2021 Free Agent Positional Preview: Tight Ends
I researched the available free agent lists in late-Feb./early March in order to get a feel for the marketplace and identify key players likely on the move; players that could shift a team's fortunes under-the-radar if a team landed/grabbed a bunch of them. We have the obvious names, the under-the-radar, and the trap doors to look at.
Here’s my take on 2021 NFL free agency…the players I’m really watching for fantasy, handicapping, etc., on where they might land.
The Top 3 Available According To NFL Analysts:
1) Hunter Henry, LAC – Everyone’s #1 name. The only free agent TE with any universal acceptance. Except, I’m not in that universe. Never been. We’ll get into that over the next few segments.
The Chargers did not franchise tag Hunter Henry, but I think he is 50% likely to re-sign with the Chargers because no one in the NFL has any doubts about his greatness AND I believe he is close enough with Justin Herbert to not mess with it – but I think they should move on. I hope they do for Herbert’s sake.
2) Jonnu Smith, TEN – Smith feels like the youngster option among free agent TEs, but he’s only a year younger than Henry (26+ to 25+ today). Smith has flashed some as a receiver…reliable and terrific breaking tackles/running away from defenders after the catch.
Because of the void of good TE prospects, some team is going to pay a lot of money for a shorter/smaller TE who is a so-so blocker here. But he is the best weapon TE in the 2021 FA class.
3) Gerald Everett, LAR – Completely overrated since day one. Another terrible pick/play by the boy genius Sean McVay. Was going to be his ‘Jordan Reed’ in LA…and nothing of the sort happened. He should return to the Rams, but with the Rams in cash crunch and the NFL intelligentsia thinking Everett is a sleeper – this is a sucker’s bet some NFL will pay up for at TE…and it shows the state of the TE marketplace, which is barren (and why Kyle Pitts as the #1 prospect in the NFL Draft isn’t as crazy as it sounds – that’s more conversation for later).
The Top 3 Talents Available/To Target If I Were an NFL GM:
1) None – This free agent class of tight ends, as usual, is garbage…’garbage’ in the sense of talent vs. the cost. There are some OK/decent options among the rubble, but the price teams are going to pay for it is ridiculous. We have an overabundance of WR talent in free agency as well as it flooding into the NFL from college…but it’s a barren wasteland of available tight end talent by comparison.
Teams with TE issues are going to force themselves to pay up for marginal talent – and that’s bad business.
2) Jonnu Smith, TEN – If you’re going to pay up for a free agent TE, it might as well be Jonnu. He’s the most athletic and weapon-like of all the FA TEs this year, albeit a smaller than preferred (by the NFL) TE. Of all the TEs in this (unrestricted) free agent group, Jonnu is the only real difference-maker hope.
3) Kyle Rudolph, MIN – Rudolph is the best choice for a title contending team looking for a short-term spend, albeit fairly expensive, but better than a bigger/longer term deal TE (like Jonnu or Henry).
If teams are still giving good money to Greg Olsen and Jason Witten (a year ago), the 31-year-old Rudolph is a ‘spring chicken’ by comparison. A very good blocker and terrific hands, but tugboat slow. Title contenders are going to bid him up here. Where to ultimately? We’ll predict that in the final segment.
The Top 3 Values/Sleepers According to FFM:
1) Dan Arnold, ARI – There are Robert Tonyan possibilities here…a former small school, athletic WR converted to legit NFL WR. Arnold has above average TE athleticism numbers and WR experience, but so-so hands hold him back some…as does the Arizona offense which doesn’t use the TE like other traditional offenses.
Arnold might be a bit of a breakout in a dome offense with a good+ QB/passing game.
2) MyCole Pruitt, TEN – Was a real receiver talent in college…one of the top FCS receiving TE’s in that level’s history…a TE/WR hybrid. Pruitt bulked up for the pros and has become a solid blocker and could be a hidden receiver threat…but he’s been buried on the ‘ignore the TE’ Titans offense.
3) Richard Rodgers, PHI – Only 29 years old, and it looked like his career might have been mostly over a year ago…but Philly re-signed him when a TE injury crisis hit them midseason – and Rodgers looked the best, most spry I’d ever seen him. I’m not suggesting him as a purposed starter play – but for depth and options, I think he showed enough last season to warrant a roster spot.
Over his final four games played in the 2020 season – 3.8 rec., 61.5 yards, and 0.25 TDs per game.
The Top 3 Problems According to FFM:
1) Hunter Henry, LAC – Go look over his career…he had a solid season in his rookie year, then he’s been underwhelming or losing whole seasons to injury since…but because he was SUPPOSED to be great years ago, the mainstream will not let go of the label.
I will add…watching him last year in-season…wow…he looks very slow. He looks like the injuries have caught up to him. He’s a trap door/mistake signing some team is going to get burned by.
2) Gerald Everett, LAR – Never been near as good as his hype…all because Sean McVay took him highly, it glosses over his very sloppy play. He’s got so-so hands. He makes little mistakes that hurt in ways outside of the traditional stats we look at…out of position, wrong route, and not getting out of bounds to stop the clock in the hurry up. He’s not a three-down TE for an NFL team.
3) Trey Burton, IND – If you thought Hunter Henry was looking slow in 2020, Burton looked like he played with cement shoes on. Another TE who is looking past his prime. Experienced…yes. Athletic/talented enough for a ‘deal’ in free agency…no.
-- Jonnu Smith…
Where I hope he goes: LA Chargers with Justin Herbert or Indianapolis…to be the TE that Trey Burton was supposed to be years ago.
Where I guess he lands: LA Chargers…more so wishful thinking for Herbert’s FF upside. Houston is not out of the question.
-- Kyle Rudolph likely lands with a contender, and my guess would be…Tennessee or Miami.
-- Hunter Henry likely lands with a team that cannot attract good free agent names naturally, so they’ll overpay to splash and feel like they stole a gem here…so like the Jets or Bengals.
-- Gronk will be back with the Bucs for one more TB ride.
-- Jordan Reed looked like he got some of his groove back in 2020 but got hurt and missed time too (per usual). He’s a sleeper one-year signing for a team wanting a TE for the passing game, a part-time TE/limited snaps TE. I bet he’s back with the 49ers.
-- Trey Burton should have a hard time finding a landing spot, so I expect he’ll rejoin Indy for a minimum deal and be a backup. BUT I expect Zach Ertz is headed to Indy as well, so Burton would be behind him for depth or just stays a free agent into the season start who gets signed in-season when TE injuries hit somewhere.
College Football Metrics (CFM) 2021 Season – For Dynasty Rookie Drafts, NFL Drafts, Handicapping, etc.
It’s going to be a scouting NFL Draft season like no other – some top prospects opting out of their final college season, a unique schedule for CFB teams to have played, a different type of bowl season…a whole new backdrop to scout against. An experienced, talented scouting eye is going to rule. I have 10+ years of successful CFM scouting and analytics to lean on – I’m ready for the challenge.
I know the mainstream football analysis is going to butcher this year’s class even worse than normal – because they are going to blindly favor big school prospects more than ever, because those schools will have the only names they are truly familiar with, and it’s just the ‘name’ they are familiar with not their ‘game’. They’ll ‘hive mind’ run with whatever names the collective seems to be buzzing about – because they don’t put in the work, they just echo things they’ve heard. I’m not saying that to be a jerk – it’s the open window of opportunity (their failure) that I was able to build my career/business upon.
I spend many hours each offseason day/week/month researching the current class of top 100+ prospects individually as well as all the smaller school and ‘lesser named’ prospects our computer models start to identify. I study and compare prospect’s tape, and I input the performance data (weighted with our secret, proprietary scouting formulas) to get a firsthand feel for it so I can analyze and test/challenge all our analytics. I get to know these prospects on the field, statistically, and do character background research as well -- so I can boil it down to reports so my private clients and subscribers (from serious fantasy players to professional handicappers, to agents, to NFL war room personnel) can know these prospects by description and statistically – for NFL purposes, for Dynasty Rookie Draft purposes, for Fantasy Best Ball/Redraft purposes in the preseason, and for handicapping and prop betting purposes.
If you love Fantasy Football, if you love the NFL Draft process – I guarantee you’ll never look at the process the same way again with a CFM subscription.
As the regular season football ends, a whole new season of football discovery begins with our ‘CFM’ subscription and study or current and past rookies (offense and defense) – and material flows daily all offseason January to September (NFL season start), leading us to using the material to our advantage for the NFL regular season.
Go to our College Football Metrics or Fantasy Football Metrics subscription pages for more information.
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