In recent years, tight end has proven to be a skeleton key to winning fantasy leagues. This is evidenced by my 2021 Fantasy MVPs article, where Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce finished in the Top-9 of Points Above Average per game. As evidenced by Shawn Siegele in April, having an elite tight end has been utterly dominant in recent seasons.
Due to the supercharge effect it has on the team; I’m frequently targeting elite tight ends. However, when you miss on an elite tight end, you need a contingency plan. These are the tight ends I’m targeting this season.
Travis Kelce, TE1
For nearly his entire career Travis Kelce has provided an above-average win rate. Put simply, drafting Kelce has consistently been a favorable proposition for your fantasy team – even at his expensive price.
In 2021, Kelce recorded the most receiving yards for a 32-year-old tight end ever. At his age, it’s simply hard to produce. Per the Peak Age for Tight Ends, only 7.5% of peak seasons have taken place at 33 years old or older.
To gain some perspective, here are the only 32-year-old tight ends in NFL history to record above 800 receiving yards.
Obviously, 800 yards would be a huge disappointment for Kelce but this highlights how rare this feat at this age has been. Nearly every player on this list saw a decrease in production in their age-33 season. While Kelce is the best of the bunch, there is some concern. Below are his career stats.
One concerning note is Kelce’s age-32 season saw the lowest yards per target of his career. Usually decreasing efficiency at an older age is a bad sign. But it must also be noted that it was by far Patrick Mahomes’ worst year in terms of yards per attempt: 7.4, a full yard below his career average.
Kelce also played through a neck injury and dealt with COVID during the 2021 season. With Tyreek Hill gone, Kelce will unquestionably receive significant volume. Even with age concerns, when Kelce falls past ADP in the mid-second round, he’s worth selecting.
Mark Andrews, TE2
While Mark Andrews doesn’t have the same age concerns as Kelce, there are offensive-scheme concerns. Surely, you’ve heard by now that the Ravens will push their offense to return to their previously run-heavy ways.
Although Andrews will be featured regardless, his targets could be limited by the offensive philosophy. It’s easy to see how the pass-heavy game plans benefitted Andrews in 2021.
The hope is the Ravens aren’t going back to the Stone Age and can find a happy medium to continue to feature Andrews enough to meet his price. After trading Marquise Brown, Andrews and Rashod Bateman should be targeted relentlessly.
Kyle Pitts, TE3
I’ve already spilled enough ink to indicate that Pitts is my favorite tight end target. I’m a sucker for players who have dominated throughout their football life and at just 21 years old, Pitts has excelled in every opportunity that he’s received, culminating in a historic rookie season.
Pitts is a unicorn, and he will be even better as a second-year player. If the Falcons’ quarterback play can be average, the sky is the limit for one of the league’s up-and-coming stars.
Still A Weekly Advantage
Darren Waller, TE4
After a 10-catch opener, it looked like 2021 was going to be a huge season for Darren Waller. Unfortunately, the season was derailed by injuries and poor efficiency. Still, over the last three years, Waller ranks second in receptions and receiving yards, and is tied for first in target share. Carr loves to target Waller and while the addition of Davante Adams will take targets away, the value of the targets will surely rise. Defenses will no longer be able to key in on Waller and attempt to remove him from game plans.
Not a player to reach on, Waller isn’t as exciting as Pitts. But when he falls below ADP, Waller is another way to gain an advantage at the tight end position while not paying as much. He’s also a fun way to play a Raiders offense that could be scoring a lot of points in 2022.
George Kittle, TE5
Arguably the best real-life tight end in the league, it’s sad that I almost excluded George Kittle from this list. Let’s start with why I love Kittle:
- For his career, Kittle is averaging a ridiculous 9.7 yards per target
- Kittle led all tights with at least 150 routes in targets per route run and finished behind only Dallas Goedert in yards per target and yards per route run
- Kittle is the bully of all bullies – leading all tight ends in broken tackle percentage and finishing top-5 in yards after contact per reception
While there’s no denying the excellent player that Kittle is, his team leaves cause for concern:
- The 49ers love rushing the ball and were even more run-heavy with Trey Lance at QB
- In games that Lance played, Kittle’s targets per game dropped from 7.11 to 6.2
- In Lance’s one start with Kittle healthy, Kittle caught one pass for 29 yards
- Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk command significant targets in an offense that likely won’t throw the ball frequently
Even with significant concerns, Kittle is such an obvious talent that he’s hard to pass when he falls past ADP.
T.J. Hockenson, TE7
Being selected 37 picks after Kittle and 20 picks after Dalton Schultz on average, T.J. Hockenson has become a very intriguing selection. Many are off Hockenson after a disappointing last season that involved injuries and significant defensive attention. Obviously, this involves making some excuses so why am I optimistic?
Hockenson was good enough for everyone to buy into last season, based on this evidence:
- 8th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft
- Excellent athlete
- Good college production
- Solid involvement/production during his first two season
He’s being drafted as TE7 and finished as the TE7 in fantasy points per game last season. Essentially, I think he’s being drafted at his floor, while his ceiling is much higher.
Hockenson received tons of defensive attention last season. As Benjamin Raven explained, “He was getting bumped at the line of scrimmage by two guys. Defenses were throwing everything they had at Hockenson because there was just nothing out there.”
In addition, one could argue the expectation for Hockenson was premature. Most tight end peak seasons take place at age 25, which Hockenson will be this season. Comparable players like Vernon Davis provide reasons for optimism.
Has Hockenson done so little that he should be faded? Did he disappoint enough last year that you’re out on his profile? I’ll take the dip in price rather than drafting Dalton Schultz, a player who prior to last year didn’t match any of Hockenson’s production, draft capital, or athleticism.
There are a lot of interesting tight ends that can be drafted in the late rounds. Guys like Irv Smith, Pat Freiermuth, and Cole Kmet provide reasons for excitement. The two listed below and simply my favorite when combined with price.
Albert Okwuegbunam, TE16
At TE16, Albert Okwuegbunam is a value. Although he didn’t run nearly as many routes as Noah Fant, Albert was excellent in terms of yards per route run and targets per route run. In terms of yards per route run, he finished behind only Kittle, Goedert, Andrews, Gronk, Pitts, and Kelce. A bully with the ball in his hands, Albert averaged 7.5 yards after catch per reception.
In addition to his impressive production last year, Albert is arguably the league’s most athletic tight end. At 6’ 6” 258 lbs., Albert ran a 4.49 40 time. He also produced early and consistently in college.
Yes, Greg Dulcich does provide some theoretical volume concerns but generally, it’s very difficult for rookie tight ends to produce consistently. It’s much more likely that Albert plays consistently as the starter. On an offense that has the potential to be among the league’s best, Albert has sky-high upside at a low price.
Noah Fant, TE21
While his landing spot leaves much to be desired, Noah Fant is still a very intriguing player. A former first-round pick who can contend with Albert O for the best athlete at the position, Fant will turn 25 this season. Prior to entering the NFL, he also had excellent age-adjusted production.
As a pro, Fant has at least 550 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons. The only other tight end since 1990 to check that box is Mark Andrews.
Per Player Profiler, Fant was first out of tight ends in target separation. Fant finished as the TE12 last season and despite no longer competing with Albert O is now being selected as TE21. Yes, his QB play was this season but it was also terrible last season.
He’s already captured Pete Carrol’s attention.
Pete Carroll said TE Noah Fant "had maybe the most spectacular camp of anybody." #Seahawks
— John Boyle (@johnpboyle) June 9, 2022
At a TE21 price tag, it’s hard to imagine Fant being anything but a good selection with upside for more.