1. Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs) – Kelce has been the gold standard at tight end for several seasons, earning over 110 targets and totaling over 1,000 yards for six straight seasons. Over that time, he’s also never played less than 15 games in a season. Consistency over such a long stretch is impressive, but it also shows Kelce has been around a while. The decline is coming, and Kelce will turn 33 this season. His average depth-of-target has decreased over the past four seasons, and the Chiefs’ offense is undergoing a shift with the loss of Tyreek Hill. Kelce’s target share is already so high and his usage so different from Hill’s that it’s hard to see Kelce inheriting much of Hill’s workload.
Without Hill to draw the defense’s attention, the entire offense’s efficiency may suffer. But Kelce is still tied to Patrick Mahomes, so Kelce’s floor remains sky-high. With an ADP pushing the end of the first round, Kelce is probably someone I’m passing on, but he still deserves the number one tight end ranking heading into the season.
2. Mark Andrews (Baltimore Ravens) – Andrews has a case to be the number one tight end. He paced the position in targets, receptions, receiving yards, air yards, end zone targets, and touchdowns. But last year was a bit of an anomaly for the Ravens, as they went from one of the most run-heavy teams in the league to throwing the ball over 600 times. Their jump in pass attempts was likely the product of injuries to Lamar Jackson and their running backs rather than a change in offensive philosophy. A significant amount of Andrew’s production came with the backup quarterbacks, and while Andrews was lighting it up, those stats were not translating to Baltimore wins.
Andrews will likely see fewer targets this season. But his involvement in the Baltimore passing attack is elite, as he ran a route on 93% of Baltimore’s passing plays. As he enters his age-27 season, he should be hitting his prime, and his combination of touchdown upside and big-play ability lock him in as a top-tier tight end. Kelce gets the edge for now because he’s attached to a better passing offense, but Andrews is right behind him and a better value given the discounted ADP.
3. Kyle Pitts (Atlanta Falcons) – Pitts is coming off a historic rookie season at a position with a traditionally hard transition to the NFL. Deployed frequently as both a slot and perimeter receiver, Pitts was a tight end in name only en route to over 1,000 receiving yards. Pitts averaged double-digit PPR points despite scoring just one touchdown and is a prime positive-regression candidate after leading the Falcons in red-zone and end-zone targets. He averaged over two yards per route run, placing him in elite company, and led all tight ends in aDOT (min. 30 targets).
Pitts is a generational athlete, and while the Atlanta offense may struggle again this season, he will be the focal point of that offense. The addition of rookie Drake London should take some of the defensive pressure off Pitts, and new quarterback Marcus Mariota has historically had no issue feeding his tight end. If Pitts can improve on his rookie season, it will only be a matter of time before he’s the consensus number one tight end in fantasy and is currently a clear target at his ADP.
4. Darren Waller (Las Vegas Raiders) – Waller is the first tight end on this list who isn’t a favorite to lead his team in targets after the Raiders acquired Davante Adams this offseason. But Waller should still eclipse 100 targets as the Raiders transition to a more aggressive offense under new coach Josh McDaniels. Adams will prevent defenses from sending multiple defenders at Waller regularly, and the entire offense looks to be on the rise.
Waller did deal with injuries last year, and at almost 30 years old, he’s probably older than you think. He’s also coming off a down year in the touchdown department, and adding a red-zone specialist in Adams to slot-ace Hunter Renfrow probably means Waller will frequently be the third read by the goal line. Waller falls out of the top tier due to those touchdown concerns, but he’s among the elite at the position and has the weekly upside to match any of the tight ends above him. Last season Waller earned nine targets in the Raiders’ win-and-in final week of the season and another 12 in their playoff game. That type of trust from the quarterback doesn’t go away just because Adams is in town.
5. George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers) – Kittle is one of the toughest players to rank. He has a case as the most talented all-around tight end in the league and has shown off week-winning upside. On the other hand, he’s battled injuries, never topped six touchdowns in a season, and is in an offense transitioning to an unknown quantity at quarterback.
Unlike the other elite tight ends, Kittle is deployed more frequently as a blocker. He only ran a route on 80% of his team’s passing plays and lines up in line as a traditional tight end more frequently. His yards-per-route is an elite 2.21, ahead of all the guys ranked above him, and his ability to run after the catch makes him a big-play threat on every touch. The problem for Kittle is that we don’t really know what Trey Lance is going to look like as a starter, but we can probably assume it will involve a lot more runs than Jimmy Garoppolo contributed. Lance might be a bad passer this year, and even if he’s not Kittle has a lot of target competition between the newly-extended Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Kittle presents too much risk to go before Pitts or Waller, and with an ADP right around theirs, he’s an easy guy to avoid for now.
6. T.J. Hockenson (Detroit Lions) – We’re still waiting on the Hockenson breakout, but it feels like this is finally the year. The fourth-year player, who was selected 8th overall and drew comparisons to Kelce, is on what looks like a quietly ascendant offense. The Lions should have a great offensive line and plenty of receiving weapons with the development of Amon-Ra St. Brown and D’Andre Swift, as well as the additions of D.J. Chark and Jameson Williams.
Hockenson battled injuries last season, but when healthy he averaged seven targets a game and still managed to finish second on the team in red-zone targets. If Hockenson stays healthy he’ll easily surpass 100 targets, and if this offense is clicking the touchdowns should follow. Hockenson lacks the elite underlying metrics of the names above him, but he’s a reliable option with an upside for more based on his athletic pedigree.
7. Dallas Goedert (Philadelphia Eagles) – Goedert patiently waited for his breakout while playing behind Zach Ertz but the time for that breakout is now. After Ertz was traded last season Goedert stepped into a nice offensive role, earning 6.1 targets per game and playing on 91% of their offensive snaps. He led all tight ends that earned more than five targets in yards-per-route-run with an incredible 2.33 and trailed only Pitts in yards-per-reception with 14.9. Goedert’s counting stats suffered a bit because of the run-heavy approach the Eagles took, but if their passing volume increases in year two of Jalen Hurts starting then Goedert could jump into the elite tier of tight ends. He has the talent, he just needs the opportunity.
8. Dalton Schultz (Dallas Cowboys) – Schultz is the safest option in this tier, and one of the safer tight ends period. He should be the second option in the Dallas offense behind CeeDee Lamb and earned a fantastic 104 targets last season when Amari Cooper was still in town and Michael Gallup was healthy. With Cooper gone and Gallup recovering, Schultz should again command as many targets as he can handle.
What stops Schultz from ranking higher is his lack of athleticism compared to the tight ends ranked ahead of him. While it is hard to see Schultz fail it is also hard to see him join the truly elite tight ends on a points-per-game basis. His TE3 finish last season was built on the back of playing a full season and some fortunate touchdown luck, neither of which is guaranteed to repeat this year. His yards-per-route-run of 1.52 is middling at best, and his low aDOT and share of his team’s total air yards suggest Schultz is utilized more as a safety valve than an actual weapon. Accumulated stats count all the same, but without the ceiling of some of his peers, Schultz falls down the rankings. He’s a fine option, but he’s difficult to get excited about especially if you have to pay a premium to secure him. If his ADP climbs throughout the summer as the Cowboys’ lack of receiving depth becomes more clear he might become too pricey for his upside.
9. Pat Freiermuth (Pittsburgh Steelers) – Lost in how great Pitts was as a rookie was how successful Freiermuth was. Freiermuth earned 79 targets, turning them into 60 receptions, and found the endzone seven times. His metrics aren’t great, as his low total yards, aDOT, and yards-per-route-run suggest an uninspiring check-down option. But the entire Steelers offense was built on check-downs last year because Ben Roethlisberger had lost any semblance of a reliable down-field throw. We don’t know yet who’ll be throwing the ball to Freiermuth, but it’s safe to say whoever it is can throw the ball further than the version of Roethlisberger we saw last year. Tight end is a hard position for rookies and Freirmuth’s success transitioning to the NFL is cause for optimism about his ability to break out if the offense takes a step forward.
10. Zach Ertz (Arizona Cardinals) – Ertz took a few weeks to get up to speed after being traded mid-season to the Cardinals, but once he did he emerged as a target monster. He earned 7.4 targets a game post-trade and finished the season with 43 targets in four games. Christian Kirk left in free agency and D’Andre Hopkins is suspended for six games, which leaves a large void in the Cardinals’ target tree. Marquise Brown will take a significant portion of those, but don’t be surprised if Ertz clears 100 targets again. He’s a catch-the-ball and fall down guy, with a low aDOT and little chance of breaking off big plays, but he’s got Kyler Murray’s trust and is used mostly as a big slot receiver. If you’re waiting on a tight end Ertz is a safe bet for reliable, if unspectacular, production.
11. Irv Smith Jr. (Minnesota Vikings) – Smith Jr. ranks here on pure projection, he didn’t play last season due to a knee injury. He might already be hurt this preseason. But the soon-to-be 24-year-old has enough potential to be worth the flier despite the risks. A great athlete for the position, Smith Jr. sits firmly atop the Vikings’ depth chart as their unquestioned TE1. The Vikings figure to be more pass-happy under new head coach Kevin O’Connell, and behind Justin Jefferson, there should be enough targets to support another strong fantasy producer. Adam Thielen is 32 and showing signs of slowing down, so if Smith Jr. can stay on the field he should be in line for a breakout. In this range of tight ends, we should be prioritizing ceiling, and Smith could have a high one if this Minnesota offense turns into a pass-heavy attack.
12. Dawson Knox (Buffalo Bills) – Knox scored nine touchdowns last year on just 71 targets, and even though he finished second on the Bills in red-zone targets that rate is unsustainable. But the former third-round pick has earned the trust of Josh Allen, and any tight end seeing consistent usage in an elite offense is worth a look. Knox’s metrics suggest he’s not a great weapon. He has a low aDOT, a yards-per-route-run of just 1.16, and only commanded a target share of 13.3%. With Knox, it’s all about being tied to Allen and the top passing offense in the league. Knox is a touchdown-or-bust option, but that’s a bit more forgivable playing in such a favorable offense.
13. Albert Okwuegbunam (Denver Broncos) – Albert O. has a speed score in the 100th percentile for NFL tight ends, and now he gets to play with one of the best quarterbacks at pushing the ball down the field in Russell Wilson. The only thing keeping Albert O. down here in the rankings is how crowded the Broncos’ offense looks to be. Two strong running backs coupled with Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and K.J. Hamler mean targets might be hard to come by. Add in that the Broncos spent a second-round pick on tight end Greg Dulcich, and it’s not hard to see a world where Albert is the odd man out. But Okwuegbunam’s upside is tantalizing enough to look past the downside. A 6’6 human shouldn’t be able to move the way Okwuegbunam does, and if Wilson and the Broncos can harness that we might be talking about Albert O. in a much different light next draft season.
14. David Njoku (Cleveland Browns) – Speaking of athletic upside, the Browns believe Njoku is due to tap into his impressive physical gifts after placing the franchise tag on him before inking him to a four-year contract. Off-the-field issues aside, Cleveland’s eventful offseason means Njoku will play with the best quarterback of his career this season and is finally the only tight end of note on the depth chart. Njoku’s aDOT of 9.3 puts him just outside the elite tier of tight ends, and his 1.56 yards-per-route-run is also solid. Njoku has yet to live up to his first-round pick pedigree, but at 6’4 with a 97th percentile speed score, he figures to be able to take advantage of a quarterback more willing to push the ball down the field.
15. Hunter Henry (New England Patriots) – Henry had a productive jump to New England, scoring nine touchdowns and finishing second on the team in targets. His aDOT of 10.6 puts him among the very best tight ends, but his route percentage of just 84% leaves a lot to be desired. Henry would benefit from the New England offense as a whole taking a step forward. That isn’t out of the question as Mac Jones enters year two, however it doesn’t feel like a lock given the change in offensive coordinator from Josh McDaniels to Matt Patricia. Henry’s 4.4 targets a game make him a touchdown-dependent option unless the offense ups its volume.
16. Mike Gesicki (Miami Dolphins) – If the Dolphins were just running back last season’s team Gesicki would be higher. Used as an inline tight end only 7.4% of the time, Gesicki is a wide receiver that we get to roster as a tight end. He only scored two touchdowns last season, but he had an elite 24% share of his team’s air yards and a very solid aDOT of 9.5. Gesickiy is an elite athlete at 6’6, and after the Dolphins placed the franchise tag on him it seemed like he was destined to be a big part of their offensive future.
But then the Dolphins added target competition in Tyreek Hill and hired a coach in Mike McDaniel that wants his tight ends blocking more than lining up in the slot. Gesicki spent 62.5% of his snaps in the slot last season, but this year he’ll spend a lot more time inline as the traditional receivers rotate through the slot. Gesicki is also being asked to block more and we don’t get fantasy points for blocking. Gesicki has the upside to be one of the better tight ends in the league, but it might take a change of scenery for him to realize that potential.
17. Tyler Higbee (Los Angeles Rams) – Higbee is not a special player, but he’s an every-down player in one of the best offenses in the league and he’s a reliable player. He only averaged 1.13 yards-per-route-run, an aDOT of just 5.7, and isn’t a big yards-after-the-catch threat. But he earned 85 targets in a Matthew Stafford-led offense, despite missing two games, and had five games where he played on 100% of the Rams’ offensive snaps. He has no competition for snaps this year, and behind Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson, the Rams don’t have much receiver depth. Higbee isn’t exciting, but he’ll be on the field a lot and by playing on the Rams, that should mean plenty of chance to score touchdowns.
18. Cole Kmet (Chicago Bears) – Kmet is coming off a 93-target season and is the clear second-best option in Chicago’s passing offense. He went scoreless last season, but with Jimmy Graham and his touchdown-vulture ways out of town Kmet should see some positive regression. The problem for Kmet, and the Bears as a whole, is that they don’t seem like they’ll be very good. N’Keal Harry might be their number two receiver, their offensive line looks bad, and while Justin Fields has flashed potential he’s still largely an unknown. If the Bears’ offense is better than it looks on paper, Kmet has the athletic profile and role to break out, it just seems more likely this team struggles to score all season and Kmet shows flashes but ultimately disappoints.
19. Noah Fant (Seattle Seahawks) – I wonder if there was ever a time Fant thought he was going to get to play with Russell Wilson. It has to be hard for him to see the Broncos finally land a franchise quarterback only to be sent packing to catch passes from either Drew Lock or Geno Smith. Fant has the athletic profile and draft pedigree to suggest he should be a monster tight end, and his underlying metrics have been solid despite the poor quarterback play around him. It doesn’t help Fant that the Seahawks will likely run the ball as much as possible and that DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are likely ahead of him in the target pecking order. If the Seahawks upgrade at quarterback before the start of the season Fant would be an interesting flier, but for now, he’s stuck in fantasy purgatory.
20. Robert Tonyan (Green Bay Packers) – Tonyan is coming off a mid-season ACL tear or he would be higher on the list. He’s a touchdown-or-bust option, but that isn’t the worst thing to be when you play with Aaron Rodgers. With Davante Adams gone, the Packers are desperate for any pass-catcher to step up and Tonyan has a leg up on the competition since he’s already earned Rodgers’ trust. It’s unlikely he’ll move into a high-volume role, but the from UDFA should return to a solid role once he gets healthy. He’s only one season removed from his 11 touchdown breakout, and someone is going to have to make up some of Adams’ massive 27 red zone targets.
21. Evan Engram (Jacksonville Jaguars) – Engram might not be a bad football player. He struggles with drops, posting a drop rate of 8.2% last year which was an improvement from the 10.1% he posted the year before. His aDOT of 5.0 is pathetic for someone who ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, and his yards-per-route-run is somehow an even more pathetic 0.89. But all of this may be due to how bad the Giants have been, and it’s possible that the former first-round pick just needed a change of scenery to figure it out. Playing with Trevor Lawrence in a Doug Pederson offense that turned Zach Ertz into a fantasy star, Engram should get every opportunity to prove he can catch the ball. If he can do that he should have solid production playing in an ascending offense. It’s just a big if, and not one he’s delivered on in the first five years of his career.
22. Gerald Everett (Los Angeles Chargers) – Everett is the next installment of the boring tight end in an elite offense. Everett rated out similarly to former Chargers tight end Jared Cook last season, with the difference being that Cook saw more downfield targets likely because Cook played with Justin Herbert. Now it’s Everett’s turn, as Donald Parham Jr. seems unlikely to be back for the start of the season after the scary injury he suffered late last season. Everett has earned at least 60 targets each of the last three seasons and heads to the team that threw the ball the third-most times last season. Though he hasn’t shown it yet, Everett was a great athlete coming out of college and if he just inherits the 83 targets Cook leaves behind, Everett has a chance for a sneaky breakout.
23. Austin Hooper (Tennessee Titans) – Hooper has always been a solid receiving tight end and now finds himself as one of the few accredited pass-catchers on the Titans. Hooper’s low aDOT of 5.9 and low yards-per-route-run of 1.14 show his limited upside, but he might fall into a ton of targets if none of the Titans’ young receivers step up. Hooper had 88- and 97-target seasons in Atlanta before heading to a lower-volume Cleveland offense, so he’s shown he can handle a big workload. Tennessee isn’t likely to be pass-heavy, but if Hooper can get back up to around 85 targets he’ll produce useable fantasy weeks.
24. Taysom Hill (New Orleans Saints) – Hill is coming off a six-target season where he went 4-1 as a quarterback. It is unlikely his target numbers will ever be high, but in this range, we more want to draft for touchdown upside anyway. And Hill is the only tight end that has a realistic shot at multiple passing touchdowns, as well as his upside as a rusher in the red zone. Hill will likely still be featured in red-zone packages thanks to his versatility, and if he is able to transition full-time to tight end his athletic profile for the position would make him a matchup nightmare. He’s currently dealing with an injury but assuming he’s full-go to start the season he might be one of the better bets to score a touchdown in any given week.
25. Logan Thomas (Washington Commanders) – Thomas is 31 and coming off a late-season ACL tear, but he’s not far removed from a 110-target season and his new quarterback Carson Wentz has historically loved targeting his tight end. Thomas has been a strong fantasy tight end in the past, and while obviously there’s a high chance he never returns to that level of production we have at least seen him do it. Thomas is an athletic 6’6, and the former college quarterback actually had better underlying efficiency metrics last season prior to his season-ending injury. If he returns to full health, and he’s targeting a Week 1 return, Thomas will easily outperform his ADP.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)