I stayed away from him as a fantasy asset. Although I believe Hooper to be a quality NFL tight end, the primary concern that I had was his ADP was still to be that of a low-end TE1. While the move from Atlanta to Cleveland was a clear downgrade in terms of fantasy production opportunities, Hooper’s performance in 2019 as the TE1 before his injury was certain to play a factor in his ADP for 2020 — and fairly so.
However, in the Browns’ offense, low-end TE1 in PPR formats is where I believed Hooper’s ceiling to be. With an overall ADP of TE13 in 2020, the value simply wasn’t there. But now, after posting 46 receptions on 70 targets for 435 yards and 4 touchdowns last season, Hooper’s value has dropped considerably — so much so that I’m drafting him this year as a TE sleeper.
My attitude on Hooper hasn’t changed. I still believe he can produce as a low-end TE1, which I know isn’t saying much. Nevertheless, that’s what makes him an intriguing play for 2021. Moreover, given what Hooper did to finish the season, fantasy managers should be excited for Hooper in 2021 rather than the other way around.
Hooper quietly ended 2020 on a strong note
Okay, maybe excited is a bit much, but Hooper’s end-of-the-year stats shouldn’t go ignored. In Weeks 15-17, Hooper totaled 16 receptions on 26 targets and 2 touchdowns. He averaged 14.3 PPR fantasy points in that time and was a top-eight TE for each week. It’s a small sample size for sure. However, Hooper followed that up in the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh with 7 receptions on 11 targets for 46 yards and another score.
At best, Hooper is the third option on the Browns. He’s not going to blow anyone away on the stat sheet. Yet, if he can maintain a level of consistency, he will blow his current ADP out of the water.
Jared Cook, Los Angeles Chargers | ADP: 163.2 (TE22)
Even at 34 years old, you can be considered a sleeper, it seems. Because that’s what Jared Cook is in Los Angeles. Cook will receive competition from second-year TE Donald Parham for targets but will certainly begin the season as the Chargers’ starting tight end. And yet, he’s simply being forgotten about in fantasy.
Cook has never been an elite TE for fantasy, nor will he be in 2021. However, he is serviceable and finished as a TE1 in each year from 2017-2019. Last season, he suffered a groin injury in Week 3. He missed just one game as a result, but his role was limited for the remainder of the season.
Age is certainly a factor, but now Cook goes from one high-quality offense to another. It’s also a better situation for him.
Hunter Henry is gone. I feel like that needs to be repeated because the connection doesn’t seem to be transitioning. Henry has up and left and taken his 93 targets from a year ago with him. Assuming Cook stays healthy, the opportunities are there. Cook is no Henry, but he can certainly produce with Justin Herbert throwing him the football. At this ADP, Cook is one of my top TE sleepers for 2021.
2021 Fantasy Football TE Sleepers | NFC
These two players once capped each other’s ceiling as teammates. Now, on opposite sides of the division, they may finally produce standalone value.
Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams | ADP: 120.2 (TE15)
As teammates last season, Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett were mere afterthoughts in fantasy football. But with Everett now off to Seattle, the door is open for Higbee to become the premier TE for fantasy that we saw from him at the end of the 2019 season.
In 2019, from Weeks 1-12, Everett was averaging 8.2 PPR fantasy points (TE12), and Higbee had averaged 5.3 (TE35). In Week 12, Everett suffered a knee injury that practically kept him out for the rest of the season. And that’s when Higbee went off.
With no less than 7 receptions and 104 yards from Weeks 13-16, Higbee was a league winner in several fantasy championships. While that type of production is unsustainable, Everett is again out of the picture. Furthermore, Higbee has a better quarterback this time around in Matthew Stafford.
The Rams drafted Jacob Harris in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and they still have Brycen Hopkins to fill out their TE depth. Nevertheless, they’re in win-now mode, and Higbee gives them the best opportunity to do that.
Tight ends made up 21.4% of the target share for L.A. in 2020. Higbee received 10.2% of the targets a year ago, and I’d project he receives a vast increase in this category in 2021. I believe Higbee solidifies himself as a top-10 TE in 2021 and greatly outperforms his ADP.
Gerald Everett, Seattle Seahawks | ADP: 159.6 (TE21)
While I don’t share the same hope for Everett as I do Higbee, I do believe he’ll be a serviceable tight end for fantasy. The lack of a passing attack in Seattle limits Everett’s ceiling, but having Russell Wilson at QB warrants enough consideration as one of the top TE sleepers. Despite sharing duty with Higbee, Everett managed to put up career numbers in 2020 with 41 receptions from 62 targets and 417 receiving yards. Unfortunately, he had only 1 touchdown to show for it.
Everett comes to Seattle ahead of Will Dissly on the Seahawks’ depth chart, and I’d presume it stays that way. There have been high hopes for Dissly in the past, but his inability to stay on the field has swayed that thought. Everett could very well step into the role and be the safety blanket for Wilson that Dissly was expected to be.
Despite the limited arsenal in Seattle, Everett is in position to be the team’s No. 3 option in the passing game. Therefore, he’s worth considering as a late-round flier in fantasy drafts as one of the top TE sleepers in 2021.
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