Welcome to the Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Primer! As we dive into the tight end position, let’s take a quick look back at the 2022 season to see what worked and what didn’t.
That’s how I’ll start the breakdown of the tight ends along with 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.
- Best Ball Draft Primers: QB | RB | WR
- Introduction to Best Ball Leagues
- Dynasty Rookie Primers: QB | RB | WR | TE
2023 Best Ball Draft Strategy & Advice: Tight Ends
Here’s what you should know about tight ends as you prepare for your best ball drafts.
Tight End Advance Rates
The 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. Among the top-4 in advance rate, zero were drafted between TE8 and TE21. There were some “hits” at TE8, TE11, TE12, TE15, and TE18 ADPs, but the advance rates were marginally better than tight ends going later in drafts.
When analyzing points per game versus advance rates – seven of the top-12 scorers in points per game finished with top-12 advance rates. Six of the ten finished inside the top 10 in total points scored.
The top-five scorers in tight end points per game returned a 60% top-5 advance rate. Ergo, if you draft a tight end that finishes inside the top five in total points scored, it’s an advantage in the best-ball format. And I’d argue that we would have seen a perfect five-for-five ranking here had theLamar Jackson injury not derailed Mark Andrew’s end to the season or George Kittle missed time to start the season. Amid the hurdles those two had to overcome, they still posted very close-to-average advance rates.
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 (TE1, TE5, TE7, TE2, TE8, TE10).
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 likeMark 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).
In 2022 FFPC drafts, the highest win rates came from T.J. Hockenson (TE7), Travis Kelce (TE1), Evan Engram (TE20), Tyler Higbee (TE17), Tyler Conklin (TE38) and George Kittle (TE5). Again, the gap in ADP from the top tight ends to the next closest is extremely large, further cementing the idea behind a “great or just wait” tight end approach.
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.
Andrew Erickson’s Best Ball Tight End Rankings & Tiers
Travis Kelce is at the top of Tier 1. 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, Mark 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).
All in all, even if Andrews sees fewer targets after the WR additions the Ravens made this offseason, I’d bet it ends up being a net positive with a boost in overall efficiency (which was severely lacking last season).
TE Fantasy points per game 2018-2021 (PPR)
|Fantasy Football Best Ball Leagues Draft Primer: Tight End (2023) | FantasyPros|
|Travis Kelce”}”>Travis Kelce||18.1||16.9||22.1||16.6||18.6|
This tier rounds out my top-eight 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.
By far my favorite tight end to draft in this Tier is none other than Darren Waller. He is my No. 3-ranked tight end. Because becoming the No. 1 pass-catching option for a team as tight end is a rare feat. There’s only a handful of teams that feature such a player, with the Giants being the newest to join the list after their acquisition of the ex-Raiders tight end.
The 6-foot-6 pass-catcher came to Big Blue in exchange for a third-round pick, and he immediately should step in as the clear-cut No. 1 target for Daniel Jones. That was not the case for Waller last year, as he was fighting for targets with alpha Davante Adams. But Waller showed that when he was healthy that he could still deliver, ranking second in the NFL in yards per reception (13.9) and 10th in yards per route run. Waller “the baller” still has plenty left in the tank and should be viewed as a clear-cut winner post-trade. He has the chance to replicate his 2021 numbers when he was the No. 1 receiver in his offense, posting top-5 fantasy tight end numbers. And better yet, Daniel Bellinger‘s elite usage/route participation from last season in the Brian Daboll offense as an every-snap player – 80 percent-plus snap share in 6 of the last 7 games – suggests that Waller won’t leave the field. That will make it that much easier for the TE7 in ADP to crest elite fantasy tight-end status.
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, the tight end that catches my eye as a potential target in this tier is Titans tight end, Chigoziem Okonkwo. He started the last two games of the season for Tennessee 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. Moreso, both Austin Hooper/Geoff Swaim both departed in free agency, and the Titans neglected to add any more receiving competition in NFL Free Agency or the 2023 NFL Draft.
Rookie Dalton Kincaid is also an intriguing option after the Buffalo Bills selected him in the first round of this year’s draft. Kincaid projects as a hybrid slot receiver in the Bills offense. Dawson Knox (RIP his fantasy value) led all tight ends last season in passer rating generated (137.5) from the slot last season.
Kincaid is well worth the price of TE16 in early best ball ADP due to his top-24 floor and top-12 ceiling projection combination based on my analysis of recent rookie tight end hit rates.
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 TE15-TE32, 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. And when in doubt, just draft a TE falling in ADP or a tight end that is on the same team as one of your rostered quarterbacks.
Juwan Johnson was originally one of my favorite targets in this range, but the Saints’ recent signing of Foster Moreau – ecstatic regarding his rapid recovery from his cancer diagnosis – puts a damper on his projected fantasy ceiling. If anything, it makes Foster Moreau a great super-late-round option, considering he has a built-in rapport with his former Raiders QB, Derek Carr. Although, Moreau’s probably a better real-life addition than a legitimate fantasy option if he is going to be splitting time with Johnson.
30% of Round 2 tight ends finish as top-24 options, so expect 1-2 to be fantasy relevant in Year 1. I don’t think you need to go beyond the first two guys that were selected in Round 2 with them facing little competition at their respective positions.
The Raiders traded up to select Mayer, who was pegged as a no-doubt first-rounder in all pre-draft publications. His competition in Las Vegas are O.J. Howard and Austin Hooper. Sam LaPorta is a YAC monster and is competing with Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra and James Mitchell for playing time. All things considered; I do slightly prefer LaPorta from a redraft perspective as the Lions have less proven pass-catchers overall due to the Jameson Williams suspension.