The 2017 season was the last time Rob Gronkowski was the No. 1 Fantasy tight end when it comes to PPR points per game. He beat out Travis Kelce that season, but that was the year the torch was passed.
From 2018 on, Kelce set the standard for Fantasy tight ends, finishing first in PPR points per game in four of five seasons. He has averaged at least 16.0 PPR points per game in every year over that span, and he was only slightly behind Mark Andrews in 2021 when Andrews outscored him 17.7 to 16.4.
Last year, Kelce was more than five PPR points per game better than George Kittle as the No. 2 tight end at 18.6 to 13.4. So is Kelce, who turns 34 in October, just getting better with age?
At some point Father Time will come calling, but it's hard to overlook what Kelce has done over the past five seasons, which is when he started playing with Patrick Mahomes. Over that span, Kelce has averaged 101.4 receptions, 1,288.8 yards, 9.4 touchdowns and 143.4 targets.
He was exceptional last year in his first season with Mahomes and without Tyreek Hill, and there's no doubt who the No. 1 option in this passing game is -- Kelce. So while there's risk involved in drafting him in the first round of the majority of leagues (his CBS Sports Average Draft Position has him at No. 9 overall), he's worth it.
Could this be the year where Kelce starts to slow down? Sure. But we also don't have much of a comparison for a tight end producing at this level at this age.
Gronkowski retired at 32. Antonio Gates (69 catches, 821 yards and 12 touchdowns on 98 targets) and Tony Gonzalez (70 catches, 656 yards and six touchdowns on 108 targets) were productive during their age 34 season, but they were not playing at Kelce's level at that point in their careers.
I'll gladly draft Kelce in Round 1 in the majority of leagues because if he has another outstanding season he should again be the dominant player at his position, potentially by a significant margin.
But what if Kelce somehow falters or is forced to miss any time. Who could be some contenders for the throne? Here's a look at the top seven tight ends to consider for this season on Draft Day.
Andrews makes the most sense as the No. 2 tight end given his production over the past four seasons, as well as his potential to succeed this year. I'm expecting a better passing attack in Baltimore with new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, and Andrews should remain the No. 1 target for Lamar Jackson. You're drafting Andrews as early as Round 3 in all leagues.
My No. 3 tight end for most of the offseason has been Darren Waller, and I love his move to the Giants from the Raiders. Brian Daboll should feature Waller as the No. 1 target for Daniel Jones, and Waller is one of just four tight ends to average at least 17.5 PPR points per game since 2018, joining Kelce, Andrews and Zach Ertz (2018). Waller reached that total with the Raiders in 2020. He's worth drafting as early as Round 5.
T.J. Hockenson is coming off a solid season in 2022 after he was traded from Detroit to Minnesota prior to Week 9, and he's my No. 4 tight end. I would also look for him as early as Round 5. In nine full games with the Vikings, Hockenson scored at least 11 PPR points six times, including three games with at least 15 PPR points. He should be No. 2 in targets for Kirk Cousins this season behind Justin Jefferson.
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My No. 5 tight end is Kyle Pitts, who might have the most upside and downside of the top seven tight ends this year. In 2021, Pitts became the second rookie tight end in NFL history with at least 1,000 receiving yards, joining Mike Ditka, who accomplished the feat in 1961. Pitts struggled last year in his sophomore campaign and missed the final seven games of the season with a knee injury. Now, Pitts has to deal with a new quarterback in Desmond Ridder in a run-first offense. But if he reaches his potential he could be a top-three tight end in 2023. You should target Pitts as early as Round 6.
If Dallas Goedert were on a different team he might be a top-three Fantasy tight end. But since he shares the field with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, it feels like Goedert's ceiling is slightly capped. Still, he remains a go-to option for Jalen Hurts, and he just averaged a career-best 11.8 PPR points per game in 2022. Hopefully, he can keep improving this season, and he's worth drafting in Round 6.
Finally, the last tight end to consider drafting in the first seven rounds is Kittle, and it might be a surprise to see his name so low on this list. You'll read more below on why I'm down on him this season, but he still could be in contention for the top spot if Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk were to miss any time. There are a lot of mouths to feed in San Francisco this season, and Kittle's production could suffer as a result.
Now, let's take a look at some sleepers, breakouts and busts at tight end for this season. We'll use the CBS Sports Average Draft Position data as of August 24 as our guide.
Like a lot of people, I love the Lions offense this year, mostly because of offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. But they have plenty of talent to help Fantasy managers, including Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jahmyr Gibbs, David Montgomery, Jared Goff and hopefully Jameson Williams in the second half of the season. And then there's LaPorta, who has the ability to be a starter in all leagues as well. He's already established himself as the best tight end on Detroit's roster in training camp, and he gets six games to prove he deserves targets with Williams out. We'll see what happens when everyone is active, but LaPorta should prove to be a go-to guy for Goff right away. Last year, T.J. Hockenson averaged over six targets per game for the Lions, and LaPorta could do plenty of damage with those opportunities. LaPorta's CBS ADP is 148.5 as TE19, but I consider him a low-end starter in all leagues. I would look for him as early as Round 10.
Dak Prescott said this week in The Athletic that Ferguson will become a "big-time player in this league," and that's great news coming from the Cowboys quarterback. Prescott has loved leaning on his tight ends in his career. Since becoming the Dallas quarterback in 2016, his tight end (predominantly Jason Witten and Dalton Schultz) has been No. 2 on the team in targets in three of seven seasons. And in Prescott's rookie year in 2016, Witten was third on the team in targets with 95 but just three targets shy of leading the team. The top Cowboys tight end with Prescott has never had fewer than 83 targets in a season in six of seven years, and Schultz has posted quality stats the past three seasons, averaging 66 catches on 94 targets for 666.7 yards and 5.7 touchdowns. Dallas has a loaded receiving corps with CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup, but Ferguson should still be heavily involved. He doesn't have an ADP on CBS as of now, but I like to draft him in every league where I target a No. 2 tight end with upside.
I went into training camp with the idea that Kincaid would be a sleeper this year, but that's cheating to put him in that category. His CBS ADP is 102.3, but he's being drafted as TE10, which makes him a breakout. And since training camp, he seems to be living up to the billing. The Bills are making sure Kincaid is ready to play a lot, and it doesn't seem like he'll be coming off the field much in his rookie campaign. After Buffalo traded up in the first round of the NFL Draft to select Kincaid from Utah at No. 25 overall, you knew there were big plans ahead. While he's listed as a tight end, the expectation is the Bills will use Kincaid as a big slot receiver. He should be a big part of Buffalo's passing game along with Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, and that's a good thing since Kincaid is catching passes from Josh Allen. At Utah, Kincaid finished 2022 with 70 catches, 890 yards and eight touchdowns, and he could be a standout playmaker in the NFL. While he might struggle as a rookie tight end given the history of the position, he still has the potential to succeed in a big way given his expected role and quarterback. He's worth drafting at his ADP in Round 9.
Like Kincaid, I went into training camp with Johnson listed as a sleeper. And his CBS ADP still has him in that range at 144.7 as TE16. But I'm expecting a big year out of Johnson, and he's worth drafting as a low-end starter as early as Round 10. Johnson quietly had a nice Fantasy season in 2022, and he scored at least 11 PPR points in six of his final 10 games. He should have the chance to build on that with new quarterback Derek Carr, and we know Carr loved using his tight end with the Raiders given his rapport with Darren Waller. Now, we'll see what the Saints receiving corps looks like if Michael Thomas is healthy all season to join Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed, as well as Alvin Kamara out of the backfield. But all reports this offseason and training camp have been positive for Johnson, who could be used as a big slot receiver and lead to a big jump in his production. Johnson should be a nice surprise this season with Carr now under center in New Orleans.
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As stated above, I'm concerned about Kittle's production this season because there are a lot of mouths to feed in San Francisco, and Kittle definitely suffered last season when everyone was healthy in the games started by Brock Purdy. The two had a great connection, and Kittle scored seven touchdowns in the eight healthy games he played with Purdy. To put that in perspective, Kittle never scored more than six touchdowns in a season in the first five years of his career. He also averaged 14.3 PPR points per game with Purdy. But there's a tale of two game logs when it comes to Kittle and Purdy, and it involves Deebo Samuel, who missed three of those eight games. In those three games without Samuel, Kittle had 21 targets for 14 catches, 236 yards and five touchdowns. In the other five games with Samuel healthy, Kittle had 21 targets for 17 catches, 211 yards and two touchdowns. I'm still drafting Kittle as a top-10 tight end, but I don't want him at his current ADP of 45.0 as TE3.
Which version of Engram is going to show up this season? Is it the one who had a monster four-game stretch last year, or the one who struggled for most of 2023? It was great to see Engram bounce back with Jacksonville last year when he averaged 10.4 PPR points per game, which was his best production since 2019 with the Giants. And from Weeks 13-16, Engram looked like the best tight end in the NFL, averaging 21.4 PPR points per game over that four-game span. But in his first 11 games of the year, Engram wasn't great, averaging just 7.3 PPR points per game. Now, the Engram supporters will argue that Trevor Lawrence's best stretch of the season came with Engram lending a big hand. That's true, and Doug Pederson has done a great job with tight ends in his career. But now Engram has to contend with a revamped receiving corps, which added Calvin Ridley to Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, and Engram's target share should decline. I like Engram as a No. 1 Fantasy tight end this season, and his CBS ADP isn't bad at 99.4 as TE9. But I would prefer to draft him a little later, and I'm concerned his production could suffer this season.