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Tight end battles are different. The position splits within itself, between inline and move tight ends. Elite players like George Kittle can serve dual purposes, opening up the ability for their teams to utilize more diverse personnel packages. The amount of inline tight ends that are functional fantasy pieces is minimal; meanwhile, move tight ends can be focal pieces of passing attacks.
This position is a catalyst of change for NFL offenses. The Bills adding Dalton Kincaid in the first round while giving Dawson Knox the eighth-highest tight end contract broke the brains of many fantasy players. Would the Bills cut Knox? What does this offense look like? The Bills hope the answer to the second question is "The Future."
Dalton Kincaid vs. Dawson Knox, Mike Gesicki vs. Hunter Henry, Durham Smythe vs. Elijah Higgins, Greg Dulcich vs. Adam Trautman, etc
These are not position battles. They are only listed to hammer home the point. Bills GM Brandon Beane has referred to their potential personnel package with the addition of Kincaid as "11.5" personnel (12 personnel is the terminology for two tight ends, while 11 personnel signifies three wide receivers).
Fantasy players want the move tight ends from these battles. These players can play in the slot, sometimes split out wide, or even moonlight as fullbacks within the offenses. The league has been transitioning to bigger slot wide receivers and trying to counteract defenses playing smaller to combat the passing game. Some wide receivers like the Rams' Ben Skowronek fill these roles while allowing their teams to stay in base 11 personnel sets.
How can you tell the difference? Watching a couple of plays will help, ideally from the 2011 Patriots, who executed a masterclass in this from Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. However, this modern version is still a new trend. Pro Football Focus's advanced stats package is excellent and can help, though that requires a subscription. Looking at targets may be the easiest way on paper. If a player has an established NFL career and averages around 30 targets or less a year, he is likely the blocker of the group. Above that, those are traditionally more in the move mold.
That does not mean the inline tight ends are complete zeros. Gronkowski is a textbook example of a classic inline player who was able to dominate the position. A player like Dawson Knox will still be heavily involved in the red zone and can benefit fantasy players.
This battle is a classic example of experience vs. youth. Hooper had a bounce-back season as Tennessee's primary tight end. His 60 targets placed second on the team, and his 444 yards were the most since 2019.
But Mayer has a higher ceiling in this situation. The Raiders traded a fifth-round pick to move up three spots and secure Mayer at 35th overall, a pick after tight end Sam LaPorta went off the board to Detroit. Hooper has struggled as a blocker, and Mayer should represent a quick upgrade in that area. The presence of Hooper and O.J. Howard will likely put a ceiling on Mayer's production, but that comes with a rookie tight end. Long term, their schooling should be a significant benefit.
Similar to the Raiders battle, this is experience vs. youth. Both of these players are a year in front of the Hooper and Mayer battle, having a year with the franchise under their belt. Ruckert has consistently generated camp buzz while Conklin was out. That could be enough to push Ruckert in front.
Conklin started his career as a strong blocker but has backslid as he has seen his passing game role grow. Ruckert's production is extremely limited due to injuries that robbed much of his rookie year. He is the better athlete and has a high school receiver, the better natural receiver. Like Mayer, he has the higher upside long term, but Conklin is a solid contributor, and the Jets are firmly in win-now mode.
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