Tight end is the bane of my existence. If you ask me, it shouldn’t be a designated starting spot in fantasy lineups.
Okay, sarcasm over. I can’t help but think of the famous quote from “Talladega Nights,” when I think about the state of the tight end position: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
If I could modify that quote to speak about drafting tight ends in fantasy football, it would be “If you ain’t taking Travis Kelce first, you might as well be the last to take a tight end.”
Maybe this year’s different. Maybe Mark Andrews, George Kittle, Dallas Goedert and Darren Waller stay healthy and deliver some value. Maybe the youth movement yields more positive returns at a position that’s historically one of the hardest for rookies to adjust to at the next level.
Maybe Taysom Hill won’t be the TE3 after catching just nine passes.
Maybe there’s hope after all! Here’s how I’m attacking tight end in 2023.
- Fantasy Football Draft Strategy
- 2023 Fantasy Football Draft Kit
- Expert Consensus Fantasy Football Draft Rankings
- Fantasy Football Mock Draft Simulator
Matt Barbato’s 2023 Tight End Strategy
The Travis Kelce Conundrum
I get why Kelce is the No. 5 player off the board in drafts. Kelce is a beast to say the least. In a marketplace that seems completely terrified of the top running backs, Kelce is as “safe,” of a bet as they come.
The problem is I just can’t justify taking him this high. Kelce blew away the competition at his position. But the position stunk last year, and Kelce only finished as the 13th-best player according to Value-Based Drafting. While VBD isn’t gospel, it aligns with my opinion that Kelce is worth a second-round pick, but not a top-5 selection.
And let’s also mention that while Kelce is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, he’ll be 34 in October and the Chiefs have perhaps the worst collection of receivers around him since Patrick Mahomes took the starting job.
Kelce is a fantastic player. But taking him this high leaves you with no margin for error. Given the opportunity cost of not taking a player at a more valuable position, you basically need Kelce to repeat his 2022 season to warrant this pick.
So if not Kelce, whom?
While I don’t mind Mark Andrews’ draft price (ADP29), I’m probably not taking the plunge. Although I can paint a picture where a fully healthy Andrews puts up a monstrous season in a pass-friendlier Ravens offense. But again, I’d rather take the shot in Round 4.
I don’t mind T.J. Hockenson or his draft price either, but at ADP43 I tend to opt for running backs and receivers I like more.
If there was a tight end I’d take early, it’s George Kittle. He’s a more dynamic player than Hockenson and developed an impressive rapport with Brock Purdy, especially in the red zone. Eleven touchdowns on just 60 catches feels unsustainable, but I suspect Kittle will see more volume if he plays a full year now that Purdy has his feet underneath him. Spending an early fifth-round pick on Kittle feels a bit easier to stomach, although it’s not a strategy I pursue often.
Sorting Through the Middle Class
If I haven’t taken either Kelce, Andrews, Hockenson and Kittle, I’m most likely not taking a tight end until the very end. Rounds 6-9 are where I’m looking to add my starting quarterback and stockpile depth at running back and receiver. Considering there was just an 27-point difference in half-PPR formats between the TE6 Evan Engram and the TE12 Dallas Goedert, I’m not really running to take anyone within this range.
That being said, there are some upside candidates here. Goedert is my favorite candidate of the mid-range tight ends, as he’s a great talent in a strong situation. But like a lot of tight ends across the league, he’s got plenty of other players to compete with in his passing game.
Evan Engram was my top recommendation last year, but he was being taken much later in drafts in 2022 than he is this summer. That being said, tight ends tend to thrive in Doug Pederson’s offense. If he slips into the eighth or ninth rounds, I may be more inclined to bite.
Darren Waller has gotten some love in fantasy circles, but I just can’t buy the hype as the TE5 in a Daniel Jones-led offense.
Take a Late-Round Flyer and Stream
Remember the Ricky Bobby quote. Most likely, I’m going to be one of, if not the last person to take a tight end in my draft. And frankly, I have no problem taking a stab on an upside player. If it doesn’t work, it didn’t cost me much of anything and I can try my luck playing the matchups on waivers.
On the flip side, early or mid-round busts at tight end hit even harder given what you passed up at the more important positions.
I’ll leave you with some late-round gems to take a shot on in your draft. Keep in mind, I’m staying away from the rookies, as the adjustment to the pros is historically difficult for first-year tight ends.
- If you believe that Justin Fields will take a step forward as a passer this year, then Cole Kmet could be a steal around the 10th or 11th rounds. Kmet had a solid 2022 year, but needs to back up his seven touchdowns from a year ago with more yardage.
- Chigoziem Okonkwo is a freakishly gifted athlete who could be a candidate for the “Where did that guy come from?” award. He has opportunity in a Titans passing game that’s light on weapons. Okonkwo’s 14.1 yards per reception topped all tight ends who caught at least 25 passes.
- We’ve seen Sean Payton turn tight ends into stars, could Denver’s Greg Dulcich be the next in line? He showed flashes as a rookie and has some yard-after-catch ability.
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