The tight end position is one of the more complex in the NFL. While all those players have the same title, their roles could be wildly different as some could simply be used as a blocker along the offensive line while others could line up primarily in the slot as more of a wide receiver. Those who provide a solid blend of both blocking and receiving prove to be some of the more valuable players in the entire league.
Below, we will roll out our list of the top 10 tight ends entering the 2023 season. Of course, there were a wide array of factors that helped us round out this list, including how the player has played in recent seasons, health, and a projection of how they may fare going forward. Let's get to it.
Kyle Pitts was one of the more frustrating players to try and place on this list. From a talent standpoint, he's among the very best at the position and probably should be higher than 10. He was impressive as a rookie and put together a 1,000-yard season out of the gate, but Pitts has gone downhill since so we'll settle on him just sneaking in here.
He played 10 games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury, but the games he did take part in didn't leave much to get excited about. Atlanta's offense didn't feature him as a primary weapon and had just 28 receptions while averaging 35.6 yards per game. He also caught just 47.5% of his targets. Again, that may speak more to the Falcons offensive approach last season than to Pitts' ability, but it hasn't been a rousing start to the No. 4 overall pick's highly anticipated career. If he can rebound from this injury and Atlanta throws the football more with second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder, it wouldn't be surprising to see Pitts return to form and look more like a top-five tight end. In the meantime, we'll keep him at 10.
Dalton Schultz is still in Texas, but no longer has the Cowboys star on the side of his helmet after inking a deal with the Texans in free agency. While his final season in Dallas wasn't as productive as his prior two campaigns, he's still among the top pass-catching tight ends in the league and should be a solid outlet for No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud. He also is an underrated blocker, grading as the fifth-best run-blocking tight end in the league in 2022, per Pro Football Focus. One thing that was a bit concerning about Schultz last season was his decrease in efficiency. After a 2021 season where quarterbacks had a 118.6 passer rating when targeting him, it dropped to 77.8 in 2022. Schultz also had a career-high six drops last season.
Njoku seemed to unlock something last season. The former first-round pick notched career highs nearly across the board, totaling 58 receptions and 628 yards. His four receiving touchdowns also matched a career-high. What stood out the most with Njoku was his noticeable increase in efficiency. He caught 72.5% of his targets, which is the highest of his career and the only time he's gone above 70%.
Njoku is also one of the more explosive players at his position and has a ridiculous catch radius, which was on full display in Week 12 of last season against the Buccaneers.
Freiermuth is one of the game's more exciting young tight ends. After a solid rookie season in 2021 where he hauled in seven touchdowns, the 24-year-old followed that up with a solid sophomore campaign playing alongside rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. Freiermuth's numbers in 2022 compare to 49ers star tight end George Kittle, albeit with Kittle playing one fewer game in the regular season. Of his 63 catches last year, 37 of them resulted in a first down, which was higher than Kittle, Schultz, Njoku, and Evan Engram (who just missed cracking the top 10). Freiermuth is also a tight end who has been a willing blocker throughout the early stages of his career, but it will be fascinating to see what the addition of rookie Darnell Washington could do to free him up more as a receiver in 2023.
Darren Waller is another tight end who'll be in a new situation in 2023 after being traded to the New York Giants. The 30-year-old has routinely been talked about as a top-five tight end in the league, but we have him just outside of this list due to durability. Waller hasn't played more than 11 games over the past two seasons and was limited to nine in 2022. When he is on the field, however, he's a tremendous receiving threat that has two 1,100-yard seasons on his résumé. It'll be fascinating to see how head coach Brian Daboll -- a former tight ends coach -- utilizes Waller's talent in New York's offense this season. The Giants desperately needed high-level pass catchers to be injected into their offense and will get that in Waller, if healthy. Waller could easily reinsert himself as a top-five tight end in the league with a solid season in New York.
Hockenson was a revelation for Minnesota's offense after being acquired in a midseason trade with the Lions last year. In 10 games played for the Vikings, he hauled in 60 passes for 519 yards and three touchdowns. If you take that period when he first arrived in Minnesota and project that throughout a full season, Hockenson would have posted over a hundred catches with Kirk Cousins as his quarterback. His 20 contested catches were also eight more than any other tight end, according to PFF. In that same vein, there's also the potential for his touchdown totals to increase in 2023 in the aftermath of Adam Thielen -- who had 21 red zone targets last season -- being released this offseason.
While the former top-10 pick already has a solid reputation entering 2023, we're bullish that he could be on the verge of a career year.
Once the Eagles gave Goedert the keys to the castle as the primary tight end, he became one of the more prolific players in the league. Even with the Eagles ramping up their wide receiver room, Goedert has continued to be an impactful player within Philadelphia's offense and caught 79.7% of his targets last season (a career-high). That number increased to 88.9% in the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl appearance. Eagles quarterbacks also had a 123.6 passer rating when targeting Goedert in the 12 games he suited up for in the regular season. That mark is better than both Travis Kelce (117.2) and Mark Andrews (90.8). Goedert was also the second-ranked tight end in the NFL last season, according to Football Outsiders' DYAR metric, which gives the value of their performance on plays where they caught the ball. He's an elite weapon in every sense of the word and arguably still a bit underrated.
Andrews has been among the best tight ends in the league for a while now and has oftentimes masked Baltimore's thin wide receiver room as he's been a strong outlet for Lamar Jackson. Similar to the player just above him on this list, Andrews is a well-rounded tight end who can also help out as a strong run blocker in what has been a run-heavy scheme in Baltimore over the past few years. As a pass catcher, he ranked sixth among tight ends in DYAR and was solid in the red zone last year catching 10 of his 17 targets for five touchdowns. There's a case to be made that he'll be even more efficient in 2023 now that the Ravens have bolstered their wide receiver room with Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers. With those weapons now taking some of the attention away from Andrews, he could have a greater impact.
George Kittle may be the most well-rounded tight end in the league. While some are strictly blockers or pass catchers, Kittle not only can do both but do so at an extremely high level. He is routinely among the top blockers at his position and ranked as the third-best run-blocking tight end last season, according to PFF. Kittle is just as dynamic as a receiver and can stretch the field up the seam and destroy any would-be tacklers after the catch. Surprisingly, the 2022 campaign was the first time in his career that Kittle was able to produce double-digit touchdowns, notching 11 scores throughout the regular season. So long as San Francisco has its quarterback situation hammered out, Kittle should continue to be among the game's best.
Travis Kelce is one of the biggest receiving threats in all of the NFL, let alone just the tight end position. With the Chiefs moving on from Tyreek Hill before the 2022 season, Kelce was asked to take on an even greater workload in Kansas City's passing attack, notching a career-high 152 targets. He took on those added looks from Patrick Mahomes and turned them into career highs in receptions and receiving touchdowns while ranking eighth among all pass catchers in receiving yards. Kelce was also a force throughout the Chiefs' run to a Super Bowl LVII title, which included an 81-yard, one-touchdown performance in Kansas City's win over the Eagles, where he caught all six of his targets.
While Kelce is best known for his prowess as a receiver, he wasn't too shabby as a blocker in 2022 either, ranking 15th among tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus.
Kelce is simply on a different tier from the rest of his fellow tight ends at the moment.