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Navigating Through the Tight End Wasteland Crippling Fantasy Teams

The tight end landscape is barren after the top-two options. @timbmartens digs into the data from the early weeks of 2022 to figure out if there is anyone we can safely bet on.

Entering the 2022 NFL season, many fantasy owners knew who we could predict to be at the top of the tight end mountain. Only two tight ends had finished as top-five tight ends over the last three seasons: Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce. 

And thus far, the most obvious conclusion was correct. Kelce and Andrews are dominating at the tight end position. They are easily the top options for any owner in any format.  

This isn’t a surprise. Andrews and Kelce continuing to dominate was anticipated. What wasn’t expected was the drop-off being so severe after the top two tight ends. After Andrews and Kelce, there are essentially no tight ends that have stood out from the pack. None. 

If you are a contending team, what are you to make of this current tight end landscape? Are there any tight ends out there that we should invest in? Let’s take a look at what is out there. 

Three Weeks of Mediocrity 

Obviously, Kelce and Andrews are the top dogs. So who else has been producing at the tight end position? 

Well, first, let’s take a look at the top-scoring tight ends after our top two. Andrews is averaging 17.9 points per game and Kelce 15.2 points per game in 0.5 PPR format. After them, the next highest average for a tight end that has played all three weeks is Zach Ertz and his 9.8 points per game.  

This is the severe drop we were talking about. Kelce at second to Ertz at third is a drop of 5.4 points per week. The separation between Kelce and Ertz from second to third is equal to the separation between Ertz and Hayden Hurst from third to twenty-fourth among tight ends who have played every week. 

Having Andrews or Kelce is a massive advantage. Along with Ertz, there are only three other tight ends who have played all three weeks, averaging over nine points per week: Tyler Conklin (9.7), Dallas Goedert (9.4), and Darren Waller (9.2). Following them, there are only four tight ends averaging over 8 points per week: Gerald Everett (8.8), Pat Freiermuth (8.4), David Njoku (8.4), and Tyler Higbee (8.4).  

After those top-two guys, the separation between the next eight tight ends is only 1.3 points per week. This is hardly a difference-making amount. If you don’t have Andrews or Kelce, your tight end position does not matter in your matchups.  

So who can we bet on moving forward? 

How are top drafted TEs performing? 

Where to even begin when talking about the second tier of tight ends? Let’s try to decipher this based on where we thought players would be at the start of the year. 

Below is a chart of tight ends with their ADP prior to the season, their points per game, and the number of games they have played in 2022. As a reminder, these are dynasty rankings: 

Pitts remains a high dynasty value because of his youth and raw talent that we had already seen during his rookie year. But we may have to wait until Atlanta has a more reliable passing QB to see production that matches his ADP.  

Kittle and Waller have both been elite options in the past, but Kittle continues to be sidelined from injury far too often, and Waller is no longer the top target for Derek Carr with Davante Adams in Vegas now.  

Snap and Target Percentages

Who from this list stands out? Well, let’s add another piece to this equation: offensive snap, target percentage, and yards per target: 

Schultz, who now is dealing with a PCL injury, and Kittle, who has only played one game, are the only options above 90% in snap percentage. Hard to take much from the positive end of this stat, but the piece that stands out is Waller and Knox not being in for one of every four offensive snaps on their team. Even worse, Gesicki is in on less than half of the Dolphins’ snaps. 

Next is the target percentage. Andrews and Kelce, predictably, have good numbers here. After them, Pitts and Freiermuth are getting over one out of every five of their team’s targets. The issue with both of them is their yards per target both sit below seven yards. 

Digging further into yards-per-target shows us that Goedert is getting a fantastic chance to make bigger plays at 12 y/trgt, while Kittle (in one game) and Hockenson are being targeted less than 6 yards from the line of scrimmage. 

Let’s look at four other tight ends. These are four tight ends that are currently in the top 12 in the tight end scoring but were not in the top 12 in tight end ADP before the year began: 

While Tyler Conklin has had an excellent first three weeks, his depth of target and target percentage are a bit lacking. He is in on many snaps, which helps his opportunity, but it is hard to know if the returning Zach Wilson will target him as much.  

Gerald Everett had an excellent first two weeks, but he could soon be competing with Donald Parham and already is under 70% in offensive snaps. 

The two that stand out to me are Njoku and Higbee. Both are in the game for 90% or more of their team’s snaps. Both are seeing a high target percentage. And both have a very solid depth of targets. If those numbers continue, they could be great options for 2022. 

So Who Can We Bet On? 

Honestly, it isn’t easy to decide who is in the second tier of tight ends after Andrews and Kelce. The gap is so big, tier two should essentially be considered empty. There is tier one, and then the rest of the league. 

But if you had to gamble on a tight end, I would look at Goedert, Njoku, and Higbee from the more affordable end. I still feel the likelihood is Pitts, Waller, and Kittle (if healthy) will outscore these three, but the gap is much smaller than what the difference in price will be. A Pitts, Waller, or Kittle owner will want a big return in a trade. A Goedert, Njoku, or Higbee owner will be much more reasonable. 

Until the tight end market is better, every owner may be wise to see how the next few weeks play out. Will one of these tight ends stand out in the coming games? Maybe. Maybe not. But if you are an owner that doesn’t have Kelce or Andrews, you are in the same spot as every other owner.

You could gamble on a guy with some good target percentages and yards-per-target, but the sample size is still very small in 2022. Right now, it may be a better idea to hold and see what happens in the next few weeks.  

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