kyle-pitts-1400.jpg

How you view the tight end position in 2022 may hinge how you view Darren Waller and George Kittle. The duo has been a elite for the past three seasons, but there are warning signs for both. If you want to bet on their talent, then you may feel better about passing on the three tight ends being drafted in the first three rounds, knowing you can get an elite option in Round 4 or Round 5. But there are certainly reasons to doubt that's the case.

Waller's case is clear. The Raiders added a true target hog in Davante Adams who just so happens to be one Derek Carr's best friends. While it's true that Adams has never player with a tight end like Waller, it's also true that Waller now has to battle Adams and Hunter Renfrow for targets in a Josh McDaniels offense that he's never played in before. The opposite side of this argument is what Rob Gronkowski did under McDaniels. But Gronkowski didn't play many years with a wide receiver as talented as Adams either.

For Kittle, target opportunity is certainly a part of it. Deebo Samuel made the star turn last year and Brandon Aiyuk was pretty fantastic after a rough start as well. Aiyuk has drawn near non-stop praise this offseason, so I wouldn't expect another slow start. The bigger problem for Kittle might be that Trey Lance is taking over at quarterback. Lance has a ceiling as high as anyone's, but we don't expect him to be as accurate as Jimmy Garoppolo was on short-area throws, at least not in 2022. Also, we expect Lance's mobility to lead to a pretty significant drop in total pass attempts for the 49ers.

I come away from this feeling better about Waller than I do Kittle. But not enough to affect my primary tight end draft strategy

Draft strategy

In most of our mocks, my strategy has simply been to draft Mark Andrews in Round 2. I don't expect Andrews to duplicate what he did last year, but I do expect him to outscore every tight end not names Travis Kelce by at least three Fantasy points per game. I would abandon this strategy if I was pick 11 or later and Travis Kelce was still there.

Assuming you're averse to the early tight end strategy, I would look for Darren Waller in Round 5 or Dallas Goedert in Round 6. Goedert even falls into Round 7 in some drafts. If you somehow miss them all three, then I'm looking for a pair of tight ends in the double digit rounds. some of my favorites are listed next in the sleepers, breakouts, and busts section.

In tight end premium leagues, Kelce and Andrews are Round 1 picks, Pitts should go in Round 2, and Waller is a borderline Round 3 pick. All other tight ends should get a two-round boost to their current ADP, at least. Here are my sleepers, breakouts, and busts at the position:

Sleepers
Projections powered by Sportsline
MIN Minnesota • #84
Age: 24 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
163rd
TE RNK
16th
PROJ PTS
145.1
SOS
18
ADP
168
Last year, Kevin O'Connell was the offensive coordinator for a Rams offense that gave 85 targets to Tyler Higbee. This year he's the head coach for the Minnesota Vikings. Last year, Irv Smith was a consensus breakout candidate at tight end before tearing his ACL. This year he's barely being drafted in the top-15 tight ends. Smith has an excellent chance to be a low-end starter as early as Week 1.
LAR L.A. Rams • #89
Age: 29 • Experience: 7 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
154th
TE RNK
13th
PROJ PTS
150.6
SOS
10
ADP
160
Higbee has been a borderline starter multiple times in his career, but I'm not sure people realize how close he came last year to being really special. His 85 targets in 15 games will play, he just has to bounce back from the horrendous 9.2 yards per reception and 6.6 yards per target he posted in 2021. Considering he produced between 10.6 and 12.2 yards per reception in the four years prior to 2021, I'd say that's a safe bet.
Breakout
Projections powered by Sportsline
ATL Atlanta • #8
Age: 21 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
31st
TE RNK
3rd
PROJ PTS
216.9
SOS
9
ADP
35
2021 Stats
REC
68
TAR
110
REYDS
1026
TD
1
FPTS/G
10.4
Pitts is my TE3 for a reason, I expect him to be even better than he was last year. A lot of that may come from touchdown regression, but it's also possible Pitts sees an increase in targets and is used even more like a wide receiver in his second year in the league.
PHI Philadelphia • #88
Age: 27 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
61st
TE RNK
5th
PROJ PTS
187.1
SOS
12
ADP
73
2021 Stats
REC
56
TAR
76
REYDS
830
TD
4
FPTS/G
11
Truth be told, Goedert should have been a breakout last year if not for some rotten touchdown luck. He dominated targets on a run-heavy Eagles squad but produced like a borderline starter because he couldn't get into the end zone with Jalen Hurts. The arrival of A.J. Brown could signal an increase in pass attempts that would cover any loss in target share Goedert sees as a result.
Bust
Projections powered by Sportsline
BUF Buffalo • #88
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
147th
TE RNK
12th
PROJ PTS
183
SOS
11
ADP
94
2021 Stats
REC
49
TAR
71
REYDS
587
TD
9
FPTS/G
10.9
I always bet against the huge touchdown rate guys from the year before and it almost always pays off. Knox will need a big increase in volume to produce like a starter and that seems unlikely with the projected breakout for Gabriel Davis, the training camp hype for Isaiah McKenzie, and the clear desire from the Bills to involve their running backs more in the passing game.

Numbers to Know

  • 11.6% -- More than 10% of Pat Freiermuth's catches went for scores last year. That makes him one of the top regression candidates in football.
  • 18.4% -- Dawson Knox scored at an even higher rate than Freiermuth. 
  • 1 -- Kyle Pitts and Cole Kmet combined for one touchdown on a combined 128 receptions last year. Expect both to get a big boost in the opposite direction of Freiermuth and Knox.
  • 112 -- Zach Ertz ranked third in targets at the position last year. He should be able to keep that up for the first six weeks of the season, but it will get crowded when DeAndre Hopkins returns.
  • 32.8% -- Doug Pederson's teams threw nearly a third of their passes to tight ends when he was in Philadelphia.

Draft to Stream

Evan Engram at Washington, vs Colts

You saw that tight end target rate for Doug Pederson's offense, right? There's a chance Engram is simply a top-10 tight end due to volume and you're done streaming. Engram is still almost free on Draft Day.

Irv Smith vs Packers, at Eagles

Like Engram, it's possible Smith is a top-12 tight end all year. He was ranked that way before injury cost him the 2021 season and he's still just 23 years old. Smith and K.J. Osborn will compete to be the third option in the passing game and both are Week 1 sleepers in what could be a shootout against the Packers.

Gerald Everett vs Raiders, at Chiefs

The Raiders allowed the third-most touchdowns to tight ends last year and Everett looks to be the 1A along with Donald Parham at tight end. And the Week 2 matchup against the Chiefs should give us offensive fireworks.

Tiers

Projections