To cap off the Offseason Wrap-Up series, let's take a look at how changes this summer impact the tight end position. This is not an exhaustive list of tight ends in the NFL, but rather the players who are in the top five or can be in that conversation.
Travis Kelce Becomes Primary Beneficiary
As if Travis Kelce needed any additional reason to be drafted in the first round, Tyreek Hill had to go find himself a new home. Alongside Mecole Hardman, the Kansas City Chiefs added JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and drafted Skyy Moore to help fill the void. However, the primary beneficiary of Hill’s departure will likely be Kelce.
Last season, Kelce finished as the TE2 with 134 targets, 92 receptions, 1,125 yards, and nine touchdowns and was the second-highest target leader behind Hill. Smith-Schuster, Hardman, and Valdes-Scantling will certainly see their share of Hill’s 159 vacated targets, but this will likely be Kelce’s pool to draw from.
My main concern with Hill’s absence is that defenses can focus their resources on Kelce to shut him down. If the Chiefs had a more intimidating run game, it wouldn’t worry me as much. Unfortunately, they finished 20th in rush attempts, 16th in rushing yards, and 14th in rushing touchdowns. That is compared to their passing game which ranked second in passing attempts, fourth in passing yards, and sixth in passing touchdowns.
With new faces around him, Patrick Mahomes will likely continue to target his tight end in a pass-heavy offense. That could be to Mahomes’ detriment, especially now that defenses have caught on to Mahomes’ and the Chiefs’ offensive scheme. However, whether or not Kansas City wins or loses, it shouldn’t matter much for Kelce’s fantasy production. In the first seven weeks of 2021, the Chiefs were an uncharacteristic 3-4, but Kelce was the TE1.
Mark Andrews Poised to Repeat in 2022
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews is in a very similar position as Kelce. Last season, Andrews finished ahead of Kelce as the TE1 with 107 receptions from 153 targets for 1,361 yards and nine touchdowns. Andrews’ situation looks to either remain constant or improve after the loss of Marquise Brown to the Arizona Cardinals.
Brown vacates 146 targets that will likely go mostly to Andrews. Second-year wide receiver Rashod Bateman also looks to take a step forward in Brown’s absence.
Even though the Ravens are not known for their prolific passing game, there are still plenty of targets to go around to support the third-ranked run game from last season. Andrews is in a perfect position to go for a TE1 two-peat in 2022.
Cardinals Give Zach Ertz Another Chance at TE Greatness
After eight and half seasons, Zach Ertz and the Eagles parted ways in 2021. While in Philadelphia, Ertz finished as a top-10 tight end five years in a row from 2015 to 2019. Fantasy managers then soured on Ertz after his worst career season in 2020 when he finished as the TE32 over 11 games.
It seemed the fantasy world moved on from Ertz as an elite tight end until we saw glimpses of his past self after being traded to the Arizona Cardinals. He finished as the TE8 over the course of the season, but I want to focus on the 11 weeks he was in Arizona. In that time, he saw 81 targets and had 56 receptions for 574 yards and three touchdowns on a brand new team. That put him on pace for 125 targets, 86 receptions, 887 yards, and four touchdowns which would equal roughly 160 points in half-PPR. For reference, the top-five tight ends from last season finished as follows…
Dalton Schultz: 169.8
George Kittle: 162.5
Rob Gronkowski: 143.7
Ertz, just like Kelce and Andrews, is in an even better position this season, at least for the first six weeks. WR DeAndre Hopkins has been suspended for six games due to a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. As previously mentioned, the Cardinals did acquire Brown from the Ravens to help fill in, but Ertz is also squarely in the mix to see additional targets.
Not only did the Cardinals lose Hopkins for a part of the season, but pass-catching running back Chase Edmonds has a new home in Miami. If we take an average target share of Hopkins over a six-game stretch and combine that with Edmonds' vacated targets, the Cardinals receivers are looking at approximately 115 vacated targets.
Ertz has the talent and the opportunity to be in the top-five conversation for 2022.
Dallas Goedert May Find Relief with New Teammate
Sticking with the Eagles connection, let’s explore Ertz’s former teammate, Dallas Goedert. Despite a floundering offense, Goedert became Jalen Hurts’ security blanket and finished as the TE6. He was second in targets with 76 behind DeVonta Smith with 104. Out of those 76 targets, he had 56 receptions for 830 yards and four touchdowns.
Of course, there is a big red flag by the name of A.J. Brown who was traded to the Eagles during the first round of the draft in April. There is no denying that Brown will eat into Goedert’s target share. However, I am not so sure that this is as bad as it may seem.
Even though the numbers aren’t flashy, Goedert was still incredibly efficient. He led the team in yards per target with 10.9, was third in yards per reception (behind JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Quez Watkins), and had a 73.7% catch rate. With mediocre wide receiver production, Goedert was absorbing the focus from opposing defenses yet still managed to produce. With Brown and Smith on the field pulling defenders away, Goedert may be able to take a breath for a change instead of being smothered by double coverage.
The target share isn’t ideal, let’s be honest. The Eagles ranked 32nd last season in pass attempts and were second-highest in rush attempts. With another talented mouth to feed, those 76 targets from last season are likely to diminish. However, I still have faith in Goedert based on his production against all odds last season.
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The Raiders’ New Addition Not So Great for Darren Waller
This may sound hypocritical considering I just sang Goedert’s praises in a similar situation, but I have serious concerns for Darren Waller in 2022. In a previous article, Most Impactful Wide Receiver Moves, I noted the repercussions of Davante Adams’ move to the Las Vegas Raiders.
While in Green Bay last season, Adams garnered 123 receptions on 169 targets for 1553 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also saw anywhere from seven to 18 targets per game. Adams is not your average Joe in the NFL. He is elite and will command elite numbers.
Waller was the second-highest in targets with 93 behind Hunter Renfrow with 128. With Renfrow’s return and Adams’ addition, Waller may be bumped down another peg in the pecking order. Of course, there is an argument to be made that (much like Goedert) Adams and Renfrow will pull away defenders’ attention, leaving Waller more opportunity for production. After all, Derek Carr isn’t shy about throwing the football. However, my gut reaction is that Adams will dominate the target share, leaving Waller with a much smaller slice of the proverbial pie.
Dalton Schultz Can Expand on His Breakout Season
The Cowboys had a rough year in 2020. As a refresher, TE Blake Jarwin was out for the season after only one game, then QB Dak Prescott was out after Week 5 with a gruesome ankle injury. Dallas went through a slew of quarterbacks including Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci, and Garrett Gilbert. The good news? We saw Dalton Schultz emerge on our fantasy radar.
Despite the significant issues, Schultz finished the disastrous season as the TE14 with 89 targets, 63 receptions, 615 yards, and four touchdowns. He then took a massive step forward last season with a healthy Prescott and finished as the TE4. His 104 targets are tied for second-most on the Cowboys with Amari Cooper behind CeeDee Lamb who logged 120.
Cooper is now with the Cleveland Browns leaving those 104 targets up for grabs. Lamb and Michael Gallup are joined by James Washington in the wide receiver room, but his addition to the team doesn’t worry me. Schultz has every opportunity to be in the top five again in 2022.
Honorable Mention: Robert Tonyan: I feel it’s important to bring up Robert Tonyan as an honorable mention. Adams wasn’t the only wide receiver to depart Green Bay in the offseason. Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown also have new homes for the 2022 season. That leaves Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, and Tonyan as Aaron Rodgers' familiar targets. Tonyan suffered a torn ACL that ended his season after Week 8 last year. He is expected to return this season and could be a late-round steal.