Let’s make no mistake about it; the tight ends in the AFC are impressive, both in fantasy and reality.
2021 EARLY TIGHT END RANKINGS
First, let us examine where a couple of sites that have tight ends ranked. Here are where the AFC tight-ends are ranked:
#1 Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
#3 Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
#7 Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
#9 Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
#13 Hunter Henry, Formerly of the Los Angeles Chargers
#18 Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers
#21 Jared Cook, Formerly of the New Orleans Saints
#22 Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns
#23 Jordan Akins, Houston Texans
#1 Travis Kelce, Kansas City
#3 Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
#6 Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
#8 Hunter Henry, New England Patriots
#9 Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers
#11 Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots
#13 Mike Gesicki, Miami
#14 Jared Cook, LAC
#17 Noah Fant, Denver
#24 James O’Shaughnessy, Jax
#25 Dawson Knox, Buffalo
#28 Tyler Eifert, Jax
Cook is 6’5” and 254 pounds. He will be 34 in April, and this is his 13th season in the NFL with his sixth different team. And according to fantasypros.com, his current average draft position is 226.73.
THE CASE AGAINST COOK BEING TOP FANTASY TIGHT END IN THE AFC
It really amounts to two words: Travis Kelce. Kelce has dominated the tight-end fantasy football realm for more than three years. He has not had less than 1,000 receiving yards in the last four years and has not seen less than 100 targets during the same time. Last season he was targeted 145 times for a season-high 105 receptions, 1,416 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns.
And although the then Chargers tight-end, Hunter Henry, put up some good fantasy numbers, he had not eclipsed 700 receiving yards or 100 targets in the last three seasons.
Cook’s best seasons were the 2018 season with the Raiders and the 2019 season with the Saints. In the 2018 season, Cook was on the receiving end of 101 targets for 896 receiving yards on 68 receptions. He finished that season with six touchdowns. In 2019 with the Saints, Cook had 43 receptions on 65 targets for 705 receiving yards. He did finish with nine touchdowns that season while averaging 8.9 fantasy points per game.
This brings us back to Kelce; Kelce has averaged under 10 fantasy points per game once in the last four years per fantasydata.com. That was in the 2019 season, where he averaged 9.8 fantasy points per game.
THE CASE FOR COOK BEING TOP FANTASY TIGHT END IN THE AFC
According to Pro Football Focus, Cook ranked second to Kelce in snap percentage lined up wide (28.4%) and eighth in slot percentage (56.2%) among tight ends with at least 28 targets last season.
And several factors are in Cook’s (and our fantasy hopes) favor. One, he is reunited with Joe Lombardi from the Saints; but the most important is the quarterback.
2020 Drew Brees stats: 390 attempts, 275 completions, 2,942 yards, 7.5 average
2020 Patrick Mahomes stats: 588 attempts, 390 completions, 4,740 yards, 8.1 average
2020 Justin Herbert stats: 595 attempts, 396 completions, 4,336 yards, 7.3 average
It is easy to see that Herbert is closer to Mahomes than Brees, which is good for Cook’s prospects. Last season Henry was targeted 93 times in 14 games. Henry was targeted in the red zone 17 times with seven completions. (Kelce had 22 red-zone targets with 14 completions).
Per ProFootball Reference, there will be a log jam in red-zone targets with the AFC receivers. Inside the 20-yard line, Waller was second among all receivers with 22 red-zone targets, Kelce was third with 20 targets inside the 20, and Keenan Allen led the Chargers with 16 red-zone targets inside the 20-yard line. Henry was 27th among all receivers (13 below Allen) with his 14 red-zone targets inside the 20-yard line.
The 6’5”, 240 pound Cook, will have to surpass the production of Kelce, Waller, and perhaps Mark Andrews and Noah Fant (although the latter two have suspect quarterbacks in the passing game). It may not be as daunting a task as it appears. Cook’s target share should definitely increase, pulling him closer to Kelce’s target share. But where Cook will probably make the greatest strides in fantasy production is his red-zone targets and his touchdown percentage.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, in the last two seasons, Andrews was on the receiving end of 17 touchdowns, while Kelce and Cook both had 16. And now Cook will be playing with Herbert under center; an increase in touchdowns is probable.
The darkhorse label is appropriate. It would be an amazing feat for Cook to surpass Kelce as the best tight end in the AFC, not to mention Waller and Andrews. But according to fantasypros.com, Cook is undervalued where he currently stands as TE30.
Look for Cook to provide fantasy value in the tight end position for the 2021 season. Surpassing Kelce…let’s not call that quite yet.