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Fantasy Football Best Ball Leagues Draft Primer: Tight End (2023)

Fantasy Football Best Ball Leagues Draft Primer: Tight End (2023)

The easiest way to kick off any positional primer is to take a look back at what happened the year before. What worked, what didn’t work – but most importantly, addressing the “WHY” behind the successes and failures.

That’s how I’ll start the breakdown of the tight ends and every other position for early fantasy football drafters as we look ahead to the 2023 best ball season. Because with best ball, it’s never too early to start drafting.

2023 Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Advice

2023 NFL Best Ball Tight End Primer

Tight End Advance Rates

We can leverage advanced/alive rates from Underdog’s Best Ball Mania III tournament to get a better understanding of which tight ends (Weeks 1-14) helped teams advance at the highest rate into the playoffs (Weeks 15-17). Using advanced and alive rates is helpful because it’s already factoring in the draft day cost of the player compared to their raw points scored.

The highest TE alive rates came from George Kittle (39%, ADP TE5), T.J. Hockenson (27%, TE7), Tyler Higbee (19%, TE20), Evan Engram (16%, TE22), Dawson Knox (11%, TE9), Taysom Hill (9%, TE26), Noah Fant (8%, TE21), Travis Kelce (8%, TE1) and Hayden Hurst (8%, TE23).

What initially sticks out is how high George Kittle’s alive rate is compared to Travis Kelce’s. The reason for that is Kittle’s strong finish with his ADP as the TE5. The 49ers’ tight end was the TE2 from Weeks 6-14, averaging 9.9 fantasy points per game. So even though Kelce was beating him in raw production (15.4 points per game), Kittle’s price-adjusted production was more beneficial from a total roster perspective. And the same rhetoric was true for Evan Engram as the TE3 over the same time frame.

The other big takeaway is a lesson I preached from last season….stay out of the middle at tight end. Draft an elite guy, or just wait and wait. It’s no coincidence that zero TEs drafted in the TE10-TE19 range had high alive rates. No tight end drafted in this range finished with an alive rate higher than 7% (Hunter Henry, TE16 ADP).

When analyzing points per game versus alive rates – five of the top-ten scorers in points per game finished with top-ten alive rates. Six of the ten finished inside the top 10 in total points scored.

The top-six scorers in tight end points per game returned an 83% top-6 alive rate. Ergo, if you draft a tight end that finishes inside the top six in total points scored, it’s an advantage in the best-ball format. And I’d argue that we would have seen a perfect six-for-six ranking here had the Lamar Jackson injury not derailed Mark Andrew’s end to the season.

And for the most part, these tight ends come as no surprise at the top of the position’s landscape. The top six tight ends in points per game were all selected within the top ten based on ADP.

Note that when you spend that high-end draft capital on that top-six tight end, do not overly invest elsewhere in the position. You have more work to do addressing the other holes on your roster created by taking a tight end early. When you follow an elite tight end build, you only need to draft two TEs (unless stacking opportunities present themselves). But when you are taking all late-round guys, go for a three-man approach.

For some additional context, I also looked back at the win rate percentages from the FFPC best ball drafts in 2021.

The highest win rates came at the top from guys like Mark Andrews (TE4) and Travis Kelce (TE1). And then there was a large gap in ADP between them in the next closest drafted tight end with a top-10 win rate (Rob Gronkowski, TE17).

I’ve laid out my current best-ball TE rankings/tiers so you can better recognize the groups of players you should be targeting for the highest ROI based on their ADPs.

2023 NFL Draft Guide: Prospect Rankings & Player Profiles

Andrew Erickson’s Best Ball Tight End Rankings & Tiers

2023 Fantasy Football Rankings powered by FantasyProsECR (TM) – Expert Consensus Rankings


Tier 1

Travis Kelce can easily make the argument he should be in a tier completely by himself. However, the fact that he is entering his age 34-season coming off a year where he distanced himself from the rest of the tight ends by a massive outlier amount has me slightly concerned he might be overdrafted in 2023. Meanwhile, Andrews was nearly matching Kelce’s expected fantasy point output (14.7 versus 13.0) before Lamar Jackson’s injury. His season-long 29% target share led all tight ends in 2022. And only four other tight ends scored fewer fantasy points under expectation than Andrews (Kyle Pitts, Tyler Higbee and Cade Otton).

TE Fantasy points per game 2018-2021 (PPR)

2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Travis Kelce 18.1 16.9 22.1 16.6 18.6
Fantasy TE2 16.7 14.6 17.5 16.6 13.5
Differential +1.4 +2.3 +4.6 0 +5.1

Tier 2

This tier rounds out my top-seven tight ends, a la the guys I feel “good” about drafting where I don’t need to invest much else at the position. They have either already shown an elite ceiling or have the potential to be the next true difference-maker at the position.

Kyle Pitts is the super polarizing player in this tier after a disappointing second season ended by injury in Week 11. But don’t be too quick to forget the usage he was seeing prior to his injury. Pitts commanded 14 targets of 20-plus air yards but only caught one. Upgraded quarterback play will go a long way in ensuring that Pitts is a fantasy factor in 2023. The big-bodied WR/TE hybrid owned a 28% target share (2nd among all TEs) in 2022. I am very interested to see where his ADP lands, not just with other tight ends but overall. I believe his price will be the deciding factor in whether he will be a draft target of mine in 2023. Underdog’s Way Too Early Best-Ball ADP has Pitts as the TE5 going 64th overall (Round 6), just a few spots ahead of Dallas Goedert.

All things being equal, I’d just wait and draft David Njoku instead. Only Travis Kelce saw more red-zone targets among tight ends from Weeks 1-17. If Deshaun Watson’s TD rate regresses closer to his career rate (5.8%), Njoku will be a top best-ball tight end and easy plug-in Browns stacking option.

Tier 3

This group undeniably has some holes and issues that can be called out, but I wouldn’t be that surprised to see any of them crack the top six in scoring. I am just not willing to be bullish enough on them to draft them as such, so I’ll take chances on the ones that fall the most in drafts. It’s at this tier that we start to enter the dreaded “tight end middle” where you typically see poor ROI.

For me, Cole Kmet still stands out as my favorite target. His 84% route participation tied Andrews for first at the position, and running a surplus of routes tends to transfer into fantasy production. If Justin Fields continues to ascend, Kmet would likely be a main benefactor among a pretty lackluster receiving corps. From Week 9 onward, Kmet was the TE4 in total points averaging 10.3 fantasy points per game (TE3).

Tier 4

This tier is the epitome of why you don’t draft tight ends in the middle. I had a difficult time finding a major difference between TE14-TE29, which encompasses my entire fourth tight end tier. The idea here is that you don’t want to overextend yourself for any of these guys because the production will likely be negligible at best, drafting towards the beginning compared to the end. So just wait.

The tight end that catches my eye as a potential late-round darling is Titans tight end, Chigoziem Okonkwo. He started the last two games of the season for Tennesse and flashed uber-efficiency in the receiving game. The rookie’s 26% target rate ranked 2nd among all tight ends with at least 40 targets in 2022. He finished 3rd in PFF receiving grade, 1st in yards per reception, and 1st in yards per route run among all tight ends. And better yet, both Austin Hooper and Geoff Swaim are free agents in 2023.

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