Ah, tight end, the ugly stepchild of the fantasy football family.
Unless we’re talking about the truly elite pass-catchers at the position, tight end is often an afterthought in the typical fantasy draft. It’s the position you fill after you’ve drafted all your starting running backs and wide receivers, and often after you’ve taken your quarterback, too. Only team defense and kicker have lower standing.
But maybe we should give the tight end position more credit. After all, it is one of the best avenues to locking in a weekly advantage over your competition.
While just about everyone in a 10- or 12- team league will enter the season feeling ok about their RBs and WRs, the same can’t be said at TE. There are going to be some managers in your league just hoping their tight end catches three passes for 30 yards and a TD. So if you’re able to find a tight end who is an integral part of his team’s offense every week, it can really help your fantasy team’s fortunes — especially if you didn’t have to pay a heavy price to get him.
Then, of course, there’s the growing trend of tight end premium leagues. Here, the top tight ends are even more valuable, and the “wing and a prayer” guys are even less viable. In these formats, a breakout tight end selected in the middle rounds can be a true difference-maker.
No matter the format, though, you’re going to want to be using tiered rankings. It’s the tried and true way of ensuring you maximize the value of your picks and get as many of your guys as possible. I’ll always recommend that all fantasy managers create their own set of tiers ahead of their drafts, but it certainly helps to get a sense of what other people are thinking as well.
So here are my tight end tiers for 2022.
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Tier 1: Travis Kelce (TE – KC)
Just like at wide receiver, we begin with a tier of one. Mark Andrews actually outscored Kelce last season, but that was before the Ravens signaled they were recommitting to the run and the Chiefs lost Tyreek Hill. I’d expect something closer to 2020 when Kelce scored over three more fantasy points per game than any other tight end. That’s why I consider Kelce not only the TE1, but a bonafide top-7 overall pick in fantasy drafts despite his second-round ADP.
If you want to bet against Kelce, you’ll likely point to the fact he’ll turn 33 years old in October. But he didn’t show any signs of slowing down last season and could set a new career-high in targets as Patrick Mahomes eases in his new cast of receivers.
The last time Kelce didn’t finish as a top-2 fantasy tight end was way back in 2015. Do you really want to bet against that streak continuing with Hill out of the picture? I certainly don’t.
Tier 2: Mark Andrews (TE – BAL)
I can’t justify putting Andrews in the same tier with Kelce, but I also can’t loop him in with other tight ends who weren’t close to him statistically last season. So he gets his own tier, too.
Even though the tea leaves suggest Baltimore will be more run-heavy this season, that doesn’t mean Andrews can’t get his. The Ravens are supposedly returning to the game plan they featured in 2019 when Andrews caught 64 balls for 852 yards and 10 TDs and finished as the TE4. With Marquise Brown now in Arizona and the Ravens rolling out an inexperienced receiver corps, it’s fair to expect Andrews to at least split the difference between his 2019 numbers and last year’s massive 107-1,361-9 stat line.
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This is the last tier of tight ends to consider using an early-to-mid round pick on. They all have proven fantasy production on their resumes and should play a significant role in their respective offenses again this season.
Pitts finished a mere 12th in fantasy points per game among tight ends last season, but that is because he only scored one touchdown. He was third among tight ends in receiving yards and clearly has the ability to score more TDs. If there is anyone in this tier that is going to overtake Kelce and Andrews, it’s Pitts, but Atlanta’s questionable-at-best quarterback situation could lead to some inconsistent performances.
Schultz is my favorite value pick in this group. He plays in the best offense of the bunch, finished behind only Andrews and Kelce in fantasy points among tight ends last year, and could step into an even larger role in Dallas given the departure of Amari Cooper and the ongoing recovery of Michael Gallup (ACL). Hockenson and Goedert are also intriguing values as talented, versatile pass-catchers going outside the top-65 picks in fantasy drafts.
Kittle has consistently been a top-3 fantasy TE when healthy and is the kind of player that’s fun to root for, but we may have reached the point where he’s being over-drafted (ADP 43). Aside from the usual injury concerns that have plagued his career, he also has to acclimate to an inexperienced quarterback. Trey Lance can be very good in fantasy and still be a drag on his pass-catchers.
While I was initially skeptical about Waller following a lost season and the Raiders’ acquisition of Davante Adams, I’m beginning to warm to him again. He was a top-3 fantasy tight end in 2019 and 2020 and could play an enhanced role in the red zone under new coach Josh McDaniels.
This tier takes us through the top-12 tight ends, enough to cover every team in a standard-sized league. And while this group isn’t quite as sure to succeed as the preceding tiers, I wouldn’t have any problem rolling with them to begin the year.
While many concluded that Ertz was washed towards the end of his tenure in Philly, a move to Arizona really reinvigorated him. He played in all 17 games in his first year with the Cardinals and finished tied for fifth among TEs in fantasy points, although he was just 11th in points per game. With DeAndre Hopkins suspended for the first six games, Ertz is appealing as a high-floor option, even though his ceiling is pretty limited.
Kmet and Smith are my favorite breakout tight ends for 2022.
Starting in Week 6 last season, Kmet posted 40+ receiving yards in eight of his final 12 games while ranking top-12 among tight ends in targets, catches, and yards. The problem is he scored zero touchdowns. Chalk that up as a major fluke that is unlikely to happen again to a 6’6″, 260 lb. player who led his team in red zone targets last year.
A highly-talented second-round pick out of Alabama, Smith had to bide his time splitting snaps with Kyle Rudolph as a rookie in 2020 and appeared poised for a breakout in 2021 before suffering a torn meniscus that ended his season before it began. He also underwent thumb surgery this summer but has not been ruled out for Week 1. Once healthy, Smith has a great chance to finally break out as Minnesota’s clear top tight end under offensive-minded head coach Kevin O’Connell.
Knox will be found higher in the rankings of most other analysts, but I have my doubts that he can repeat last year’s production. He finished as the TE8 thanks to hauling in nine touchdowns but ranked just 20th among tight ends in targets and 15th in receiving yards. Knox should still see plenty of red zone targets in an elite offense, but Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis are also more than capable in that area, and even a slight dropoff in TDs will be costly for a player as TD-dependent as Knox.
This tier represents the best bets outside of the top-12 to force their way into TE1 status in 10- and 12-team leagues.
Gesicki has been something of a fantasy tease, flashing top-five potential at times but generally falling flat. As a catch-first tight end, he has a decent floor, but it is hard to believe a real breakthrough will happen this year given the amount of target competition he is now facing.
Freiermuth is a player who benefited tremendously from late-career, noodle-armed Ben Roethlisberger. Despite his diminished skills, Big Ben still knew how to place a ball in the end zone, and Friermuth’s instant rapport with his QB led to seven touchdowns for the rookie. Consider it doubtful that things go as smoothly with Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett, and Friermuth lacks the athleticism to make up for lost red zone looks with after-the-catch production.
As a complete afterthought in fantasy drafts (ADP 225), Hooper is a nice value pick, albeit one better suited to deeper leagues. He finished as the TE6 during each of his final two seasons in Atlanta but didn’t get consistent looks in Cleveland’s messy tight-end carousel. The depth chart would seem to be much more favorable to Hooper in Tennessee, and Ryan Tannehill should be capable of getting him the ball in much the same way that Matt Ryan did.
Henry finished as the TE9 last season, due in large part to his nine TDs. He ranked just 18th in targets and 13th in receiving yards among tight ends while splitting time with Jonnu Smith, so any touchdown regression would hit him hard. Plus, the Patriots’ offense looks like a mess right now.
Albert O. and Tonyan are classic boom-or-bust picks. They both have a path to carving out a sizable role in a high-scoring offense but could just as easily prove to be waiver wire fodder by Week 4. With Albert O., the question is how often Russell Wilson targets his tight ends and whether Okwuegbunam can distance himself from rookie Greg Dulcich. With Tonyan, the question is whether he’ll be ready for Week 1 after suffering a torn ACL in Week 8 of last season.
This is the last tier of players worth considering outside of really deep formats.
Everett steps into a seemingly favorable situation in Los Angeles. Still, that gig didn’t really pay off for Jared Cook last year, and it isn’t at all clear Everett is an upgrade after five frustratingly-inconsistent years in the league. The same can more or less be said for Hurst, who has failed to top 400 yards in 3-of-4 seasons despite being a former first-round pick.
After posting four straight 100-yard games at the end of 2019 and a 3-TD game early in 2020, Higbee’s star has faded as he’s increasingly become an afterthought in the Rams’ offense. He won’t completely disappear but will be very hard to trust from week to week. Fant is a talented player, but he hasn’t quite broken out yet, and it isn’t likely to happen with Geno Smith or Drew Lock passing him the football.
My favorite rolls of the dice in this tier are Njoku and Thomas. Njoku would be right there with Kmet and Irv Smith as potential breakouts if Deshaun Watson was playing all or most of the season, but we all know that isn’t happening. Even so, Njoku has a very enticing skill set, and the Browns indicated they have big plans for him by signing him to a huge new contract.
Thomas, meanwhile, is in a similar spot to Tonyan — he has a lot of upside if his health allows. But unlike Tonyan, Thomas is still on the PUP list, and even once healthy, he’ll have to catch passes from Carson Wentz, not Aaron Rodgers.
Alright, that’s a wrap. If you like what you see here, you can get more of my thoughts on draft-day values, waiver wire pickups, buy-low/sell-high candidates, rest-of-season player values, and more by subscribing to the Rest of Season Rankings podcast and going to ROSrankings.com. I’m also always happy to talk about anything fantasy-related on Twitter @andrew_seifter.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant, which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.