As we continue to lay the groundwork for the 2022 season, we are digging into this incoming rookie class for Dynasty Rookie Drafts, startups, and even the potential these young players can have on the 2022 seasonal formats. Even prior to the actual NFL Draft in April, rookies are available in Best Ball formats across all platforms. So far, we have covered the top-10 wide receivers and then WRs 11-40, as well as the top-10 running backs and the secondary depth of the running back position.
Now that the NFL combine has passed, we have a plethora of new athletic data on this upcoming rookie class. That information can be applied to athletic models and used to shape out the full portfolio for prospects to go along with production profiles, which is a general overlay of what these players put on tape for NFL teams.
As we get more athletic testing data coming in, we will add notes here to those prospects. However, overall, athletic testing has a low correlation to actual fantasy output and when it does, it is typically counted twice from a productive player in the first place. But when a prospect has subpar athletic testing paired with a limited or nonexistent production resume, then we are playing with fire when attempting elevate or count on that player for NFL production.
Setting up some more of the process here, although I do prospect models for each of the skill positions and will share the ranks for the players in those models, my personal ranks do not strictly follow those models linearly. I use the prospect models in a similar fashion as I do projection models for the NFL season. We are looking for immediate market inefficiencies in leagues where we are drafting rookies prior to the actual NFL draft.
Post-draft we’ll have the added influence of draft investment and landing spot to add to the layout. Those two components carry the most influence in predicting immediate player usage, so things will be shaken up a bit come April and we will revisit both ranks and adjust accordingly, although I would express caution early on in avoiding overweighting those elements dramatically altering your approach on a player.
With all of that set up out of the way, let’s dig into the top prospects of this tight end class. You can go back and find the 2020 and 2021 versions of this article to look at the hits and misses along the way. I can say right away on the surface, although there is no Kyle Pitts-level prospect here, this tight end class does offer more depth than the previous two seasons.
1. Greg Dulcich, UCLA, FY Age: 21.8 (MR: TE3)
Dulcich does not have the counting stats of a Trey McBride, but he provides downfield upside at the next level, something we want to attach ourselves to at the tight end position.
Dulcich leads this class in career yards per reception (17.6), exiting UCLA with a class-high depth of target of 11.9 yards. 55.2% of Dulcich’s targets came on throws over 10 yards downfield, not only the highest rate of all tight ends in this class, but ranking fourth overall among all pass catchers, trailing only Alec Piece, Kevin Austin, and Jameson Williams. 20.9% of his targets came on throws 20 or more yards downfield, also the highest rate in this class.
At the end of things, Dulcich accounted for 27.7% of the UCLA receiving yards (third in this class) on 20.3% of the receptions (fifth) while his 2.16 yards per team target ranked third.
Anticipated to rival McBride in expected draft capital, Dulcich does not have the floor of McBride, but represents more upside.
2. Trey McBride, Colorado State, Final Year Age: 22.1 (Model Rank: TE1)
McBride rolled over his production from the shortened 2020 season to carry the Colorado State passing game this season. McBride’s 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.
The one blemish on McBride’s resume is that he found the end zone just once in 2021 while his 6.1% touchdown rate over his career ranks 19th in this class. McBride is not a massive yards after the catch asset to suggest he does carry inflated counting stats based on his environment and lack of surrounding talent. McBride racked up 24 targets this past season behind the line of scrimmage per Sports Info Solutions, while the next closest tight end in this class had just 13.
Still, McBride is projected to be selected in the second round in April, paired with his overall production make him a solid bet to make an impact as a reception-based tight end in fantasy.
3. Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina, FY Age: 21.7 (MR: TE2)
Likely has a strong production profile, which is why the model loves him. This past season at Coastal Carolina, Likely accounted for 25.9% of the team receptions (second in this class), 27.4% of the receiving yardage (fourth), and 36.4% of the receiving touchdowns (second). His 2.83 yards per team pass attempt were tops in this class, while he also led this group in yards after the catch per reception (7.1 yards), rate of yardage (42.9%) gained as an isolated receiver, yards per route run (3.74), while ranking second in yards per route run against man coverage (3.1 yards). He also has the most career touchdowns (27) in this class.
While that is all strong on the page, Likely still has to answer a limited profile against Power-5 opponents paired with having a team invest in him in context of this class, as he could be the last one selected in April among the top-five in these ranks.
4. Jelani Woods, Virginia, FY Age: 23.2 (MR: TE5)
A former wide receiver that could hardly find the field at Oklahoma State, Woods transferred to Virginia, moved to tight end, and it paid off as he caught 44 passes for 598 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021 after a 31-361-4 line total over his first three seasons.
Woods is an absolute unit at 6’7” and 259 pounds, running a 4.61 forty at the combine, posting the highest speed score in this class (and 93rd percentile at his position since 2000). That showed in his game this year as well. Only Dulcich had a higher average depth of target than Woods at 10.7 yards. For his size, you better be able to win in traffic, and Woods caught 61.1% of his contested catch targets, second in this class.
Woods is on the older end compared to his company at the top of the position, but his size and physical profile should draw tangible draft capital in relation to Likely and Wydermyer.
5. Charlie Kolar, Iowa State, FY Age: 22.9 (MR: TE7)
Kolar enters the draft leading this class in career receptions (168) and yards (2,181) while collecting 23 touchdowns over his four seasons at Iowa State. While his non-early declare status allowed him to accumulate counting stats, Kolar also does show up at the top of this class in a number of peripheral metrics.
Kolar ranks first in this class in contested catch conversion (66.7%), first in rate of targets to gain a first down or touchdown (48.4%), while ranking third in yards per route run (2.35). What hurts him is overall dynamism, averaging just 3.98 yards after the catch per grab (10th), but he could end up being a poor man’s fantasy play on McBride.
6. Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State, FY Age: 21.4 (MR: TE9)
Ruckert is a scout favorite to be selected highly as the best inline tight end in this class, but when we are solely looking at fantasy production, we have a long way to go.
Ruckert is tops in this class with 22.2% of his career receptions going for touchdowns, but he is 18th in this class in yards per team pass attempt (0.63), posting a 54-615-12 line in total over his time at Ohio State. That puts him in the 23rd percentile for production score for all prospects since 2000.
His projected draft capital gives him an added pulse strictly for getting on the field, but as we have seen from Ohio State tight ends such as Luke Farrell (pick 145), Jeff Heuerman (pick 92), and Nick Vannett (94) in recent seasons with limited receiving resumes and solid draft capital, there is still a lot of projection we have to bake into Ruckert hitting in fantasy circles.
7. Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M, FY Age: 21.0 (MR: TE4)
Wydermyer caught 32 passes for 447 yards and six touchdowns as a 19-year-old freshman, positing a 21% dominator rating out of the packaging. He remained productive over his next two seasons, but with minimal growth, positing seasons of 46-506-6 and 40-515-4 the next two seasons. Typically, we look for that consistent upward trajectory leading to a spike season entering the NFL, and Wydermyer was at the bottom of these top prospects in yards per route run against man coverage (1.18) and yards per route overall (1.67) while also being the lowest in the percentage of targets to result in a first down or touchdown (37.5%).
Wydermyer still is a young player that ended his career ranking fourth in this class in receptions per game (3.4) and sixth in yardage per game (41.9). Wydermyer also comes with downfield ability, ranking third in this class in average depth of target (9.5 yards), but those red flags paired with registering as a first percentile athlete at his position leave him in a tough place to even be drafted.
Rest of the Class…
8. Cole Turner, Nevada, FY Age: 21.8 (MR: TE6)
9. Peyton Hendershot, Indiana, FY Age: 22.7 (MR: TE8)
10. Chig Okonkwo, Maryland, FY Age: 22.3 (MR: TE10)
11. Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin, FY Age: 23.0 (MR: TE12)
12. Grant Calcaterra, SMU, FY Age: 23.1 (MR: TE11)
13. Austin Allen, Nebraska, FY Age: 23.1 (MR: TE13)
14. Daniel Bellinger, San Diego State, FY Age: 21.3 (MR: TE14)
15. Cade Otton, Washington, FY Age: 22.7 (MR: TE15)
16. James Mitchell, Virginia Tech, FY Age: 22.4 (MR: TE16)
17. Curtis Hodges, Arizona State, FY Age: N/A (MR: TE17)
18. Chase Allen, Iowa State, FY Age: 24.5 (MR: TE18)
19. Teagan Quitoriano, Oregon State, FY Age: N/A (MR: TE19)
20. Connor Heyward, Michigan State, FY Age: N/A (MR: TE20)
Past Ruckert, we are at the mercy of draft capital with the rest of this class, placing the depth as longer plays in terms of not only when they will be drafted, but also with a longer path to playing time.
Cole Turner broke out the past two seasons with years of 49-605-9 and 62-677-10 attached to the pass-heavy Nevada offense and Carson Strong but playing in that offense elevated a player that was forced to convert 30.5% of his targets in contested catch situations, the highest rate in this class. That dependency was backed up by Turner at the combine, registering a 31st percentile physical score and 30th percentile speed score. That is not endearing for a player that played 85% of his snaps in the slot or split out wide.
Peyton Hendershot has some good underlying metrics covering the limitations he faced in the lackluster Indiana offense. Hendershot turned in a respectable 46-543-4 line, but those totals were 22.6% of the team receptions (fourth), 32.3% of the yards (second), and 44.4% of the team receiving touchdowns (first). He had the lowest depth of target (7.1 yards) in this class, accruing just one target all season on a throw over 20 yards downfield.
Austin Allen ranked fourth in this class in yards per team attempt (1.76) and eighth in share of team receiving yards (21.2%), but last in this class in career touchdown rate (4.6%).
If you are looking for tight ends that showed up at the combine, but lack production profiles, Daniel Bellinger came out of Indy with an 86th percentile physical score (second in this class) while Chig Okonkwo was third in the 79th percentile for all prospects since 2000.