2022 Dynasty Startup Tight End Rankings – The Top Tier
NOTE: All scoring and positional rankings mentioned in this article are based on PPR scoring without any tight-end premiums.
1. The Wunderkind – Kyle Pitts
2021 Stats: 68 receptions – 1,026 yards – 1 TD (110 targets, 17 games played) — 21 years old
To begin with, let me get this disclaimer out of the way – these are startup rankings. Accordingly, these are most definitely not dynasty trade rankings. The truth of the matter is this; if you want Kyle Pitts, you will have to draft him here, first, before the rest of your league. That is where his value currently lies. After bursting onto the scene with a record-setting rookie year, he is dynasty tight end number one. The great news? While his value may not have room to grow, his production does! When the missing touchdowns come, watch out! At only 21 years old, you will see Kyle Pitts dominate dynasty tight end rankings for years to come. In short, draft Pitts as the first tight end off the board with full confidence.
2. The Producer – Mark Andrews
2021 Stats: 107 receptions – 1,361 yards – 9 TD (153 targets, 17 games played) — 26 years old
Earlier, I emphasized that these are tight end rankings for a startup draft. Generally, I mean that the Kyle Pitts owner probably does not have any desire to trade him for Mark Andrews. However, the Mark Andrews owner likely feels that way about the same scenario! You draft Kyle Pitts for the value and the expected production in the years to come. On the contrary, you will draft the next several players because they already produce at a high level. Mark Andrews finished as the top tight end in fantasy football in 2021, finally dethroning Travis Kelce. He belongs up here for good reason. Plug him into your lineup, and you’re all set for scoring at a tough position.
And yet, I do have concerns with Andrews at his current value.
While Andrews performed relatively well with Lamar Jackson in the lineup, when Jackson was injured, Andrews truly shined. His eleven games with Jackson? 56-738-5. His six games without? 51-623-4. Nearly the same stats in roughly half the games! With Lamar Jackson, Andrews was a great dynasty tight end, but without him, Andrews was a superstar. What does it mean going forward? What does the Ravens’ offense look like next year? Do Rashod Bateman and J.K. Dobbins steal some receptions from Andrews in an offense that is already light on them? For now, however, it is tough to argue against ranking him this highly. In fact, he is many people’s top dynasty tight end. Respectfully, as we turn the page to the offseason, I disagree. That’s what makes this all fun, though!
3. The Roller Coaster – George Kittle
2021 Stats: 71 receptions – 910 yards – 6 TD (94 targets, 14 games played) — 28 years old
George Kittle can be a maddening player to start. You expect superstardom and the points that go with it. After all, the man finished as the third-highest scoring tight end last year! However, too often does he remain stuck at the first hill. Last season, he finished with single-digit fantasy points in five games. That is in addition to missing three games. Kittle gives you the highest of highs but also the lowest of lows.
The honest truth is that many tight ends are passengers on this roller coaster, too. Mark Andrews had four games in the single-digits, as did Travis Kelce. It is a tough position. That is why George Kittle is still my TE3 despite the ups and downs. His style of play does seem to make him more prone to injury, but who else are you going to rank above him? His boom weeks will win you your matchup when they happen, just don’t overvalue him compared to some of the names coming up later. Many of them are just as capable of scoring big weeks without the injuries and without the cost.
4. The Veteran – Travis Kelce
2021 Stats: 92 receptions – 1,125 yards – 9 TD (134 targets, 16 games played) — 32 years old
What can I say about Travis Kelce that hasn’t already been said ad nauseum in the dynasty community? The unparalleled dynasty TE1 for years and years, Kelce finally relinquished his throne in 2021. If you are drafting Travis Kelce in a startup draft in 2022, you are drafting to win in 2022. Whereas you can go in several different directions with the other players I have in this tier, that is your one and only play when you draft a 32-year-old player where you’re going to have to draft Kelce. In fairness, he is under contract with the Chiefs until 2025, in his age 36 season. Who knows? Maybe we will get another few years of top production out of Travis Kelce. More likely, though, is that father time will remain undefeated and bring King Kelce to his knees. No pun intended.
5. The Bridesmaid – T.J. Hockenson
2021 Stats: 61 receptions – 583 yards – 4 TD (84 targets, 12 games played) — 24 years old
Before Kyle Pitts, the “Next Great Dynasty Tight End” hope was T.J. Hockenson. The dynasty community desperately wants Hockenson to be that guy. But, will it ever happen?
Hockenson finished 2021 as TE6 in points per game, missing the final five games of the season. He has all the talent in the world, and his great games are just that – great. The issue is that you just don’t get enough of them compared to other tight ends in this tier. Hockenson’s only two games above twenty points this season came in the first two weeks. After that, he only went above sixteen points once. As I said earlier, just as concerning is that his lows are low, putting up four single-digit efforts in only twelve games played. Three of those games were under five points, including a lineup-killing goose egg on one target in week ten.
Outside of Kyle Pitts, Hockenson is still the youngest member of my top tier, so there is plenty of room to grow. 2022 is his contract season, so it will be interesting to see if the Lions re-sign him. The talent is undeniable, but something about the current situation in Detroit is clearly keeping his ceiling in check.
6. The Question Mark – Darren Waller
2021 Stats: 55 receptions – 665 yards – 2 TD (93 targets, 11 games played) — 29 years old
What to do about Waller? Many dynasty players are facing that dilemma as we enter the offseason. The pros? Waller finished the season as TE5 by average despite a down year. He goes into next season as the most talented and experienced pass catcher on his team. The cons? He will be 30 at the start of the 2022 season and coming off of a season filled with injuries. He also wasn’t the overly-targeted juggernaut we have seen in years past. Perhaps most importantly, he wasn’t the red zone threat he once was, scoring only two touchdowns in ten games.
Given the above, Waller is a risky proposition to draft this offseason. He is still at the bottom of the first tier for me, but I would not fault you one bit for passing him up in lieu of one of the younger players in the next tier.
THE SECOND TIER
7. The “Yeah, but…” – Dallas Goedert
2021 Stats: 56 receptions – 830 yards – 4 TD (76 targets, 15 games played) — 27 years old
Can I just say “see also: T.J. Hockenson” for this blurb?
Dallas Goedert had two games above 20 points in 2021, but seven (seven!) below 10 points. All the talent in the world, but his current situation holds back his ceiling. Why isn’t Goedert higher on this list in comparison to Hockenson? Goedert is three years older. He is tied to the Eagles until at least 2025, when he will be 30 years old.
In summary, Goedert is at the top of a tier for me. Perhaps this is a controversial take. My advice? Do not overdraft him where he will likely go in your startup. There is better value, younger players, and similar production later in this tier.
8. The Free Agent – Mike Gesicki
2021 Stats: 73 receptions – 780 yards – 2 TD (112 targets, 17 games played) — 26 years old
Such as this man, for example. Mike Gesicki scored just five fewer points than Dallas Goedert in 2021. You will also be able to draft him at least a round or two later than Goedert. The big x-factor here is, of course, is that Mike Gesicki is one of the NFL’s top free agents heading into this offseason. Drafting Gesicki before knowing his landing spot is quite the gamble, but that’s why we play this game, right?
As with many of the players I have ranked above him, Gesicki has all the talent in the world. He is another player who was held back by his situation in Miami. The difference between Gesicki and the others is that he will almost certainly be changing situations in two short months. I can’t imagine his situation could get much worse, but it can most definitely get much better. I love the idea of getting Gesicki in early startups before he lands in a potentially great landing spot.
9. The Overlooked – Pat Freiermuth
2021 Stats: 60 receptions – 497 yards -7 TD (79 targets, 16 games played) — 23 years old
If Kyle Pitts weren’t a thing, we would all be talking so much about Pat Freiermuth this offseason. He had a legitimately great rookie campaign in Pittsburgh. That 2021 situation also is the albatross around his neck as we move into 2022. Freiermuth had a very low average depth of target due to the dead arm of the now-retired Ben Roethlisberger. Who will be the quarterback in Pittsburgh next season? Will they fix their offensive line issues, or will Freiermuth be forced to stay in and pass block more often? Don’t get me wrong, I love the potential of Freiermuth, but there is a reason he is in this second tier for me. His scoring was very touchdown-dependent. Freiermuth scored over ten points in seven games last season, but only one of them was earned without scoring a touchdown.
Between Najee Harris and a stable of talented wide receivers, Freiermuth may likely never see the volume needed to break into the top tier of tight ends. Again, he is a talented player, but we win fantasy football by fantasy points scored. We don’t score points for potential.
10. The Forgotten – Irv Smith, Jr.
2021 Stats: Injured — 23 years old
I was crestfallen when news broke that Irv Smith would miss the entire 2021 season. He was destined for a breakout with the Vikings, in my opinion. Now, several months later, he seems to be the forgotten man on this list.
59-587-3. Those are the 2021 stats of Tyler Conklin, Smith’s eventual replacement last season. Conklin surprised dynasty players by finishing as TE15. Let me assure you that Irv Smith is a much more talented tight end than the very average Tyler Conklin. Those numbers should be seen as a baseline of what you can expect Smith to do in this offense come the fall.
2022 is also a contract year for Smith, and you can bet that he will be ready to show what he can do. Still just 24 years old, Smith is one of my favorite buys of the offseason. If you are in a startup, do what you can to get him on your roster. The best part? You won’t have to do so until you get until well after many of the names later on this list have already been drafted.
10. The Spring Game – Noah Fant
2021 Stats: 68 receptions – 670 yards – 4 TD (90 targets, 16 games played) — 24 years old
The next two players may be the most controversial rankings on this list. There are plenty of Noah Fant fans out there in the dynasty community. However, I have never been one of them. Is he a fine player? Yes. But where he is coming off the board in drafts is not worth the investment, in my opinion. He finished as the TE9 last season. He finished as the TE8 the season before. I think that’s who Noah Fant is. He is a back-end TE1. You can start him, but he will never win you a week or a championship like the top tier of players on this list. For what you’re paying to draft Fant at his ADP, I would rather just wait and get a similarly scoring tight end later.
The elephant in the room is the potential of Denver landing Aaron Rodgers this spring. Fant’s value will likely skyrocket if this happens, as will the rest of his Bronco teammates. In that scenario, would the hype end up matching the production? That remains to be seen. For my money, I might look to one of Fant’s much more affordable tight-end teammates, which I’ll mention later on this list.
THE THIRD TIER
11. The Gamble – Dalton Schultz
2021 Stats: 78 receptions – 808 yards – 8 TD (104 targets, 17 games played) — 25 years old
I love Dalton Schultz in Dallas. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense are a great fit for Dalton Schultz. Dalton Schultz is a free agent. See the conundrum?
Despite finishing as TE4 last season, I do not think Dalton Schultz is one of the most talented tight ends in the NFL. Do you? No, it’s his situation, which is so critical to fantasy performance, especially for tight ends. Volume is key, as I’ve discussed previously here. What happens if Schultz moves on and doesn’t get the volume he once did in Dallas? Let Austin Hooper (remember him?) be a cautionary tale of what can happen to tight ends in free agency to those drafting Dalton Schultz in early startups.
12. The 2021 Robert Tonyan Award Winner – Dawson Knox
2021 Stats: 49 receptions – 587 yards – 9 TD (71 targets, 15 games played) — 25 years old
In 2020, Robert Tonyan went 52-586-11 on his way to a TE4 finish. Yes, Knox missed two games this season, but those numbers are eerily similar. Tonyan was tied to a great quarterback. Therefore, many overvalued him this past offseason. Remember all of the “Baby Kittle” stories? Well, Knox is also tied to a great quarterback, therefore, many will overvalue him this offseason.
Knox had a great game in a blowout against the Patriots in the Wild Card round, true. However, think back to the recent Bills-Chiefs playoff game, the game many have labeled as one of the best they’ve ever watched. Now, without looking it up, do you remember Dawson Knox in that game? The game where the teams moved up and down the field at will? Scoring like a video game? Was he a difference-maker? No. Dawson Knox caught two passes for nine yards in that game. He is a back-end TE1/high-end TE2 for your dynasty roster. Don’t overdraft him feeling otherwise.
13. The Snowbird – Zach Ertz
2021 Stats: 74 receptions – 763 yards – 5 TD (112 targets, 17 games played) — 31 years old
I had a tough time with where I wanted to put Ertz on this list. Have no doubt, though. He deserves a spot. After moving on from a bad situation in Philadelphia, Ertz landed in a golden spot with the Cardinals, finishing the year as TE6 overall.
The two caveats to drafting Ertz at this rank are his age and his contract, as he is a free agent. Ertz has gone on the record as saying he would like to re-sign in Arizona, but they also have many other players there to sign. Still, Ertz can provide the production that many of the names later on this list simply can’t. You likely wouldn’t have to draft him as the TE13 in your startup, but if you’re looking for someone to fill in later as your roster’s TE2, you could do much worse than Zach Ertz.
14. The Injured – Logan Thomas
2021 Stats: 18 receptions – 196 yards – 3 TD (25 targets, 5 games played) — 30 years old
As with Ertz, we are getting to the point where I have to pick someone to rank here. Logan Thomas is older than many of the players on this list, and he is coming off of a serious injury. He will never win you a week, but he’s shown the production to be a more-than-effective spot start. He was TE7 through the first three weeks before his injury. If Thomas can return to that level next season, he’s worthy of a roster spot in your roster’s proverbial tight-end room.
15. The Breakout – Cole Kmet
2021 Stats: 60 receptions – 612 yards – 0 TD (93 targets, 17 games played) — 22 years old
I debated putting Kmet higher on this list, but I just couldn’t justify it. Kmet is a prospect I really loved coming out of Notre Dame two years ago, and he started to put it all together as the Bears closed out 2021. Kmet finished the season as TE21 but notice the zero in the stat-line above. People complain about Kyle Pitts not scoring enough touchdowns, but at least he scored one! Kmet was shut out of the end zone in 2021. Let’s say he adds a meager four or five touchdowns to these numbers. Suddenly, we’re talking about a back-end TE1 player. With a new regime in Chicago and Justin Fields taking another step forward, I think we may see big things out of Cole Kmet in 2022.
Tyler Higbee, Hunter Henry, Gerald Everett, Evan Engram, David Njoku, O.J. Howard
Higbee is going to be 30 at the end of this next season. Similarly, Henry has an out in his contract with the Patriots at the end of 2022. Generally, they’re both options you would be comfortable starting in a pinch, but neither will win you a fantasy championship. Like many mid-tier tight ends, both have a low floor, and their ceiling is contingent on their touchdown production. This is not a recipe for success in dynasty fantasy football. Therefore, I would not place much value in either player in your startup draft.
In the meantime, Everett, Engram, Njoku, and Howard are each free agents heading into this offseason. Their landing spots bear watching. If you are doing an early offseason startup, I would try to draft one or two of these players late, hoping they land somewhere enticing. Generally, their values are already low enough that any decent new home would cause a bump in their value.
Albert Okwuegbunam, Donald Parham, Brevin Jordan, Adam Trautman
Each of these players has shown the ability to produce fantasy points despite limited opportunities. If you are doing an early startup this winter, they’re worth a late-round gamble.
“Albert O” caught 33 receptions on 40 targets for 330 yards and 2 touchdowns in 14 games. Conversely, Noah Fant went 68-670-4 on 90 targets over 16 games in 2021. I think the talent gap between Okwuegbunam and Fant is minimal, differing at this point only in draft capital. With a change in staff and at quarterback, it isn’t crazy to think Fant won’t take a step back as Okwuegbunam develops. To illustrate, he finished the season with an eye-opening 7.4 yards after the catch per reception. That number was the highest amongst all tight-ends with over 30 receptions.
Donald Parham will be a hot name to monitor this offseason. Do the Chargers let Jared Cook walk? Do they bring in another tight end? A free agent? Draft a rookie? Thus Parham’s value dangles in the wind as we approach the twists and turns of the NFL offseason. Anyone connected to Justin Herbert is going to have value going forward.
Brevin Jordan did not get into a game for the Houston Texans until the eighth week of the season. From there, he went 20-178-3 in the final nine games. Not very exciting, I agree. We are talking about fliers, though. Jordan is the second-youngest tight end in the NFL, behind only Kyle Pitts. He has plenty of time to develop on a team in dire need of talent.
Finally, many had high hopes for Adam Trautman heading into the season. He ended the season with a disappointing stat-line of 26-245-1, playing in 13 games. Changes are coming to New Orleans. Above all, their cap issues loom large, and the Saints may rely upon Trautman more in the future, given an offense lacking firepower.
Trey McBride, Jaylen Wydermyer, Jeremy Ruckert
I mention these names only so that you would put them on your radar. None of these three incoming rookies are Kyle Pitts, and rookie tight ends rarely produce. Where would I slot them? To summarize, I would probably look to draft McBride around TE12, depending on his landing spot and draft capital. Wydermyer and Ruckert are nice players with a promising future. However, at the moment, I would still let others draft them in a startup over the players I ranked above.
Be sure to check out Dynasty Nerds’ very own Jon Glosser’s article on the incoming rookie class of tight ends. You can also join the #NerdHerd and watch these players in action in the Dynasty Nerds Film Room!