2022 Fantasy Football Position Preview: Tight end tiers, sleepers and draft strategies

·Fantasy Analyst
·6 min read

A tight end lacks the fantasy upside compared to a running back (or even a wide receiver), but grabbing one of the few difference-makers early in drafts is a nice way to get an edge at fantasy’s thinnest position. Three tiers have emerged when drafting fantasy tight ends this year: a big three (Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews and Kyle Pitts) drafted in Rounds 2-4, another clear three (George Kittle, Darren Waller and Dalton Schultz) in Rounds 5-6, and then a half dozen or so solid options available in Rounds 7+ rounding out possible starters.

Attacking tight ends early, in the middle rounds or waiting on the position are all viable strategies to win in 2022, and the obvious tiers make planning ahead (or zigging depending on how your draft unfolds) that much easier. Kelce had been fantasy’s top-scoring PPR tight end five straight seasons before finishing second to Andrews last year. Kelce’s ADP remains higher in 2022, but drafting a soon-to-be 33-year-old coming off his lowest target share in five seasons (and whose production has declined without Tyreek Hill) as a borderline top-15 pick seems like a stretch.

[More position previews: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Receivers | Tight Ends]

Depending on draft slot, a sound 2022 strategy for drafting tight ends includes either grabbing Andrews (or Pitts) early, Schultz in Round 6 or waiting until later and doubling up (think Albert Okwuegbunam and Irv Smith).

Target

Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys

Schultz can’t match the athleticism of other elite tight ends in the league, but his advantageous situation makes him one of fantasy’s most valuable players at his position. Schultz finished as fantasy’s No. 3 tight end last season and will see a big increase in targets since Amari Cooper, Cedrick Wilson and Blake Jarwin are gone, Michael Gallup is unlikely to be ready to begin the season following knee surgery and James Washington is seriously hurt. Schultz ran routes at a higher percentage than Mark Andrews after Jarwin was sidelined from Week 9 on last year. With a highly favorable schedule, Schultz is primed for a huge fantasy season.

Sleeper

Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos

Albert O is a 24-year-old with truly elite workout and underlying statistical metrics who will now be catching passes from Russell Wilson. Okwuegbunam quietly has earned the fourth-highest target per route rate among TEs over the last two seasons, when he’s also been one of only six to average more than 2.0 yards per route run. With Noah Fant traded to Seattle and Wilson replacing an awful QB situation, Albert O is about to see a lot more targets with much higher quality.

There’s been some buzz about rookie Greg Dulcich but he’s nowhere near the athlete, and realize UCLA has helped produce some big numbers from otherwise mediocre tight end prospects. Moreover, the season-ending loss of Tim Patrick opens up even more opportunities for Okwuegbunam, who’s going to smash while being a big part of Denver’s offense this season. All this from a player currently going after pick 120 in Yahoo drafts.

Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam of the Denver Broncos is a fantasy sleeper
Is Albert Okwuegbunam positioned for a big fantasy season in the Broncos' offense? (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Super Sleeper

Austin Hooper, Tennessee Titans

Hooper is two seasons removed from recording 75 catches for 787 yards and six touchdowns over just 13 games with the Falcons. His last two down years can easily be excused while playing in Cleveland, and now he joins a Tennessee offense that has the most vacated targets and air yards in the entire NFL. Meanwhile, since Ryan Tannehill took over as the starter in 2019, 24% of his targets have gone to tight ends, including 25 of his 76 TD passes.

With Derrick Henry entering the decline phase of his career and the Titans projected to be around .500 yet also with one of the most favorable fantasy schedules for the position, it all sets up for a real nice season from Hooper, who has an ADP of 133.9.

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Position Ranks

TIER ONE

1) Mark Andrews — Recorded more catches (and saw 11 more end-zone targets) than Kelce ever has last season, and Baltimore since lost Marquise Brown.

2) Travis Kelce — Will no longer benefit from sharing the field with Tyreek Hill. Remains rock solid even in decline phase but has a higher ADP than Andrews, who’s six years younger.

3) Kyle Pitts  Had elite yards per route run stats and became just the seventh player in NFL history (and the first tight end) to record 1,000 receiving yards before turning 22. Touchdown regression could lead to fantasy’s new top-scoring TE moving forward, but Atlanta’s offense could remain a real problem.

TIER TWO

4) Dalton Schultz  Dallas led the NFL in scoring last season, and Schultz suddenly looks like Dak Prescott’s second read on most plays.

5) Darren Waller  Has missed time with a hamstring injury in camp and now shares targets with Davante Adams. But he’s legit and one season removed from pulling down 107 catches.

6) George Kittle  Has a strong argument as the NFL’s best tight end, but blocking doesn’t help fantasy managers and George “Brittle” hasn’t been the most durable player. How frequently new QB Trey Lance targets him is an unknown as well, but Kittle’s range of outcomes includes fantasy’s No. 1 tight end.

TIER THREE

7) T.J. Hockenson  Still just 25 but competes with D’Andre Swift and Amon-Ra St. Brown for targets in an average offense.

8) Dallas Goedert  No Zach Ertz helps but still competes for targets with newcomer A.J. Brown (and DeVonta Smith) in an offense that averaged just 23.8 pass attempts over the final eight games last season.

9) Dawson Knox Josh Allen attempted 65 passes in the end zone last season; no other QB attempted more than 50. Knox should be considered among the favorites to lead tight ends in TD catches once again in 2022.

10) Zach Ertz  Tied for the second-most targets among tight ends after getting traded to Arizona last season and DeAndre Hopkins is suspended for the first six weeks of the year, but he lacks huge upside at his age.

11) Albert Okwuegbunam  A 24-year-old with truly elite workout and underlying statistical metrics who earned the fourth-highest target per route rate among TEs over the last two seasons and will now be catching passes from Russell Wilson on a Denver team missing Tim Patrick and Noah Fant traded.

12) Cole Kmet  Should rack up targets as Chicago’s clear No. 2 option in the passing game, but the Bears offense might be the worst in the league.

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