Those who participate in fantasy football know it’s not easy landing a reliable tight end, mainly because of the lack of depth after Travis Kelce and George Kittle.
But after a few former first-round picks found their footing in 2022, there might now be depth at the position, and that doesn’t include the freakishly athletic Kyle Pitts, who might be on the verge of a breakout season in Atlanta.
Pitts’s potential and the consistency of Kelce and Kittle make them three of the top 10 tight ends in the NFL heading into the 2023 season, according to this football scribe. But where do they rank, and who else is on this list that will certainly cause debates on social media? Let’s find out.
10David Njoku, Browns
Perhaps Njoku hasn’t met the high expectations that were set for him because of his vast skill set and draft status as a 2017 first-round pick, but he’s still one of the league’s most complete tight ends. His ’22 numbers reflect that, with 58 catches for 628 yards and four touchdowns. He also received a 76.3 grade for pass blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. Njoku, 26, might be on the verge of a career year with a full season of playing with quarterback Deshaun Watson in Cleveland.
9Pat Freiermuth, Steelers
Freiermuth, 24, ascended as a pass catcher during his second NFL season, with 63 catches for 732 yards, averaging 11.6 yards per reception. As a rookie, the 2021 second-round pick recorded 497 yards and averaged 8.3 yards per reception. But Freiermuth will need to contribute more as a red zone target for quarterback Kenny Pickett—the tight end regressed from seven touchdown receptions in ’21 to only two last season. On the other hand, the Steelers often ask Freiermuth to block, and he’s been one of the better pass-blocking tight ends since entering the league.
8Dalton Schultz, Texans
Schultz is coming off a disappointing final season in Dallas, but his productivity from 2020 to ’21 made him one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league. Schultz averaged 70.5 receptions and 711.5 receiving yards a season during his memorable two-year stretch as Dak Prescott’s go-to target. At 26, Schultz still has plenty of football left and could become rookie C.J. Stroud’s security blanket in Houston. But Schultz will need to do more than his ’22 numbers of 57 catches for 577 yards and five touchdowns.
7Kyle Pitts, Falcons
Pitts, 22, hasn’t lived up to the hype as the No. 4 pick in the 2021 draft because of injuries last season and lack of consistency in the passing game. But perhaps no tight end has more talent than Pitts, which he displayed in flashes during a productive rookie season with 68 catches for 1,026 yards and an average of 15.1 yards per reception. Also, Falcons coach Arthur Smith has struggled to use Pitts’s strengths as a receiver, because poor quarterback play forced Atlanta to operate with a run-heavy offense the last two seasons. If second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder provides stability, this might be the year Pitts can put it all together to please his many disgruntled fantasy football owners—he has only three career touchdown receptions.
6T.J. Hockenson, Vikings
Hockenson is another first-round selection (No. 8 in 2019) who had a rocky start to his career. After three and half underwhelming seasons, the Lions traded Hockenson to the Vikings midway through the ’22 season. But he flourished in his new home, recording 60 catches for 519 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games in Minnesota and being named a Pro Bowler. Overall, Hockenson had career highs in receptions (86) and receiving yards (914), and he added six touchdowns catches last season. If Hockenson, 25, continues to deliver those types of numbers, he’ll live up to his draft billing and possibly make the Lions regret trading him to an NFC North rival.
5Dallas Goedert, Eagles
Goedert, 28, hasn’t looked back since the Eagles made him the No. 1 tight end in 2021 by trading Zach Ertz to the Cardinals. Goedert established himself as a top tight end in the league with his 830 receiving yards that year, but his ’22 campaign might have been more impressive, and the advanced stats support that. According to Football Outsiders’ DYAR metrics, which assess tight ends in total value, Goedert’s 208 DYAR ranked second only to Kelce’s 248 last season. Goedert also ranked second in DVOA (36%), which analyzes value per play.
4Darren Waller, Giants
Some might argue Waller, 30, is ranked too high because of his lackluster final two seasons with the Raiders. But when he’s healthy, Waller is a matchup nightmare and might be as good of a pass catcher as the top two tight ends on this list. Also, a fresh start with the Giants might help Waller regain his dominant form from his 2019 and ’20 seasons. (He averaged 98.5 receptions and 1,170 receiving yards during that time.) Derek Carr benefited from Waller’s presence during their time together with the Raiders. Now Giants quarterback Daniel Jones will have the luxury of throwing to the 6'6", 255-pound Waller.
3Mark Andrews, Ravens
Andrews, 27, has been Lamar Jackson’s top target since the two entered the league together in 2018. His productivity in the passing game has minimized the Ravens’ inability to hit on a wide receiver during the past few drafts. And the three-time Pro Bowler has been just as valuable as a blocker, playing an integral role in the historic success of the Ravens’ ground game the past five seasons. Andrews’s best season came in ’21: He recorded 107 receptions for 1,361 yards, nine touchdowns and was named a first-team All-Pro.
2George Kittle, 49ers
49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk has referred to Kittle as the greatest blocking tight end of all time. It’s hard to disagree, given how vital Kittle’s physical playing style has been to the success of the 49ers’ offense since he entered the league in 2017. But Kittle, 29, wasn’t selected to four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams for being one-dimensional. He’s dynamic in the passing game as a seam stretcher and yards-after-catch threat. (Kittle has a career average of 13.3 yards per reception.) In 2022, Kittle recorded 60 receptions for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns.
1Travis Kelce, Chiefs
Speaking of GOATs, Kelce has a strong case for being the best pass-catching tight end with his streak of seven consecutive seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards. Overall, Kelce might be the best tight end of his generation—though Rob Gronkowski might disagree—thanks to his productivity and importance to the Chiefs’ success in the past decade, with seven consecutive AFC West titles and two Super Bowl trophies. Coming off another prolific season (110 catches, 1,338 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns), the 33-year-old will likely continue adding to his legacy, which includes four first-team All-Pro and eight Pro Bowl selections, plus a spot in the Hall of Fame a few years after he’s done playing.