The 2023 NFL Draft was the best year for tight ends in recent memory. NFL teams drafted 15 tight ends across the seven rounds, with an astonishing SIX drafted in rounds one and two. As we sort through the impact of the draft, here is an instant reaction of some of the winners and losers for the tight end position post-draft:
Juwan Johnson is a winner, and the New Orleans Saints didn’t draft a tight end. His main competition was Adam Trautman, and the Saints traded him late in the draft to the Denver Broncos—a reunion for Trautman with his first coach, Sean Payton. Juwan Johnson broke out last year for 42 catches on 65 targets for 508 yards and seven touchdowns.
Derek Carr is the starting quarterback now for the New Orleans Saints. In his final three years in Las Vegas, Carr’s percentage of targets to tight ends was 20% (2022), 23% (2021), and 33% (2020). Darren Waller was injured during the 2021 and 2022 seasons accounting for Carr’s lower target percentage versus 2020. Additionally, Juwan Johnson’s only competition is the ever-frustrating Taysom Hill. Luckily, Taysom Hill is viewed more as a Swiss army knife than a traditional tight end, leaving Johnson the only solid tight end option in New Orleans today. In the DynastyGM tool, Johnson appears to be going for roughly a 2023 3rd round pick in 1QB leagues which I would be more than happy to
This one is a stretch for the winner, but Irv Smith has been a promising player from the talent aspect of his game. His health, not so much. Minnesota originally drafted Smith, and he played out his rookie deal with disappointment after disappointment. Smith missed the entire 2021 season and only played eight games in 2022. Eventually, TJ Hockenson replaced him. Smith’s most productive year was in 2020, with 30 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns. However, Smith replaces Hayden Hurst on the Bengals, who are a passing machine. Looking at recent trades on the DynastyGM, Smith is going for 2023/2024 3rd round pick value in 1QB leagues. I would wait a little longer and see if the price drops a bit more before trying to acquire him.
The biggest loser of the draft is Dawson Knox. The Buffalo Bills drafted Dalton Kincaid in the first round. He was the first tight end off of the board. This is a major blow to the future and value of Knox. Dalton Kincaid is an explosive pass catcher and should immediately supplant Knox in their offense. Dawson Knox has been a middling tight end who thrived in the red zone, which has accounted for 11 of his 15 total touchdowns over the past two seasons. With first-round draft capital, expect Kincaid to have an immediate role in the Bills offense, taking away the little non-touchdown value that Dawson Knox possessed.
Nothing is worse for a young, outbreaking tight end than a new head coach with an affinity for HIS players. The Denver Broncos traded for Adam Trautman, who had mediocre stats in New Orleans the past few years. Trautman is in the final year of his rookie deal. This has all the markings for negative production for Greg Dulcich. Dulcich broke out as a rookie last year with 33 catches for 411 yards over 10 games. I loved his game and acquired or drafted him in many leagues. However, Sean Payton’s historically annoying usage of tight ends has me reconsidering his potential production. In non-tight-end premium leagues, I would be looking to trade Greg Dulcich for players such as Chig Okwonko, plus additional assets. No trades have populated on the DynastyGM tool post-draft leading me to believe many people are now unsure how to value Dulcich.
The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted the behemoth Darnell Washington in the 3rd round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Darnell Washington is a tantalizing prospect with his massive frame and performance at the combine. Many are hoping that his massive size and athleticism are used to catch passes, but I am unsure if that’s the case. The University of Georgia used Washington mainly as a blocking tight end at the University of Georgia. He had one productive season from a pass-catching standpoint, with 28 catches for 454 yards. My initial reaction is that this will be a slight downgrade for Freiermuth. However, he will still maintain the majority of pass-catching duties. I believe Washington will be used more in a blocking role to help Najee Harris rush.
This was a great year for rookie tight ends. However, the effects of the draft are being felt all over the position. Make sure you thoroughly research all the drafted tight ends before your rookie drafts so you acquire more winners than losers.