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The tight end position was riddled with failure and disappointment in fantasy leagues last year, with one notable exception. Should we approach the position with that in mind and fade everyone except the one tight end to rule them all? Or is it a classic zig when everyone else is zagging situation ripe for the plucking with depressed prices that can help us win our league if we pick the right tight end in the middle rounds? Let's run down the tight end landscape at the beginning of training camps.
Travis Kelce, KC
TARGET AT ADP: Kelce
Sure, Kelce could fall off in his age 33-34 season. Better to be a year early than a year late, they say. Kelce is still worth a top-five pick in PPR leagues. The Chiefs wide receiver group is just as underwhelming as last year's, and everything about Kelce's career has defied adherence to previous tight ends' career arcs. An examination of the age 33 seasons of the players ahead of Kelce on the all-time tight end reception list - Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, and Antonio Gates - reveals that only Gonzalez experienced a dropoff in production, but he was also traded from Kansas City to Atlanta that year, so that could explain it as much or more than aging. It's understandable to want a player who is already elite but still has potential to grow (Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase) over Kelce at the top of your draft, but after they are off of the board, Kelce should be a consideration unless you *love* a later tight end at ADP and think they will give you a good portion of Kelce's production at a big discount. In fact, the next player on this list could fit that description to a tee.
Mark Andrews, BAL
TARGET AT ADP: Andrews
Andrews had a rough 2022, along with the rest of the Ravens offense, but through the first six weeks, he was just off of Kelce's scoring pace and putting up fantasy points at a clip close to Kelce's year-long average. Unlike in 2021, he didn't benefit from the backup quarterbacks heavily targeting him after Lamar Jackson went out, and he also suffered a midseason knee injury. Andrews' durability record isn't as clean as Kelce's, but he's five years younger. The main reason to be in on Andrews two rounds after Kelce (which is a massive difference in value, something on the order of one-third the cost of Kelce in auction terms) is that the Ravens offense is going to be much more uptempo, pass-heavy, and fantasy-friendly. The Ravens did bring in Odell Beckham, Zay Flowers, and Nelson Agholor, and hopefully, Rashod Bateman will be healthier, but any loss in target share that Andrews suffers should be offset by target volume and offensive efficiency, and there's always the chance that none of the receivers stay healthy enough to considerably affect Andrews central role in the pass offense.
George Kittle, SF
TARGET AT ADP: Kittle
Let's muddy the tight end draft strategy water a little more. Kittle is available 2-3 rounds after Andrews, but there are multiple reasons to think he can be a strong value at that cost. He outproduced Travis Kelce from Weeks 13-17 after Brock Purdy took over (so did T.J. Hockenson and Evan Engram - Kelce's production tailed off in December) and had the first healthy offseason in a long time. With good news about Purdy's recovery from a playoff elbow injury, we should expect Kittle to stay at, if not surpass, his renewed production down the stretch.
Mid-Round Options - High Floor
AVOID AT ADP: Hockenson
CONSIDER AT ADP: Goedert
Hockenson is going off of the board as the TE3 after improved production following a Week 9 trade to Minnesota, but should he be in that vaunted spot? Consider that he only produced two PPR points per game higher on average in Minnesota than he did in Detroit, and at both stops, his average was buoyed by one massive week. Hockenson's average scoring in Minnesota was only slightly higher than George Kittle's, and Kittle had four weeks of 6.8 PPR points or less during that span. If Jordan Addison doesn't live up to first-round billing in year one, Hockenson's value could grow, but his actual value is closer to Evan Engram than Mark Andrews.
Goedert is the more interesting option, as he was on pace to set career highs in yards and receptions before suffering a shoulder injury that caused him to miss five games. He was more efficient per target, and there are early indications that his red zone role could grow this year. The Eagles pass offense will continue to mature, which can only help Goedert. He's available two rounds or more after Hockenson, but the two should be in the same scoring neighborhood, with Goedert having more room to grow.
Mid-Round Options - High Ceiling
TARGET AT ADP: Waller
CONSIDER AT ADP: Pitts
If there's a Top 3 tight end that comes from outside of the first five rounds of fantasy drafts, it will almost certainly be one of these two. Waller was acquired to be the #1 pass-catcher for a team that will trot out a Week 1 top-three wideout group of (in no particular order) Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, and Parris Campbell. Waller has also only played 20 games in the last two seasons. Pitts is a unicorn, and the Falcons made him the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history. After back-to-back seasons when he came with third-round (ish) draft cost in fantasy leagues, you can get Pitts in the fifth or sixth round of drafts this year. He should be in an improved offense with improved quarterback play. He's also coming off 2022 knee surgery that had him in a brace to open camp eight months later. If you believe in Pitts or Waller, make taking them at ADP your draft plan. Their ADPs are cheap enough to make the hit your team will take if they have seasons more like 2021 or 2022, not too costly for your team's outlook.
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