The 8 TEs To Draft On Underdog Fantasy

May 12th 2024

Hayden Winks

My full rankings are here, updated on May 7th. The TEs in this column are organized by Underdog Fantasy ADP. You can draft today for a chance to win a piece of the $15M prize pool. Click the link below to sign-up with a bonus offering:

Before we get into the player blurbs, I wanted to re-share my TE research from last year as it still applies, especially after how well the Late Round TE Strategy worked in 2023. Essentially, TEs have the most week-to-week volatility (see coefficient of variance below) because they are more reliant on TDs than all other positions. That means 3 later round options can ping-pong their scores together fairly well as we ride their TD variance. That also means predicting TEs pre-season can be difficult because the difference of 3-5 TDs across the season will really matter in if the TE was a good pick.

The second data point to look at is fantasy points over replacement. This will sound simple, but it's true: TEs score fewer fantasy points per game, so there's less separation in their spike weeks. I've posted these "better in best ball points" every year and one of the takeaways is that it's hard for TEs to compete with QBs, WRs, and RBs inside the top-50 overall players. The table below is where the TE1 through TE12 finishers stacked in overall scoring in the last two seasons, compared to where Underdog Fantasy drafters are selecting the TE1 through TE12 this upcoming season. The average ADP of the top-12 is 68. The average finish from the top-12 is 88.4 and that's using hindsight finishes, not where the top-12 in ADP finished the upcoming season. It'd be far worse than 88.4 overall. If history tells us anything, the TE2-TE10 range in drafts is a typical land mine.

Lastly, there's some game theory aspects I like about late round TE. Because QBs score more points and are more predictable pre-season, I like to prioritize the early- to mid-round QBs and then add the correlation of their TEs afterwards. If I'm right about the QB going off, then I'll just ride the wave of his passing TDs at TE. Picking a TE then stacking his QB afterwards seems worse to me.

Then there's the fragility of the elite TE1 landscape. There are only so many TEs who have the talent, role, and offense that can create a true difference-making season. With Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and George Kittle exiting their primes, it's less likely than ever that we see a top-25 overall finish from this position. Sam LaPorta, Trey McBride, Dalton Kincaid, and Kyle Pitts have a chance to break into that range, yet haven't done so yet. There's a chance there are simply fewer 15+ fantasy point games at the position in general. I don't think I can say the same thing at QB where the elite QBs from the last few seasons remain in their prime, plus we're adding dual-threat youngsters Anthony Richardson, Caleb Williams, and Jayden Daniels to the top-12, too. I'm more nervous about being buried at QB than TE right now.

Mark Andrews (ADP: 53.1)

He's finished as the 61st and 64th overall player in fantasy points over replacement over the last two seasons. The 28-year-old has established a nice per-game baseline despite missing some time with unlucky injuries, and Andrews was a top-20 overall player three years ago. His per-route production hasn't changed much, however. He was at 2.2 yards per route during his elite season, then has been at 2.0 and 1.9 since. That was 4th-best last year. Andrews is a far more reliable top target than Zay Flowers in my opinion, and OC Todd Monken may feel more comfortable calling passes in their second season in the scheme, where Andrews set a career high in slot snaps (80%). He's a Round 5 auto-click on Round 4 Lamar Jackson teams in best ball. That stack used to cost an arm (Round 2) and a leg (Round 3) a few seasons back.

Jake Ferguson (ADP: 87.4)

He was 2nd in missed tackles forced, 6th in yards after catch per reception, 7th in targets, 8th in yards, and 9th in receptions last year, but Ferg Daddy was unbelievably unlucky in touchdowns last year. In fact, he scored -3.8 TDs over expected based on his usage despite playing in a sweet offense. Of course, regression immediately hit in the NFL Playoffs when he scored three damn times. Come on!!! Well, nothing has changed for Ferguson heading into age-25 season.

David Njoku (ADP: 99.7)

The 28-year-old is coming off a career-high 55 yards per game and 82nd overall fantasy points over replacement finish. Njoku is marginally threatened by the addition of Jerry Jeudy, but the Browns became the 3rd-highest neutral pass rate team from Week 8 on (probably because Nick Chubb was out with a knee dislocation type of injury). Over that stretch, Njoku was at a very nice 69 yards and 6 receptions per game. We'll see if coach Kevin Stefaniski stays super pass heavy with the ghost of Deshaun Watson at QB, but we'll also see if Watson can rebound in 2024, which is unlikely but completely priced in. Njoku was the TE7 in yards per route.

Pat Freiermuth (ADP: 142.0)

There's just nobody to throw the ball to in Pittsburgh behind George Pickens. Freiermuth has the ability to be a top-10 receiving TE on his own, too. He's an athletic former 2nd-round who peaked at a 1.7 yards per route average in 2022. He's now entering the prime of his career in a TE-friendly offense. New OC Arthur Smith will dial up first-read targets to his TEs (see: rookie Kyle Pitts, career-high Jonnu Smith, career-high Anthony Firkser, etc.), and the Steelers' TE2 Darnell Washington is not far off from being an offensive tackle. There will be pass attempts where it's Pickens, Freiermuth, and a really mid No. 2 WR will be the only options.

Hunter Henry (ADP: 162.3)

There's no season-long upside here, but Henry remains a productive TE2. He had 5 games last year with at least 4-39-1, leading to a 114th overall finish in fantasy points over replacement per game. The Patriots couldn't have been worse on offense then either. If things get any better with Jacoby Brissett and Drake Maye at QB, the 29-year-old could unlock a little more weekly ceiling. It doesn't hurt that Henry signed a 2-year contract with $18.5M in practical guarantees this offseason to be the clear top TE in new OC Alex Van Pelt's offense. He comes from the Cleveland offense that has a lot of first-read targets to TEs. We talked to Colt McCoy about the offense on a recent show because it was the same offense that made Trey McBride a total smash in 2023:

Juwan Johnson (ADP: 173.7)

The converted WR has finished as the 126th and 132nd overall player in fantasy points over replacement per game as the Saints' primary TE. Johnson was top-10 in percentage of snaps in the slot or out wide last year and faces little competition for targets in the pass game. New OC Klint Kubiak was the Vikings' coordinator during Tyler Conklin's breakout year, was the Broncos' play caller when Greg Dulcich was a thing, and was the pass-game coordinator for the Niners last year. This is a TE-friendly offense all things considered. Johnson's production, $7M cap hit, and age-28 status are enough to believe in as a late-round flier. His second most recent game resulted in an 12-8-90-1 receiving line and Week 17 TE1 overall finish.

Noah Fant (ADP: 191.2)

Because Will Dissly (Chargers) and Colby Parkinson (Rams) were versatile players in ex-OC Shane Waldron's TE-galaxy brain scheme, Fant only played between 42% and 64% of snaps in all but one of his healthy games last year. He was only a part-time player. That should change now, especially after securing a 2-year, $21M contract this offseason. Fant had an elite ceiling as a prospect based on his athleticism, age, and production, but things haven't gone his way yet. The Seahawks are banking on a second contract breakout, something that happens frequently at TE (David Njoku, Evan Engram, Darren Waller, etc.). A career 1.5 yards per route average is all we need to provide TE1/2 spikes, assuming his playing time trends towards full-time status. It doesn't hurt that new OC Ryan Grubb called one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the Power 5 last year with the Washington Huskies.

Colby Parkinson (ADP: 215.0)

Tyler Higbee will start on PUP after tearing his ACL and MCL in the NFL Playoffs, and it's unclear if the Rams are just totally done with him already. They drafted Davis Allen and played him down the stretch, but Allen (6'5"/245 with a 4.84 forty) was more of an in-line TE (76% snaps) than a true receiving threat (2.3 aDOT). This offseason, the Rams gave Colby Parkinson (6'7"/252 with a 4.77 forty) a 2-year contract with $15M in practical guarantees. That's starter money. He was buried in a 3-TE rotation with the Seahawks previously, but Parkinson has the deep sleeper profile I love. He had a 19% receiving share as a true junior at Stanford, then played in the slot or out wide on 46% of his Seahawks' snaps last year. Parkinson could be a full-time player for the first time of his career, and Matthew Stafford still looked really good when healthy last season. There is a path to 600 yards and 6 TDs here.