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USATSI

Every offseason, the Fantasy Football world tries to talk itself into the possibility that, hey, maybe tight end won't be so bad this year. Nobody knows who starts the discussion every year, but you hear it without fail. 

NFL offenses are constantly evolving, after all, and when you see what matchup nightmares like Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and George Kittle can do for their offenses, why wouldn't NFL teams find ways to get those kinds of players involved in their offenses? Players are getting bigger, stronger, and faster every year, and it always seems like we're just one year away from a sea change.

Of course, like the siren's song of Greek mythology, listening to that message can steer you off course when you're preparing for your drafts. Last year, it was T.J. Hockenson and Kyle Pitts who were going to help change the position, and their Average Draft Positions got pushed up into the fourth and fifth-round range as we tried to chase the next Kelce/Gronk/whoever. 

And, as it turned out, neither managed to make much notable difference for Fantasy players. Hockenson averaged 11.9 PPR points per game while Pitts was at 10.4. Far from being difference makers who produced like wide receivers at tight end, Hockenson provided the same production Corey Davis (WR41) did, while Pitts wouldn't even have been a top-50 option at WR.

But hey, maybe tight end won't be so bad this year, right? The hype around Hockenson has died off a bit, but Pitts did have over 1,000 yards in his historic rookie season, while the likes of Cole Kmet and Albert Okwuegbunam, among others, provide some hope for breakouts. It could happen.

Or, maybe Andrews regresses after his breakout season; maybe Kelce finally runs out of steam in his age-33 season; maybe Pitts gets held back by mediocre QB player, Trey Lance holds George Kittle back, and Hockenson, Dallas Goedert, and Darren Waller struggle to stand out amid more crowded receiving corps than in years past. 

So, sure, maybe this is the year tight end stops being such a disaster. It's possible. But I'd say it's equally likely the position ends up even worse than you think in 2022. Whether you want to try to pay a premium to find out on Draft Day is up to you, but here's how I'm viewing the position right now for 2022:

  1. Travis Kelce
  2. Mark Andrews
  3. Kyle Pitts
  4. George Kittle
  5. Darren Waller
  6. Dalton Schultz
  7. T.J. Hockenson
  8. Dallas Goedert
  9. Mike Gesicki*
  10. Cole Kmet
  11. Albert Okwuegbunam
  12. Zach Ertz
  13. Dawson Knox
  14. David Njoku
  15. Logan Thomas
  16. Noah Fant
  17. Gerald Everett
  18. Pat Freiermuth
  19. Irv Smith

And here are my thoughts on some of the key names at tight end:

  • *If Rob Gronkowski re-signs with the Buccaneers, he'll rank no lower than ninth for me, and it's possible he'll end up being higher than Schultz and Goedert. Injuries limited him to 12 games last season, but he finished fourth at the position in points per game in PPR; he would've been third if he hadn't rushed back from an injury while being held without a catch in Week 8. Age and injuries are certainly a concern, but with Chris Godwin potentially out to start the season, Gronkowski could be in a great position if he returns.
  • A down year for Kelce still required a career year from Andrews to top him, but it was still a down year nonetheless. Defenses seemed to figure out how to slow the Chiefs offense down mid-season, and Kelce had more than 70 yards in just four of his final 13 games. He did average 99.7 yards per game in three playoff games (with a touchdown in each!), but with Tyreek Hill sent to Miami, Kansas City's offense is going to revolve even more around Kelce. That could lead to more elite numbers, but it's also possible that the soon-to-be 33-year-old has a bit more trouble getting open and isn't quite the difference maker he's been in the past. He's still my top option – and a first-round caliber player in my eyes thanks to position scarcity – but there's more to be worried about here than there has been in a long time.
  • Andrews was tremendous in 2021, though it's fair to point out that much of his best production came without Lamar Jackson. I don't think that's a knock against Jackson (or Andrews, for that matter) as much as it reflected how often Baltimore had to go away from their preferred game plan. I'm not expecting Andrews to repeat 153 targets, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see some efficiency regression, too. He'll still be great – and still a second-round pick for me – but I think we just saw his career year.
  • Pitts was a Fantasy disappointment, but it's hard to knock 68 catches for 1,026 yards, especially from a guy who didn't even turn 21 until a month into the season; the issue was the lone touchdown. He'll continue to face a ton of defensive attention, however, Drake London gives the Falcons a better red zone option than anyone they had alongside Pitts last year, so expect big improvement there. If he just takes a small step forward everywhere else, Pitts is going to be a superstar. If he was the No. 1 finisher at the position in 2022, it wouldn't be a surprise at all; this might be the last year he won't be the first tight end taken for the next decade or so. 
  • If I was just ranking based on who I think the best tight end in football is, Kittle might be No. 1 overall, especially if we're taking non-pass-catching skills into account. Unfortunately, for Fantasy, he's in a crowded receiving group on what is likely to be a low-volume passing offense, with a QB in Trey Lance who may struggle in his first season as a starter. Kittle figures to remain efficient on a per-target basis, but with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk around, he could find it hard to get much above 100 targets, so he'd probably need good touchdown variance (for the first time) to be a true difference maker at tight end. He's just in a tough spot. 
  • Waller was a disappointment last season and now the Raiders have a true Alpha No. 1 WR in Davante Adams who figures to hog targets in a way Waller has never had to deal with. Waller is also entering his age-30 season, so he just may not be in his physical prime anymore. He's still a viable starting tight end, and potentially still a must-start one, but the path for him returning to the elite tier at the position is narrower now, and I'm not convinced he'll get there again. 
  • Schultz, Goedert, and Gesicki are all kind of the same guy – they're solid, athletic tight ends who will have the occasional big game, but aren't featured often enough in their respective offenses to make the leap to the high-end tiers. Schultz might have the clearest path to that kind of role with Amari Cooper out of the picture, but he's also much of a run-of-the-mill athlete than either Goedert or Gesicki (let alone the actual high-end tight ends), so I'm just not sure the upside is there. 
  • Beyond that trio, you can talk yourself into Kmet, Okwuegbunam, Njoku, Fant, Freiermuth or Smith making a big leap, and each certainly has the potential to do so. But, generally speaking, you're better off betting against those kinds of leaps with young tight ends, and if you're going to pick one of them in the later rounds on Draft Day, you should be doing so with the expectation that they'll be touchdown-or-bust options, so consider taking two of them to increase your chances of hitting.