This week, I am ranking the top tight ends in the NFL. Unlike the wide receiver position that I ranked last week, there’s a big drop-off in talent after the top tiers of tight ends.
Now that the game is becoming so much more dynamic, tight ends, like running backs, aren’t as important as they once were. Even though finding quick, speedy, and athletic wide receivers is the popular trend, it’s still important to have the big-bodied tight ends who can open up the middle of the field and also block for their running backs.
So with that, here are my top 10 tight ends heading into the 2022 season.
Honorable Mentions: Hunter Henry & Dawson Knox
Usually when I give honorable mentions, it’s due to the player(s) having missed time recently due to injury. But, for these two honorable mentions, I included Henry and Knox because there are a dozen tight ends who are in my top three tiers. After that, there’s a big difference between tier three and tier four.
Hunter Henry had a solid year for the Patriots in his first year in New England. Henry caught 50 passes for 603 yards and nine TDs in 2021. He was the ninth-highest graded tight end, according to PFF. Taking it a step further, Henry had a 90.2 red zone receiving grade last season, the highest among all qualifying tight ends. The 27-year old has 30 TDs over his five-year career and should play a big part in Mac Jones’ growth and development.
Dawson Knox had a breakout year in 2021 for the Bills. After not topping 400 yards and three TDs in his first two seasons, Knox exploded with 587 yards and nine TDs on 49 receptions in 2021. And he did that all while missing a couple of games with a broken hand. He worked hard to fix the ball security issues he faced during his first two seasons and became one of Allen’s favorite targets in the process. In fact, Allen had a 130.5 passer rating last year when targeting Knox, the highest for any QB-TE duo in the league. Knox has a ton of upside but the Bills have a ton of weapons on offense. We’ll see how much Knox progresses in year four. I could definitely see him becoming a top-10 tight end in the near future.
10. Mike Gesicki (Miami Dolphins)
Even though he’s listed as a tight end, Mike Gesicki considers himself a big slot receiver. (He lined up as a tight end on just 140 out of 784 snaps last season.) However, considering the Dolphins franchise-tagged him as a tight end and still list him as one, he’s my tenth-best tight end.
Since 2020, Gesicki ranks seventh among tight ends in slot receiving grade, has the third-most receiving yards by a TE against single coverage, and leads all TEs in contested catches on such plays. He set career highs in targets (112), receptions (73), and yards (780) last season. He did drop from six TDs in 2020 to just two in 2021. It’ll be interesting to see how new head coach Mike McDaniel incorporates him into the offense this year.
9. T.J. Hockenson (Detroit Lions)
T.J. Hockenson regressed a bit last season after having a big second season in 2020. The former eighth overall pick in 2019 had 61 receptions for 583 yards and four TDs in 2021 after recording 67 receptions for 723 yards and six TDs in 2020. He did, however, miss the last five games this past season due to a hand injury. In the 12 games that he played, Hockenson had the second-lowest drop rate among qualifying tight ends (1.6%) and the highest contested catch rate at 78.6%. One area where he can improve is his run blocking, as he had a 45.1 run-blocking PFF grade in 2021.
8. Dalton Schultz (Dallas Cowboys)
Since replacing Jason Witten as the Cowboys starting tight end in 2020, Dalton Schultz’s numbers have gotten progressively better. After being used primarily as a blocking tight end in 2019, Schultz had 63 catches, 615 yards, and four TDs in 2020. He followed that up with 78 catches for 808 yards and eight TDs in 2021, improving his PFF receiving grade from 63.8 to 77.4. Dak Prescott may look to him even more this season with Michael Gallup recovering from a torn ACL and Amari Cooper in Cleveland. Schultz is definitely one of the better fantasy options at tight end.
7. Zach Ertz (Arizona Cardinals)
Coming in at seven is former Philadelphia Eagle and current Arizona Cardinal, Zach Ertz. Ertz did well after being shipped off to the desert mid-October. In 11 games with the Cardinals, Ertz had 574 yards and three TDs on 56 receptions. (He totaled 74 receptions, 763 yards, and five TDs in 2021 overall.) Ertz had a career low 57.3 PFF grade in 2020 and then bounced back with a 66.9 grade last season. Like Schultz, the 31-year old could get even more involved in the Cardinals offense this season with DeAndre Hopkins suspended for six weeks and Christian Kirk now in Jacksonville.
6. Dallas Goedert (Philadelphia Eagles)
Zach Ertz’s replacement in Philly, Dallas Goedert, is one spot ahead of Ertz in my rankings. As you will see coming up, there was a big drop-off from the first tier of tight ends to the second tier. So it may seem like Goedert is ranked a little high, but let’s not forget that Rob Gronkowski retired (for now) and this probably would’ve been his spot.
Goedert does have the numbers to back it up though. He turned in his best season in 2021, finishing with 56 receptions, 830 yards, and four TDs. His 90.7 PFF grade was the second-highest among tight ends and a career best for the former 2018 second-round pick. On top of that, Goedert is a great run blocker, as he leads all tight ends in run-blocking grade since 2018.
5. Kyle Pitts (Atlanta Falcons)
Atlanta may be rebuilding, but at least they have a top-tier tight end. Chosen fourth overall in 2021, right ahead of Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle, Pitts proved last year he can be a dynamic tight end for the Falcons. He finished his rookie season with 1,026 yards on 68 receptions. He may have had just one touchdown, but his 82.3 receiving grade for the season ranked sixth among all tight ends and third among all rookie tight ends during the PFF era. Pitts also recorded 29 explosive receptions of 15+ yards, the most by a rookie in the PFF era. He could improve his run blocking, but his pass catching abilities make up for any deficiencies in the running game. It should be an interesting second season for Pitts with either Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder as his quarterback.
4. Darren Waller (Las Vegas Raiders)
Darren Waller battled injuries all of 2021, as he missed six games. After posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2019 and 2020, Waller finished with 665 yards and just two TDs in 2021. His best season came in 2020 after he finished with 107 receptions, 1,196 yards, and nine TDs on 145 targets. He was at the top of all tight end receiving grades until the injuries knocked him down in ‘21. The Raiders did add Davante Adams, DeMarcus Robinson, and Keelan Cole this offseason, and Hunter Renfrow continues to get better and better. So Waller’s targets may be impacted (specifically by Adams) but I think that as long as he’s healthy, Waller will return to his 2020 form and create a nasty one-two punch with Adams.
3. George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers)
George Kittle is my third-best tight end heading into the 2022 season. Kittle has missed time each of the last two seasons, but bounced back each time. In 2020, he missed eight games with knee and foot injuries, but put up 634 yards and two TDs. Meanwhile, he finished 2021 with 71 receptions, 910 yards and six TDs after dealing with a calf injury.
Kittle’s best seasons came in 2018 and 2019 when he had 88 and 85 receptions, 1,377 and 1,053 yards, and five TDs each year. Not only can Kittle catch, he is also great with getting yards after contact and is a great run blocker. According to PFF, he “leads all tight ends in receiving yards after contact (1,171), broken tackles after the catch (58) and yards after the catch per reception (7.7) since 2018. Over that same timespan, Kittle ranks third at the position in run-blocking grade.”
I had him on my fantasy team last year and noticed that Kittle’s production dipped a lot when Trey Lance was his QB, as opposed to Jimmy Garoppolo. As long as Kittle is healthy and either Garoppolo is still under center or he creates some chemistry with Lance, he is a top tight end fantasy option once again.
2. Mark Andrews (Baltimore Ravens)
Mark Andrews has emerged as one of the games most dominant tight ends over the last few seasons, specifically last season. The 2018 third-round pick exploded in 2021 with 1,361 yards and nine TDs on 107 receptions (and 153 targets). His 91.9 PFF grade was a career high and a league high among all tight ends last season. Similar to Gesicki, Andrews is somewhat of a big slot receiver for the Ravens, as they lined him up on the inside for over 50% of his snaps last season. He is a matchup nightmare at 6’5”, 256 pounds and can dominate up the middle of the field and into the red zone. Though he may not always line up as the traditional tight end, Andrews was the third-best run-blocking tight end in 2021.
With the Ravens trading away Marquise Brown and going with Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, and James Proche II as their wide receivers this year, Andrews is poised for another huge season, maybe even bigger than last season. If you can draft him in fantasy, do it.
1. Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs)
And coming in at number one is Travis Kelce. Kelce just continues to put up monster season after monster season as Patrick Mahomes’ favorite target. The 33-year old is looking for his seventh straight 1,000-yard season and eighth straight season with at least 100 targets. After getting selected by the Chiefs in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Kelce has never finished a season below 862 receiving yards. (Aside from his rookie season when he played in one game and had no targets.)
Just like Andrews, Kelce is poised for another huge season after the Chiefs traded away Tyreek Hill. Yes, the Chiefs’ WR room is better than the Ravens’, boasting JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, Mecole Hardman, and Josh Gordon, but still… fire up Kelce all day. He is your number one tight end going into the 2022 season.
I will be ranking the top offensive linemen next week, so be on the lookout for that!
Featured Image: Jack Thomas/Getty Images