Laying some player groundwork for 2022, we are continuing our Dynasty Tiers for this offseason. So far, we have covered wide receivers , running backs and quarterbacks. Today, we are digging into the tight ends. You can also find full dynasty rankings here.
We are going to lay out the positional tiers with a short synopsis of those tiers and then at the end of the week, top-200 and top-300 rankings will come out for all formats as a cross-reference for gamers.
Some real quick methodology here. If you are new to how I do tiers, I make my dynasty tiers based on a blend of age, fantasy performance, career arc, team situation, and fantasy archetype. There is some overlap to actual player rankings, but these tiers do not specifically follow the rankings, rather those archetypes. There should be tier movement for some players here based on how free agency and the draft plays out, so check back in as news develops this offseason.
The purpose of tiers not being a carbon copy of player rankings is to spot a potential arbitrage situation and shop in different buckets based on how you are constructing your team in startups and looking for trade opportunities. A veteran starter that can accrue points immediately based on where a current roster is and other times chasing more youth and upside for the future.
*Player Age = Age on 9/1/2022
Kyle Pitts (Age: 21.9)
Pitts is in a tier of his own in dynasty circles as he is just so much younger than the field while already commanding a large presence in his offense. He was a player that both sides of the argument were right on in 2021. — he is a different type of talent at tight end than previous rookies, but also still was over-drafted for 2021 production in relation to fantasy.
Pitts was the first rookie tight end to reach 1,000 yards receiving since Mike Ditka in 1961. He lined up all over the field, playing 286 snaps in the slot, 248 snaps inline, and another 237 snaps out wide. Pitts was second among all tight ends in route participation rate (80.6%), ninth in targets per game (6.5), and second in intended air yards (1,204).
There was plenty of meat left on the bone as he closed the season as the TE11 in points per game. Pitts scored just one touchdown (-4.1 below expectation) on that usage while he also ranked 49th out of 51 tight ends in catchable target rate (67.3%) with more than 25 targets on the season. The two players below him (Cameron Brate and Mo-Alie Cox) didn’t even combine to have as many targets as he did. Pitts will turn 22 years old in October with immense upside and a long career runway.
Mark Andrews (27.0)
George Kittle (28.9)
Darren Waller (30.0)
Our next trio of tight ends includes already established fantasy scorers at the front of their position while still not quite as old as the solo player in the next tier.
Mark Andrews was the first tight end other than Travis Kelce to lead the position in scoring since 2015. We finally got to see what Andrews could do with volume as he set career-highs playing 75% of the offensive snaps (10% higher than his previous high) while running 623 routes (273 more than his previous high). That helped Andrews post a gaudy 107-1,361-9 line on 153 targets. He is now the only tight end to score seven or more touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.
We should see some recoil with Andrews for 2022 as he took advantage of a few elements. The Ravens fell apart, forced to have their highest passing rate (56%) since Lamar Jackson took over. Despite that, they still ranked 21st in the league. Andrews also exploded after Jackson was absent, taking advantage of receiving highly efficient targets in the intermediate area for the first time in his career.
We already knew he could win downfield and score touchdowns, but without Jackson Weeks 14-18, Andrews had a 94.2% catchable target rate on throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage after a 75.8% rate with Jackson on those same targets. On throws downfield, it was not as pronounced as Jackson was better than his backups vertically. On throws over 10 yards downfield, Andrews had a 77.1% catchable target rate compared to a 54.5% without.
All of those shallow receptions without Jackson (Andrews caught 32-of-34 for 319 yards and three touchdowns) turned an already good spike-week scorer into a PPR monster. That’s a lot to tie into the potential regression for Andrews in 2022, but even with it, he is still younger than both Kittle and Waller here while already being the best touchdown scorer at his position over the start of his career. It is hard to move him anywhere lower than the TE2 based on those qualities compared to the field here.
2021 was the complete George Kittle experience. We had the measured display of how talented he is and the fantasy ceiling he has in his range of outcomes. Kittle had six weeks as a top-five scoring tight end and posted two of the top-five scoring weeks for a tight end during the regular season. From Weeks 13-15, we saw him reel off a string of games with 9-181-2, 13-151-1, and 6-93-0 on 33 total targets. He also missed another three games and had a handful of games limited by the 49er passing game.
After that three-game run mentioned above, Kittle then caught just 15 passes for 168 yards total on 26 targets over the final six games of the season, getting lost in the sauce of the construct of the 49er offense. With Trey Lance expected to take over next season, there is an added element of variance to Kittle’s range of outcomes next year. That said, Kittle has still not finished lower than TE4 in points per game over the past four years despite the catawampus production.
After a monster 2020 season, Darren Waller took a step back through an injury-filled season. Waller ended 2021 with 55-665-2 on 93 targets, missing six full games. Waller caught just 59.1% of his targets after 73.8% and 76.9% the previous two seasons while his catchable target rate (67.8%) was 47th at his position after rates of 77.9% and 82.6% the prior two years. He found the end zone just twice after nine times the year before. Waller will turn 30 in September, but he still was targeted on 23.5% of his routes (fifth at tight end), averaged 8.5 targets per game (second), and was third in expected points per game (14.6) among his peers.
Travis Kelce (32.9)
Kelce is the inverse of Pitts, getting his own tier based on being in no man’s land in terms of the age apex, but still being as good of a fantasy option on the field as anyone playing his position. Last year was the first time Kelce did not lead the position in points in six years, and although we did see more valleys from him in previous seasons, he was still the TE2 in points per game (16.4), expected points per game (15.7), and third in targets per game (8.4). We always knew Kelce would regress from his historical 2020 season and the field would gain ground, and Kelce was still an excellent fantasy option. Patrick Mahomes isn’t going anywhere while Kelce is still coming off a 92-1,125-9 campaign.
T.J. Hockenson (25.2)
Dallas Goedert (27.7)
Noah Fant (24.8)
Dawson Knox (25.8)
Albert Okwuegbunam (24.4)
Pat Freiermuth (23.9)
Irv Smith Jr. (24.1)
Cole Kmet (23.5)
Trey McBride (22.8)
This next tier of tights consists of all the options we are still hoping to make a complete jump to becoming that next wave of options comparable to the Tier 2 options, establishing careers as options that can threaten yearly to be the top scorer at their position. Tight end is a historically slow burn position, giving time for these younger options to fully blossom.
T.J. Hockenson continued to climb in his third season. His receptions per game have now gone from 2.7 to 4.2 to 5.1 per game to open his career while his targets have climbed from 4.9 to 6.3 to 7.0 per game. Hockenson was targeted on 20.5% of his routes (10th) and seventh in expected points per game (11.7) before being forced to miss the final five games of the season due to a hand injury.
Everything is progressing for Hockenson at a higher rate than any tight end here, the only question with Hockenson is does he really ever develop into a tide-turner at the position? He has yet to rank in the top-20 in depth of target through three seasons while ranking 40th and 18th in yards after the catch per grab the past two years after ranking eighth as a rookie.
Hock has just 15 career targets on throws 20 or more yards downfield (Kyle Pitts had 12 as a rookie) which has resulted in him scoring just one career touchdown from outside of the red zone so far (his first NFL TD) with just two his 12 touchdowns so far coming from over 11 yards. With Amon-Ra St. Brown coming on strong to close the season and the Lions still needing to add playmakers and target competition, we need more sizzle and splash plays out of Hockenson in his profession.
Dallas Goedert is a little older than the rest of these tight ends, but this is his first taste of being the guy at his position in this offense. Goedert has finally been freed from the early-career roadblock that was playing alongside Zach Ertz during his rookie contract. After Ertz was traded following Week 6, Goedert ran a pass route on 79.7% of the Philadelphia dropbacks (a mark that would have been third over the full season) while commanding 24.5% of the Eagle targets in his games played (which would have ranked second). Goedert showed big-play ability, posting a career-high 14.8 yards per reception and 10.9 yards per target.
The only blemish here is that the Eagles’ run-first offense still limited his raw totals to just 24.6 routes run and 6.2 targets per game over that span, which had him 16th in expected points per game (10.0) over that same span. He was able to clear seven targets in just of those games. That can make Goedert a discounted version of George Kittle if the Eagles remain so limited through the air, but the fact that he commanded so much usage immediately post-Ertz was a pro if and when the Eagles have to come out of their shell or if they have new passer under center in 2023 and beyond.
It has not all come together yet for Noah Fant. He posted a fine 68-670-4 line in 2021. He averaged a career-high 4.3 receptions per game, but also had an early career-low depth of target of 6.4 yards, which played a role in dropping down to 9.9 yards per catch, which was also his lowest rate through three seasons.
Fant also took a small step back in targets per game, going from 6.2 per game in 2020 down to 5.6 a year ago, which was 12th at the position while ranking tied for 12th in expected points per game (9.7) at the position. Fant is still at a fledgling state of his career, but a trade to Seattle keeps him potentially having an issue at the quarterback position and slowing down the breakout we are hunting for.
After 52 catches for 676 yards and five touchdowns through two NFL seasons, Dawson Knox caught 49 passes for 587 yards and nine scores in 2021 on 71 targets. Knox fully utilized attachment to the Buffalo offense in Year 3, scoring 32.9% of his fantasy points from touchdowns alone, the highest touchdown dependency in the league. Including the postseason, Knox has now found the end zone at least once in 13 of his past 26 games played. Knox had just two TE1 scoring weeks in his eight games without a touchdown, averaging 6.5 points in those games.
While ranking 20th in targets per game (4.7), and 48th in target rate per route (14.0%) puts Knox in prime regression zone and potentially this year’s Robert Tonyan, Knox also still has that attachment to the Buffalo offense and Josh Allen with the potential to still see more opportunity if the Bills make minimal additions this offseason.
Albert Okwuegbunam took a step forward in playing time and production in Year 2 and he was targeted on 23.5% of his routes run (fourth among tight ends), but he still was limited behind Noah Fant, playing just 47% of the snaps and running 170 pass routes. With Fant now moving on as part of the Russell Wilson trade, Okwuegbunam not only gets a massive quarterback upgrade, but a clear path playing time. Okwuegbunam had the most touchdown catches of any tight end in the 2020 draft class while making noise at the combine with a 4.49 40-yard time at 258 pounds.
Despite a TE24 finish in points per game, Cole Kmet took a step forward across the board in his second season at age 22. While the overall production was not scintillating and he failed to score a touchdown, being so young and jumping to a full-time player should still be considered a positive for a tight end that was selected in the second round the year prior. Now, the ghost of Jimmy Graham (who matched Kmet with six end zone targets) will be gone and the Bears have a massive talent deficiency at wide receiver.
Pat Freiermuth caught 60-of-79 targets for 497 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, coming on as the season progressed and the Steelers lost Eric Ebron to injury. With Ebron out, Freiermuth averaged 4.1 receptions and 11.2 fantasy points per game, running a route on 67.6% of the team dropbacks and receiving 14.6% of the team targets. Freiermuth may run into the early-career upside issues mentioned with Hockenson as a dynamic playmaker while the Steelers still have an immediate quarterback issue, but Freiermuth has upside as a touchdown scorer.
We still do not know what we have in Irv Smith Jr. as he missed all of 2021 due to a meniscus injury. Many had hoped it would be a breakout year for Smith in his third season with Kyle Rudolph leaving in the offseason, but now Smith enters the final year of his rookie contract with a lot to prove. Smith is still a puppy that took a step forward in year two, upping his yards per catch from 8.6 to 12.2 in 2020 while scoring five times after twice as a rookie.
Trey McBride was the first tight end selected in the 2022 draft, heading to Arizona. Zach Ertz just re-signed this offseason with what is at least a two-year deal.
McBride rolled over his production from the shortened 2020 season to carry the Colorado State passing game this season. His 90 catches for 1,121 yards are strong on their counting stats alone, but that also accounted for 37.8% of the team receptions and 41.5% of the team receiving yards. Both of those were far and away the largest rates for any tight end in the country this past season while adding him with this class of wide receivers, McBride ranks third and fifth in those categories. McBride’s 7.5 receptions per game are the second-most of any tight end in their final college season since 2000 while his 93.4 yards per game rank third.
Dalton Schultz (26.1)
Mike Gesicki (26.9)
David Njoku (26.1)
Hunter Henry (27.7)
Tyler Higbee (29.7)
Zach Ertz (31.8)
Evan Engram (28.0)
Jonnu Smith (27.0)
Austin Hooper (27.8)
Dalton Shultz was last season’s TE3 overall and TE5 in points per game, catching 78-of-104 targets for 808 yards and eight touchdowns. Schultz relied on that volume and attachment to the Dallas offense in a similar fashion to Austin Hooper when he was with the Falcons, so remaining in Dallas was vital. Schultz averaged 10.4 yards per catch while ranking ninth in expected points per game (10.9).
Mike Gesicki is another free agent. While Gesicki has left plenty of meat on the bone the past few seasons, he has been a top-12 scorer in each of the past three seasons overall while ranking as the TE16, TE9, and TE14 in points per game over that span. A contested-catch maven, Gesicki’s intrigue comes from attaching himself to an aggressive quarterback willing to let him win in a way like Ryan Fitzpatrick did.
Tyler Higbee has not been able to recapture the ceiling he showcased to end the 2019 season, but he turned in a respectable TE13 scoring season per game in 2021 while ranking 11th in expected points per game. Higbee was solid to close the year, with at least five receptions in the final four games of the year and is under contract for two more seasons.
Hunter Henry was Dawson Knox-lite in his first season with the Patriots. Henry closed as the TE10 overall but relied on the strength of nine touchdowns to carry his water as he ranked 22nd in targets per game (4.4), 26th in receptions per game (2.9), and 18th in yardage per game (35.5). Henry was second at his position with 13 end zone targets, but we appear to be short of Henry ever manifesting into the potential he showed early in his career for fantasy.
Evan Engram and David Njoku were selected in the first round in 2017. Neither were able to live up to that capital through five years in the production department, combining for just four TE1 scoring seasons per game with three coming from Engram and none since 2019.
Njoku will still only turn 26 years old this July, coming off a career-high 13.2 yards per catch and 9.0 yards per target despite only playing 64% of the offensive snaps. He is getting a quarterback upgrade while the team has moved on from veteran Austin Hooper.
After a promising start to Engram’s career, sledding in the New York offense has been tough as he is coming off career-lows with 3.1 receptions and 27.2 yards per game with a career-low 8.9 yards per catch and 5.6 yards per target.
Engram’s usage has been a big mystery compared to his collegiate profile as he has not stretched the field since his rookie season. After a 9.0 averaged depth of target in 2017, Engram has carried a 5.5, 6.5, 7.4, and 6.1 yard aDOT since.
It was hard for anyone to produce anything in the Giants’ offense, but as mentioned above, his new Jacksonville offense was a struggle in itself a year ago on levels equal to New York. Engram has a new lifeline, but still has to claw back to regain our trust as a TE1 or streamer we have faith in.
After a mid-season trade for Zach Ertz, the team made it a priority to bring him back this offseason, giving him a three-year extension. In 11 games with the Cardinals, Ertz averaged 5.1 receptions for 52.2 yards per game with three scores. Seven of those games came without Hopkins, where Ertz averaged 9.0 targets per game while receiving a team-high 24.0% of the targets in those games.
Brevin Jordan (22.1)
Hunter Long (24.0)
Adam Trautman (24.0)
Greg Dulcich (22.4)
Jelani Woods (23.9)
Daniel Bellinger (21.9)
Cade Otton (23.4)
Jeremy Ruckert (22.1)
Chig Okonkwo (23.0)
Charlie Kolar (23.6)
Isaiah Likely (22.4)
Kylen Granson (24.4)
Jacob Harris (25.0)
Harrison Bryant (24.4)
Tommy Tremble (22.2)
John Bates (24.8)
Our tier of rookie contract bench darts.
Both Brevin Jordan and Hunter Long looked like solid prospects last spring approaching the draft. Jordan was inactive the first seven weeks of the season, but was able to get on the field as the season progressed, catching three touchdowns over his final eight games played, but was still stifled by the Houston offense, turning in 8.9 yards per catch and 6.4 yards per target. We still need that offense to make a huge jump. Long played just 90 offensive snaps and received just three targets as a rookie while Miami retained Mike Gesicki for at least 2022 via the franchise tag.
This 2022 tight end class did have any blue chip talents and that bore out with the investment teams made this spring.
If making deep swings among the 2022 rookies, Daniel Bellinger and Chig Okonkwo are among my favorite longer plays.
Rob Gronkowski (33.3)
Logan Thomas (31.2)
C.J. Uzomah (29.6)
Gerald Everett (28.2)
Robert Tonyan (28.3)
Cameron Brate (31.2)
Our tier of veterans that are going to be on rosters and play snaps, giving them a pulse as bye-week fill-ins based on playing time.
If Rob Gronkowski returns to play in 2022, he will move up as a swing to take for another spike season. As a free agent, we should assume that if Gronk does play, he will cherry-pick his spot on a team that has real contending odds and an established quarterback. Gronk was the TE3 in points per game last season and has never finished lower than TE16 in that department. If Gronk does retire or leave Tampa Bay, Cameron Brate could be the last tight end standing in Tampa should O.J. Howard also not re-sign.
Logan Thomas has a TE1 season on his resume, but there is a lot of fragility here at age-31 coming off an ACL injury in December. Thomas just signed an extension last offseason that has an out year after this season should he not be fully back to his 2020 production.
Gerald Everett posted a 48-478-4 line in his first season in the turtle-paced Seattle passing game. Everett was able to post five TE1 scoring weeks over the final nine weeks of the season, but also received fewer than five targets in 12-of-15 games played. Moving to the Chargers, Everett lands in a spot with attachment to an elite quarterback and aggressive offense to give him upside as a boom-or-bust TE2.
C.J. Uzomah was 11th among all tight ends in route participation (73.1%) in 2021. He only managed to turn in three TE1 scoring weeks, but he also led all tight ends in scoring in two of those weeks. Uzomah also found more work to close the season, receiving at least 15% of the team targets in each of the seven games prior to being injured in the AFC Championship, turning in games of 6-64-1 and 7-71-0 in the postseason before that game.
That performance and finish landed him a three-year contract with the Jets, a team starved for tight end production. Jets’ tight ends combined for 50 catches for 534 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Uzomah was a fantasy TE2 in a strong Cincinnati offense, so there is no way to elevate him to starting status with the Jets.
O.J. Howard (27.8)
Dan Arnold (27.5)
Foster Moreau (25.3)
Donald Parham (25.0)
Tre’ McKitty (23.6)
Noah Gray (23.3)
Josiah Deguara (25.5)
Tyler Conklin (27.1)
Jared Cook (35.4)
Ian Thomas (26.2)
Chris Herndon (26.5)
Devin Asiasi (25.0)
Jordan Akins (30.4)
Mo Alie-Cox (29.0)
We’re at the bottom of the barrel here with our longshots to tack onto the tail end of benches. Long live the eternal hope for Donald Parham getting actual run with Justin Herbert.