The Week 15 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Dec. 20, at 1 p.m. ET.
In this piece, I highlight tight ends who stand out in our large suite of analytical fantasy tools, most specifically our FantasyLabs Models. While the Models are built for daily contests, this is an all-purpose fantasy article with actionable information for all formats.
As news breaks throughout the week and we adjust our projections, where players rate in our Models will change. For updates, visit the Models directly.
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Top Tight Ends in the FantasyLabs Models
There are five tight ends atop the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek), Ryan Hodge and I have constructed.
Here’s where they place within our Week 15 fantasy football rankings (as of Thursday evening).
- Travis Kelce: No. 1 (PPR) | No. 1 (Half PPR) | No. 1 (STD)
- T.J. Hockenson: No. 4 (PPR) | No. 4 (Half PPR) | No. 5 (STD)
- Hayden Hurst: No. 14 (PPR) | No. 14 (Half PPR) | No. 14 (STD)
- Jonnu Smith: No. 15 (PPR) | No. 13 (Half PPR) | No. 12 (STD)
- Dalton Schultz: No. 17 (PPR) | No. 18 (Half PPR) | No. 20 (STD)
Of these five, the two who stand out most to me are Kelce and Hockenson. The other guys I will highlight as needed in the section on players with week-winning upside.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
For more in-depth NFL analysis, check out The Action Network.
Travis Kelce: Kansas City Chiefs (-3) at New Orleans Saints (51.5 Over/Under)
With just three games to play, Kelce leads the NFL with an obscene 1,250 yards receiving.
No tight end has ever finished the season as the league’s leading receiver, but I bet that Kelce will be the first one to do it.
I mean that literally. I bet on it. Last week. And I tracked it in The Action Network App.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) December 10, 2020
Whenever Kelce is eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame, his 2020 season will be the one people mention first.
Even though he’s now 31 years old, Kelce has been as dominant as ever this year.
- Week 1 (vs. HOU): 17.0 PPR, 11.0 STD | 6-50-1, six targets
- Week 2 (at LAC): 24.0 PPR, 15.0 STD | 9-90-1, 14 targets
- Week 3 (at BAL): 14.7 PPR, 8.7 STD | 6-87-0, seven targets
- Week 4 (vs. NE): 10.0 PPR, 7.0 STD | 3-70-0, seven targets
- Week 5 (vs. LV): 23.8 PPR, 16.8 STD | 8-108-1, 12 targets
- Week 6 (at BUF): 21.5 PPR, 16.5 STD | 5-65-2, seven targets
- Week 7 (at DEN): 6.1 PPR, 3.1 STD | 3-31-0, three targets
- Week 8 (vs. NYJ): 24.9 PPR, 16.9 STD | 8-109-1, 12 targets
- Week 9 (vs. CAR): 25.9 PPR, 15.9 STD | 10-159-0, 12 targets
- Week 11 (at LV): 26.9 PPR, 18.9 STD | 8-127-1, 10 targets
- Week 12 (at TB): 16.2 PPR, 8.2 STD | 8-82-0, eight targets
- Week 13 (vs. DEN): 27.6 PPR, 19.6 STD | 8-136-1, 12 targets
- Week 14 (at MIA): 27.6 PPR, 19.6 STD | 8-136-1, 10 targets
Unsurprisingly, Kelce is No. 1 among all tight ends with 15.3 expected fantasy points per game (per RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary).
Since quarterback Patrick Mahomes became the full-time starter in 2018, Kelce has been a fantasy TE1 in 87% of his regular-season games (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
In each season with Mahomes, Kelce has been the top tight end in scoring as well as air yards and yards after catch (AirYAC) per game.
- 2020 (12 games): 20.7 PPR (1st), 13.8 STD (1st) | 119.9 AirYAC (1st)
- 2019 (16 games): 16.0 PPR (1st), 10.0 STD (1st) | 102.1 AirYAC (1st)
- 2018 (16 games): 18.5 PPR (1st), 12.1 STD (1st) | 121.4 AirYAC (1st)
AirYAC is a leading indicator of fantasy output. You can find it in the RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary.
And Kelce isn’t just the leader in AirYAC at tight end. He’s one of the leaders for the entire league, and it’s hard for a tight end to approach the AirYAC numbers we see from wide receivers.
AirYAC (air yards + yards after catch) per game entering Week 15:
1. Tyreek: 151 🏆
2. Ridley: 149.9
3. Davante: 148.5
4. Metcalf: 141.8
5. Diggs: 130.8
6. McLaurin: 123
7. Kelce: 119.9 👀
8. Robby: 119.8
9. Mims: 118.3
10. Moore: 118
11. Chark: 117.6
12. Hopkins: 116.9
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) December 17, 2020
Kelce has a bad matchup against the Saints, who are No. 2 with a -31.8% pass-defense DVOA against tight ends — but, really, what does that matter?
With Kelce, matchups are irrelevant.
From a macro perspective, there’s a lot to like about Kelce’s situation. Since head coach Andy Reid joined the franchise in 2013, the Chiefs have been the league’s most profitable road team, going 39-22-1 against the spread (ATS), good for a 25.8% return on investment (ROI, per our Bet Labs database).
On top of that, Mahomes is 29-18-2 ATS (21.5% ROI) for his career, including postseason. The Chiefs should put up points.
Kelce is a weekly must-start top-two TE1 in season-long leagues and a strong pay-up option for cash games. He leads all tight ends in our Models with his median, ceiling and floor projections.
Kelce is also a candidate in guaranteed prize pools. Over the past five-plus years, Kelce has had a 0.76 correlation with his quarterback (per our FantasyLabs Correlations Tool). If Kelce has a big game, Mahomes probably will too. For tournaments, use our Lineup Builder to stack Kelce with his passer.
Kelce is the No. 1 tight end in the Bales, Koerner and SportsGeek Models for FanDuel, where he has a position-high 97% Bargain Rating.
T.J. Hockenson: Detroit Lions (+11) at Tennessee Titans (51.5 O/U)
Hockenson is something of a speculative play given that …
- He’s not Travis Kelce.
- Quarterback Matthew Stafford (ribs) is uncertain to play.
More likely than not, veteran backup Chase Daniel will be starting at quarterback for the Lions in Week 15.
#Lions QB Matthew Stafford’s status is in doubt for Sunday against the #Titans, but he hasn’t been ruled out yet, per me and @TomPelissero. Stafford is tough and has played through a lot, but he was in a ton of pain last night after his rib injury. Chase Daniel would step in.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 14, 2020
I don’t have anything against Daniel, but in his 11-year career, the 34-year-old journeyman has thrown a grand total of eight touchdowns and accumulated a mediocre 6.1 adjusted yards per attempt.
He’s no Stafford.
With Daniel leading the offense, the Lions could be rather anemic.
But No. 1 wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hip) once again looks unlikely to play this weekend, which means that Hockenson could see more than his usual allotment of targets.
Since Golladay suffered his injury in Week 8, Hockenson is No. 3 at the position with 13.7 expected fantasy points and 83.7 AirYAC per game and No. 5 with a 21% target share and 0.44 WOPR.
Since Week 8, Hockenson has been a fantasy TE1 in all games but two.
As for the matchup, it couldn’t be much better: The Titans are No. 32 with a 41.3% pass-defense DVOA against tight ends.
And as a significant road underdog, Hockenson could benefit from extra targets in a pass-heavy game script.
A high-end but not über-elite TE1 in season-long leagues, Hockenson is the No. 1 tight end in the Hodge and Freedman Models for FanDuel, where he has a position-high eight Pro Trends.
Tight Ends With Week-Winning Upside
In this section, I highlight some tight ends I think will outperform expectations and whom I especially like as upside season-long and DFS tournament plays.
Mark Andrews, Ravens (-12.5) vs. Jaguars (47.5 O/U): I’m highly tempted to bet against the Ravens, who have allowed road underdogs to go 12-6 ATS (29.1% ROI) in Jackson’s starts …
… but that doesn’t mean I’m down on Andrews or enthusiastic about the Jags. Andrews looked good last week in his return to action with 5-78-0 receiving on six targets, and opposing tight ends are No. 6 against the Jags with 9.6 fantasy points per game on 52-663-10 receiving. For the season, Andrews is No. 4 with 75.3 AirYAC per game.
Rob Gronkowski, Buccaneers (-6) at Falcons (49.5 O/U): I don’t want to write a blurb about Gronk, but the Falcons are No. 29 with a 22.7% pass-defense DVOA against tight ends … so this is a blurb about Gronk.
Logan Thomas, Football Team (+6) vs. Seahawks (44.5 O/U): Quarterback Alex Smith (calf) is uncertain to play, but even if backup Dwayne Haskins gets the start, Logan will be a viable option. With a minimum of four targets in every game and an average of 5.8 targets for the season, Thomas has an elevated floor. He’s No. 6 among all tight ends with a 0.41 WOPR.
Dallas Goedert, Eagles (+6) at Cardinals (49 O/U): Since the Week 9 bye, Goedert has team-best marks with 25-294-2 receiving, 411 AirYAC and a 21% target share. In full disclosure: I’m betting on the Eagles, as road dogs are 4-1 ATS (53.1% ROI) against the Cardinals under HC Kliff Kingsbury.
Goedert has a minimum of six targets and four receptions in each of the past five weeks.
Jonnu Smith, Titans (-11) vs. Lions (51.5 O/U): The Titans have a slate-high 31.25-point implied Vegas total. In quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s 23 regular-season starts with the Titans, the over is 18-4-1 (58.6% ROI).
Smith is a disgusting 14-137-2 receiving on 24 targets since suffering an ankle injury in Week 6, but he’s No. 3 at the position with eight total touchdowns.
Hayden Hurst, Falcons (+6) vs. Buccaneers (49.5 O/U): No. 1 wide receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) is uncertain to play, so Hurst could enjoy amplified target volume. The Bucs are No. 25 with a 16.6% pass-defense DVOA against tight ends.
Jordan Reed, 49ers (-3) at Cowboys (45 O/U): In the absence of No. 1 tight end George Kittle (foot, IR), Reed has filled in capably with 19-175-3 receiving on 29 targets in his five games with a snap rate of at least 40%. Without wide receiver Deebo Samuel (hamstring), Reed could see extra opportunities. The Cowboys are No. 31 with a 38.1% pass-defense DVOA against tight ends, and Reed has been puttin’ a whoopin’ on Dallas since his days in Washington.
Dalton Schultz, Cowboys (+3) vs. 49ers (45 O/U): In their eight games this year without quarterback Dak Prescott, Schultz and rookie slot receiver CeeDee Lamb have had similar production.
- CeeDee Lamb: 32-309-2 receiving | 6.1 yards per target
- Dalton Schultz: 32-285-1 receiving | 6.8 yards per target
If you like Lamb in DFS this week … maybe invest in Schultz instead? He has position-high +3.38 and +2.08 Projected Plus/Minus values on DraftKings and FanDuel.
Cole Kmet, Bears (+3) at Vikings (46.5 O/U): Since the Week 11 bye, Kmet has replaced veteran Jimmy Graham as the No. 1 tight end on the team.
- Cole Kmet (three games): 81% snap rate | 10-86-1, 17 targets
- Jimmy Graham (three games): 44% snap rate | 7-55-1, 9 targets
In each of the past two weeks in particular Kmet has seven targets.
Jordan Akins, Texans (+7.5) at Colts (51 O/U): Even though the Texans last week were without wide receivers Brandin Cooks (foot/neck), Will Fuller (suspension), Kenny Stills (released) and Randall Cobb (toe, IR), Akins was just 3-20-0 receiving, but at least he had six targets. There are issues with Akins …
Texans TE Jordan Akins has lined up in the slot or out wide on 187 snaps this year.
On 179 of them, the Texans have run a pass play.
Basically, on 23.5% of their 796 offensive snaps, the Texans have told their opponents what they’re doing.
I wonder why they’re 4-9.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) December 18, 2020
… but his 45 and 36 routes run over the past two weeks are the most he has had since he suffered head and ankle injuries in Week 4.
The Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs, Freedman is commonly called the Oracle & the Labyrinthian.
Pictured above: Travis Kelce
Photo credit: Mark Brown/Getty Images