Tight end is the most frustrating position in fantasy football. Just ask anyone that did not have one of the elite options in any of the past few seasons. It became so unpredictable after those top options that the consensus last season was to pay up for the elite talent – and for the first time in a while, some of that elite talent disappointed! Every year we hear that this is the year tight end is finally deep. And I am not here to tell you that you can simply wait on the position this season, but dare I say ... it feels deeper this season. There is still an elite group at the top and then there are still plenty of those "breakout upside" shots you can take in the later rounds. But what makes it deeper this year is there is a secondary tier of proven talent, which typically has not existed in years past.
While it is still not a bad idea to nab one of the top tight ends in the early rounds of your draft, if you miss out, it is not like you are suddenly trying to find the next breakout tight end. There are safe, reliable fallback options that you can then pair with one of those upside shots in the later rounds of your drafts!
Early 2022 Top 12 Fantasy Tight Ends
Andrews finished as the TE1 in total points (301.1) and in fantasy PPG (17.7). He did so by leading the position in targets, catches and yards. His 26% target share and 9.1 targets per game also led the position. He finished as a top-12 fantasy TE in 12 of 17 games and has been top six in each of the last three seasons. His 26 touchdowns at the position since 2019 are the most at the position. The most impressive part of what Andrews did is he did it with multiple QBs, as Lamar Jackson was forced to miss time. Andrews remains the focal point of the Ravens passing attack and is younger than many of his elite tight end counterparts. Given that, plus his track record as one of the best at the position for years, he has earned the right to be the top tight end off the board in 2022 drafts.
Kelce finished as the overall TE2 in 2022 -- ending a streak of five years as the top scoring tight end. He is the only tight end in the NFL to average over 15 fantasy PPG in six straight seasons and the only player in the NFL with over 80 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in six straight seasons. In fact, no one else has more than two consecutive seasons with those numbers. He also set the record, being the only tight end in NFL history to top 1,000 yards in six straight seasons. Look, I do not need to explain to you how good Kelce has been. What I may need to do is explain why he is not the TE1 in my early rankings. The thing is, as good as Kelce was last year, it was a down season. He posted his fewest targets, catches and yards since 2017. And he will be 33 years old this October. He is still awesome and that is why he is ranked second, but he is trending in the wrong direction career-wise.
Pitts at three may seem high to some, but if I am being honest I have strongly been considering moving him up. He can fluctuate the most of any of the top-five tight ends as the Falcons still have to bring in more pieces around him and potentially could have a QB change. But this is me buying into Pitts and his talent. No, he may not have lived up to the lofty fantasy expectations placed upon him as a rookie, but he was the best rookie tight end in decades, as advertised. He finished as the overall TE6 as a rookie and was the TE11 in fantasy PPG. His 20% target share was third at the position and he joined Andrews and Kelce as the only tight ends to have five-plus targets in 15 games. He posted the second-most receiving yards and fourth-most fantasy points by a rookie tight end in NFL history. The thing is, he scored just one touchdown. The only other players with 100-plus targets and one TD or fewer were Cole Beasley and Laviska Shenault. There will be obvious TD progression. Last season, players with that many targets averaged over six touchdowns, but a player with the size and speed combo of Pitts is a threat to reach double digits. Forget that he is a tight end, he is the Falcons' new WR1 by default and has the upside to finish atop the tight end position as early as this season.
Waller at four is another one that may seem high to some as he was just the TE17 last year, but that was largely due to injuries. He was the TE6 in fantasy PPG and remains one of the very best at the position. His 8.5 targets per game were second at the position and his eight end zone targets were third – despite him playing just 11 games. That was all in what was a super strange season for Waller and the Raiders. This year the offense will be handled by former Patriots OC Josh McDaniels, who has a history of success when it comes to managing big, physical tight ends like Waller. He should remain the lead target when healthy for the Raiders. Last season was the absolute floor for Waller, who finished as a top three TE in total points and PPG in the two seasons prior. He remains elite and should be a top-five pick at the position.
Kittle at five may seem low, but last season he finished as the TE4 in total points and fantasy PPG. He did so averaging 14 fantasy PPG, a feat he has now topped in four straight seasons. Kittle had been up and down this past season, as he had some monstrous games where he topped 30 fantasy points, but he also had stretches where he was held in check. In fact, if you include the playoffs, Kittle scored less than 11 fantasy points in his final six games, with six points or fewer in four of them. He remains a beast who is capable of exploding in any week, but he also has a lot of moving parts around him. The Niners are undergoing a QB change to Trey Lance, lost their OC in Mike McDaniel and he still has Deebo Samuel and to a lesser extent, Brandon Aiyuk, to compete for targets. All of that is enough for me to rank him fifth, but anywhere in the top five is a proper spot for Kittle.
Schultz has been a huge benefactor of the Cowboys' offseason moves. First, they used the franchise tag on him to make sure his talents stayed in Dallas. Then they shipped Amari Cooper out to Cleveland before signing Michael Gallup, who is likely to miss some time and definitely won’t be 100 percent at the start of the season. The passing game, especially early on, is shaping up to run through CeeDee Lamb and Schultz. Last season, Schultz finished as the overall TE3 and was the TE5 in fantasy PPG. He finished as a top-12 tight end in 11 of the 17 weeks he played. And that was with a much more crowded passing attack than the Cowboys will have in 2022. Schultz may not have the elite ceiling of the tight ends in front of him, but he is as safe as they come and is firmly in that strong second tier at the position.
Gronkowski just keeps on producing. Gronk was the TE7 in overall points and the TE3 in fantasy PPG in 2021 and has been a top-eight tight end in both years with the Bucs. Last season the big tight end averaged 7.4 targets per game, which ranked fourth at the position, and saw at least eight in nine of 12 games. That is such safe volume that not many other tight ends can provide. He is always a risk of missing time due to injury, but the Bucs do a really good job of managing his snaps and taking advantage when he is out there on the field. Last year he played just 55% of snaps. There could be more volume going his way with Chris Godwin recovering from a late season ACL tear. If he is limited or misses time early on it would just mean more Gronk (and Russell Gage).
Hockenson finished as the TE7 in fantasy PPG last season, but he is ranked just lower for me heading into 2022. Hockenson last year was placed in the same tier as Andrews and Pitts. In retrospect, that was a mistake, as he does not possess anywhere close to the same upside as those players. But he does bring a safe floor and can have big weeks – evidenced by him scoring 32% of his fantasy points in the first two games of 2021. Last year, he finished fifth among tight ends in targets per game (6.9) and third in catches per game (5.1). But the Lions passing game is more crowded than it was coming into last season. Amon-Ra St. Brown broke out in a huge way and could have surpassed Hockenson as the featured target in this offense. Then there is D’Andre Swift, who will always see a good amount of targets, to go with D.J. Chark, Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond. There is enough volume to warrant him going in the second tier of tight ends, but he should not crack the top six like he did last season.
Ertz finished as the overall TE5 and the TE10 in fantasy PPG last season. But he averaged 12 fantasy PPG with the Cardinals, which would have made him the sixth-best at the position. He saw 7.4 targets per game with Arizona, which ranked fifth at the position. He also led the team with a 21% share (DeAndre Hopkins was out), as well as leading them in catches. His production definitely benefitted from Hopkins being injured, but the Cardinals will be without Christian Kirk and have yet to replace him or A.J. Green. Ertz is likely to be the second target for Kyler Murray again in 2022.
Freiermuth had a strong rookie campaign as the TE13 in overall points and TE16 in fantasy PPG. The Steelers immediately started utilizing him near the end zone, as his 20 red zone targets were tied for the second-most among tight ends. He scored seven touchdowns, which not only was sixth at the position, but it was the fifth-most by a rookie tight end in NFL history. He was one dimensional as a rookie, as he likely either scored a touchdown or disappointed for fantasy purposes. But he is a good athlete who can become a more consistent part of the Steelers' passing attack, especially with JuJu Smith-Schuster likely on his way out. The Steelers will have a new QB in Mitchell Trubisky. In his final three years as the Bears starter, he targeted the tight end position on 16% of his throws. In two of the years, he was over 18% and in his final season the number reached 23%. He is no stranger to throwing to tight ends, which certainly gives Freiermuth upside in this offense.
Goedert finished as the TE8 in overall points and fantasy PPG and has been a top-10 tight end in two of the past three seasons. What you have to especially like is that after the Ertz trade, Goedert saw a 21% target share – which was the fourth-best at the position. He should see a large target share once again with a shot to lead the team. But working against him is that the Eagles passed the fewest times per game in the NFL last season. That target share still equated to the 16th-most targets at the position. He brings a safe floor and there is a ceiling here, the Eagles would just have to throw more to unlock it.
Gesicki finished as the TE8 overall last year but was TE14 in fantasy PPG. He has now been a top-12 tight end in three straight seasons and top eight in back-to-back seasons. His 73 catches ranked fifth at the position and his 6.6 targets per game was seventh. The glaring issue was he scored only two touchdowns. He scored five and six in the two years prior, so we should expect there to be some progression there. The real reason to get excited is new head coach Mike McDaniel, who helped work some magic on Kittle and the 49ers offense last year. Not that Gesicki is anything close to Kittle, but he is a unique talent that is almost more receiver than tight end. McDaniel should be able to properly utilize Gesicki and once again make him a fantasy TE1.
Knox was the TE11 overall and the TE9 in fantasy PPG in 2021. He did so averaging just 4.7 targets, 3.3 catches and 39.1 yards per game. Scoring nine touchdowns will cover a lot of blemishes. But relying on a high touchdown total year to year is a tough way to live. Knox could see more volume in 2022, but there will continue to be a lot of target competition with Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie and now newly signed tight end O.J. Howard. He has TE1 potential for sure in this high-powered passing attack.
Thomas also deserved a spot in the bonus section as he is a borderline TE1 as well. He only played six games before tearing his ACL, but he scored over 12 fantasy points in half of those. He also was seeing a bunch of playing time. His near 37 routes per game led the position while his 6.9 targets per game was fourth. Plus, he received a QB upgrade in Carson Wentz. Say what you will about him, but Wentz has always targeted his tight ends. Since 2017, Wentz has targeted his tight ends on 30% of his passes. Every year he was at least at 20% and that number got as high as 38%. Terry McLaurin will be the lead target, but Thomas could be second and surely will see a lot of weekly volume.
Fallback options: Hunter Henry, Irv Smith, Albert Okwuegbunam, Cole Kmet, Evan Engram
Sleepers: Noah Fant, David Njoku, Brevin Jordan, C.J. Uzomah