Before we conclude our position previews with my thoughts on the state of the tight end position …
We've got football tonight! Preseason football, of course, which means we probably won't see too much of the players we actually care about for Fantasy, but still … football!
Week 1 of the preseason kicks off with the Texans and Patriots at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the Vikings and Seahawks at 10. We'll get our first look at C.J. Stroud, though he might be the only starting QB for any of those teams who plays tonight. Week 1 is about figuring out some of those lower-end position battles and making back-of-roster calls, so don't expect to see too many big Fantasy names.
Still, there's going to be something to watch in every game – and tomorrow, we'll go through each of them to figure out what you should be looking for. Today, we'll do a mini version of that for these two games:
Texans at Patriots – Which running backs play for the Patriots?
I'd be surprised if we see much of Rhamondre Stevenson, who shouldn't have much to prove – and, as Josh Jacobs taught us last season, an established back playing in Week 1 of the preseason isn't necessarily a reason to worry. But if the likes of Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong don't impress this week, that could put some pressure to add one of those veterans like Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette the Patriots have been linked to. That wouldn't be ideal for Stevenson.
Vikings at Seahawks – Vikings backup RB battle
We know Alexander Mattison is going to be the starter here, and there probably won't be much room for anyone else to matter while he's healthy in this pass-heavy offense. However, Mattison has never had more than 166 touches in an NFL season, so we just don't know how he's going to hold up to being the RB1. There could be an opportunity for one of Kene Nwangwu or Ty Chandler to be useful this season, and this is really our first opportunity to find out who might be the next man up.
And, with that out of the way, here's how the TE position looks for 2023:
The State of the TE position
It would be an exaggeration to say that Travis Kelce is the only tight end that matters in Fantasy Football … but it wasn't much of an exaggeration last season. Kelce scored a whopping 316.3 PPR points last season, tops at the position, and a number that only seven running backs or wide receivers bested. How much better than the No. 2 tight end was that good for?
Kelce outscored the No. 2 tight end, T.J. Hockenson, by 102.9 points, bigger than the gap between RB1 and RB6, or between WR1 and WR7. It was the biggest edge you could have in Fantasy; he averaged 9.1 points per game more than TE12!
He's the No. 1 player at the position, and the only one being drafted in the first round for a reason. But what would it take for Travis Kelce to not be the No. 1 TE?
Travis Kelce has never averaged fewer than 11.5 PPR points per game. That's nine straight seasons of being at least a must-start Fantasy option, including seven in a row with 1,000-plus yards. Here's where Kelce would have finished among wide receivers over those seven seasons in per-game scoring:
That would put him alongside Keenan Allen and Davante Adams as the only wide receivers to finish in the top 12 in each season from 2017 through 2022. When we talk about "difference-making production" from the tight end position, that's the goal.
Last season, Kelce produced like the WR7, while Hockenson produced like WR31. That kind of gap between the No. 1 and No. 2 guy is unusual, however, even at the tight end position. There's usually at least one other tight end who reaches, say, 220 PPR points or 14-15 per game; in 2021, Mark Andrews actually led the position at 17.5 points per game; in 2020, it was Darren Waller who got to 17.5; in 20219, Kelce led the position at 16.0, but a whopping five other players were at least at 13.9 points per game.
Which is to say, while Kelce is probably one of the biggest edges you can get in Fantasy, last season probably wasn't repeatable. Every year, there's usually at least one other tight end in his zip code, if not his neighborhood. That will probably be true again in 2023.
Who will it be? Well, drafters are betting that Mark Andrews (34.1 ADP) and T.J. Hockenson (41.7) have the best chances, and I think I agree. But they aren't the only ones. By my count, there are nine tight ends I could see ending up in that 14-PPG range, though probably fewer who could really challenge Kelce as the No. 1 player at the position.
These are not, by the way, simply my nine highest ranked tight ends after Kelce. I have guys like Dalton Schultz, Evan Engram, and David Njoku ranked higher than at least a few of the players listed below, because they're better bets to give me a usable 11 points per game, or so. But they probably don't have that 14-plus PPG upside we're looking for in this particular exercise. For my full tight end rankings, you'll just have to keep scrolling.
Here are the nine TEs besides Kelce I think have the highest ceiling, and a case for how they could get there:
Mark Andrews, Ravens – This one really doesn't require much imagination. Andrews was the top scorer at tight end in both total points and per-game in 2021, and he was on pace for an even better season in 2022 before injuries to both him and Lamar Jackson derailed him. The Ravens added a bunch of new pass-catchers this offseason and have a new offensive coordinator, so we can't necessarily expect Andrews' usage to remain the same it's been the past few years. But we've seen his best-case scenario, and it looks a lot like Kelce's.
T.J. Hockenson, Vikings – I don't think Hockenson has the playmaking chops to have a truly high-end season like we've seen from Kelce or Andrews, but I don't want to write it off entirely after he put up a 102-catch pace after getting traded to the Vikings – 108 if you include his 10-catch playoff game. He's locked into a valuable role in a high-volume offense, and could brute-force his way to a 250-point season even if he doesn't have the big-play potential some of the other contenders might.
Kyle Pitts, Falcons – Now Pitts? He has the big-play potential we're looking for. He's kind of the opposite of Hockenson, in that he's got the clearly elite physical skill set but real questions about his quarterback and the offense he plays in. If Desmond Ridder is even just a run-of-the-mill below average QB and the Falcons are, like, 23rd in the league in pass attempts, Pitts is probably a top-three tight end, and he might not be three. Those are just significant question marks, and training camp reports about Ridder's development are not providing the answers we hoped to see.
Dallas Goedert, Eagles – Goedert feels like the safest of the second-tier tight ends, but let's not discount the upside here. He's a very good player in an elite offense that routinely schemes up big plays for him. His target share is suppressed by the presence of A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, but if either were to miss time, Goedert might be elite.
Darren Waller, Giants – Waller seems like he's cleared to be the top target in the Giants passing game, and while it's unlikely to be an elite offense (or elite QB), the lack of any other viable high-end target earner alongside him could clear Waller for one of the highest target shares at the position … if he's still a high-end playmaker. Reports out of camp are very promising in that regard, but Waller will be 31 shortly after the season starts and has struggled to stay healthy of late, so it's fair to wonder if he's no longer equipped to take advantage of the situation. If he is, he could be in line for a career-best season.
George Kittle, 49ers – There's no question about Kittle's skill set; in my eyes, he's second only to Kelce at the position, and it's not a distant second by any means. The problem is, the 49ers have consistently been a very low-volume pass offense, and there's no reason to expect that to change this season. Add in a very crowded offense, and you have what I call, the "49ers Math Problem," which makes it tough for Kittle to live up to his potential. There will be smash weeks where he drops 20-plus points, but probably just as many where you're tearing your hair out. But an injury to Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel could change the math very quickly.
Pat Freiermuth, Steelers – Now we're at the true long shots. Freiermuth probably needs to take another step forward as a target earner and he needs Kenny Pickett to take a big step forward as a passer after a pretty underwhelming rookie season. Neither is particularly likely, especially if George Pickens take a step forward as many are expecting. But if he remains a relatively low target share guy, Freiermuth could be the No. 2 option in what has in the past been a pretty pass-happy offense. I don't think there's much chance of a 16-plus PPG season, but he could get to that 14-PPG threshold.
Dalton Kincaid, Bills – And now, the realm of the true long shots. Kincaid is living up to the hype so far in camp, by all accounts, and seems likely to open as the team's primary slot option. That he's not likely to be asked to handle much blocking should make the transition to the league a little easier. Kincaid is a high-end prospect in an elite offense, one that pretty desperately needs more playmaking alongside Stefon Diggs. I won't draft Kincaid as my only TE, but if I pair him with a higher-floor guy like Dalton Schultz, I don't hate it.
Sam LaPorta, Lions – LaPorta went off the board 11 picks after Kincaid, to a worse offense, so he's rightly viewed as a worse bet for Fantasy. But this is another offense that could really use a reliable pass catcher who isn't Amon-Ra St. Brown or a running back, and LaPorta might be their best bet.
This is actually an excellent class of rookies at tight end, maybe one of the most talented we've ever seen, with six drafted in the first two rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft. Earlier in the offseason, Dave Richard profiled the rookies at every position.
Dalton Kincaid, Bills – No. 25 overall
Draft outlook: For years it's been a no-no to draft a rookie tight end in Fantasy -- only Kyle Pitts was a reasonable exception. Kincaid isn't quite on that level even though he landed in a pass-heavy offense. It feels a little risky to take him before Round 10 outside of Best Ball leagues, but that's about the range for a pass-catcher with the promise of consistent targets from week to week.
Draft outlook: There will be skepticism with Mayer as an every-week contributor in the Raiders passing game. That's why he might actually go undrafted in basic leagues. At minimum, a manager could wait until his final three picks and use one on Mayer just to see how involved he is to start the season.
Sam LaPorta, Lions – No. 35 overall
Draft outlook: Given all of the Lions' fun pass-catchers, LaPorta doesn't offer a whole lot of statistical upside. Maybe he has a shot at a couple of solid weeks while Jameson Williams serves his suspension, including his Week 1 matchup at Kansas City, but the full-year outlook is already murky for rookie tight ends. This isn't an exception. He's a late-round flier at best.
Sleepers, breakouts, and busts
David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs will play a big role in the passing game, but that still leaves plenty of room for LaPorta, at least until Jameson Williams' six-game suspension is over. LaPorta is a good athlete (4.59 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds) who showed solid after-the-catch playmaking chops in college, and if any rookie TE is going to be worth starting early this season, I like his chances best.– Rookie tight ends generally don't produce much for Fantasy, and I don't necessarily expect LaPorta to buck that trend. But I think his landing spot puts him in position to make the most immediate impact of any of this year's vaunted rookie class, because the Lions enter the season with very little expected from the wide receivers outside of Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Marcus Mariota last season - Mariota averaged 23.1 pass attempts per game last season, while Ridder averaged 28.8 in his four starts. That's not a lot, but it would mean 100 more pass attempts over a full season. If Ridder isn't any good, it might not matter, but if Ridder can even just be the 23rd best QB in the league, that's probably enough to make Pitts one of the better tight ends in Fantasy, thanks to his ability to earn targets at a high rate while working primarily down the field. And, of course, if Ridder is even close to average and the Falcons up their pass volume to, say, 30 attempts per game, well, it's not hard to see Pitts ending up as the No. 2 tight end this season. Remember, he's still just 22 until October and is arguably the best tight end prospect of all time. I'm just going to keep betting on that profile.– There's an assumption that Desmond Ridder is going to be a big upgrade for the Falcons passing game, but that's a big unknown at this point. What seems safer to assume is that they'll at least throw more with Ridder at QB than they did with
Brock Purdy at the end of the season, so it's not like the QB change totally saved his season. The 49ers have a crowded offense, and Kittle was fourth in target share at just 11.5% in the six games with Purdy at quarterback and all of Kittle, Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk healthy. You're drafting Kittle as if he's an every-week difference maker on the rest of the TE position, and I'm just not sure he's going to be that.– Kittle ended up as the No. 3 tight end last season, but if you actually had him on your team, you might remember things a bit differently. Through Week 14, he was averaging just 10.4 PPR points per game, before going off for seven touchdowns in his final four games to salvage his season. Those four games were pretty high for Fantasy players, but he also had fewer than 30 yards in two of them, so it wasn't like he was dominating consistently. Kittle will always have that kind of weekly upside, but he also had fewer than 40 yards in six of eight games with
Here's how Dave is breaking down the top tiers at TE. For the rest, and his thoughts on the position,:
Tier 1: Travis Kelce
Tier 2: Mark Andrews, T.J. Hockenson, Kyle Pitts
Tier 3: Darren Waller, George Kittle, Dallas Goedert
Tier 4: Evan Engram, Dalton Schultz, Pat Freiermuth, Greg Dulcich
Rankings/Salary Cap Values values
- Travis Kelce, Chiefs – $25
- Mark Andrews, Ravens – $9
- T.J. Hockenson, Vikings – $7
- Kyle Pitts, Falcons – $7
- Dallas Goedert, Eagles – $7
- Darren Waller, Giants – $6
- George Kittle, 49ers – $6
- Pat Freiermuth, Steelers – $3
- Evan Engram, Jaguars – $2
- David Njoku, Browns – $2
- Dalton Schultz, Texans – $1
- Tyler Higbee, Rams – $1
- Gerald Everett, Chargers – $1
- Juwan Johnson, Saints – $1
- Chigoziem Okonkwo, Titans – $1
- Sam LaPorta, Lions – $1
- Cole Kmet, Bears – $1
- Greg Dulcich, Broncos – $1
- Dalton Kincaid, Bills – $1
- Hayden Hurst, Panthers – $1
- Dawson Knox, Bills – $1
- Hunter Henry, Patriots – $0
- Irv Smith, Bengals – $0
- Zach Ertz, Cardinals – $0
- Taysom Hill, Saints – $0
- Michael Mayer, Raiders – $0
- Luke Musgrave, Packers – $0
- Luke Schoonmaker – $0
- Cade Otton, Buccaneers – $0
- Tyler Conklin, Jets – $0
- Mike Gesicki, Patriots – $0
- Logan Thomas, Commanders – $0