Ranking the tight ends the Chargers will face in 2022

As part of our Chargers season preview, we’re breaking down each position unit from LA’s 2022 opponents, ranked from least to most threatening.


Running backs

Wide receivers

Tight ends are a strong group across the schedule, as players like Darren Waller and Travis Kelce are still mainstays of the AFC West. We’ll use two tight ends for most teams unless the primary tight end is a premier player.

14. Texans – Brevin Jordan/Pharaoh Brown

The change to former Chargers offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s system will result in increased usage for Jordan and/or Brown, depending on how training camp shakes out. Jordan is just 21 entering his second season, following a strong conclusion to his rookie campaign. After missing the first eight games of 2021, Jordan logged 20 receptions and 3 TDs while flashing plus playmaking ability. He’ll have to show improvement as a blocker to win a three-down role this season.

On the other hand, Brown is a very capable and willing blocker who hasn’t added much value as a receiver during his time as a Texan. He did reel in a career-high 171 receiving yards in 2021 and is Houston’s returning snap leader at the position. If Jordan doesn’t emerge as a blocker, expect Brown to get plenty of work as well.

13. Titans – Austin Hooper/Chigoziem Okonkwo

Hooper was a cap casualty in Cleveland this season following two down seasons and the emergence of David Njoku, but he fits perfectly with what the Titans want to do: run the ball. Hooper’s best trait has always been blocking, a large reason why the Browns wanted him in the first place, but he’s also a savvy receiver. That versatility is important because last season’s Tennessee team often telegraphed run or pass depending on which tight end was on the field.

Rookie Okonkwo was compared by many to former Titan Jonnu Smith – an athletic tight end who can stretch the field from in-line or backfield alignments. He did run a limited route tree at Maryland and blocking is not a proficient trait of his, but his athleticism will get him on the field and likely help him learn quickly.

12. Jaguars – Evan Engram/Dan Arnold

After being acquired for CJ Henderson between Weeks 3 and 4, Arnold was one of the most reliable targets on Jacksonville’s offense before spraining his MCL in Week 12 and missing the rest of the season. With 28 catches for 324 yards, Arnold was on pace for his best professional season. Whether he can bounce back from the MCL injury and beat out Engram will be something to watch during Jacksonville’s training camp sessions.

Engram, a former first-round pick, signed for one season of his own volition because he believes he’ll be in line for a raise next offseason. First, he’ll likely have to have an injury and drop-free season, as both issues have shadowed him throughout his young career. The former Giant is a premier receiving threat with less value as a blocker, which will keep time open for Chris Manhertz, who remains on the roster as TE3.

11. Broncos – Albert Okwuegbunam/Greg Dulcich

Okwuegbunam and Dulcich will battle for the TE1 role into the fall, but neither is likely to be a focal point of the Denver offense with Russell Wilson under center. Wilson famously targets tight ends sparingly, a tendency which could result in the better blocker getting more snaps at the position. If that’s the case, bet on it being Okwuegbunam, as head coach Nathaniel Hackett said on draft day that Dulcich will have to improve as a blocker in the NFL. Drew Lock’s college teammate has struggled to stay on the field so far, appearing in 18 of a possible 33 games over the past two seasons.

A rookie by way of UCLA, Dulcich is a bit too high-hipped to make a dent as an in-line blocker, but he does have the skill set to get into space and block on outside zone runs. That’ll be a big selling point for early playing time, as Hackett runs outside zone at one of the highest frequencies in the league. He’s also a natural receiver, perhaps the best one in this year’s draft, and may become the kind of seam-buster that’s impossible for even Wilson to ignore.

10. Seahawks – Noah Fant/Will Dissly

As much as Okwuegbunam and Dulcich’s production will suffer from playing with Russell Wilson, Fant and Dissly seem to be the beneficiaries of the blockbuster trade between Denver and Seattle. Whether Drew Lock or Geno Smith takes the reins under center, the Seahawks will be checking down to the middle of the field far more often than Wilson did a season ago. Fant will be the TE1 as the best receiving target and has the athletic potential to break out with a more versatile offensive scheme at his disposal.

Dissly has stabilized after missing most of his first two seasons, although those injuries have sapped him of what looked to be elite pass-catching chops. Now, the former Washington Husky is a solid all-around player: he finds holes in defenses, has soft hands, and blocks almost like a sixth lineman. Somewhat surprisingly, Seattle committed $24 million over three years to Dissly this offseason, so he’ll unquestionably have a big role. Beyond he and Fant, oft-injured Colby Parkinson has also gotten hype this offseason from Seahawks coaches.

9. Colts – Mo Alie-Cox/Jelani Woods

Indianapolis will need to replace the retired Jack Doyle, but Alie-Cox has experience as the Colts TE1 thanks to injuries to Doyle throughout 2021. A gifted blocker, the former UDFA has made strides as a receiver every year and now has the opportunity to break out as a bonafide starter in 2022.

Woods is an athletic freak whose only physical comparison is the immortal Marcedes Lewis. The former Oklahoma State quarterback converted to tight end after a blazing week on the scout team and never looked back, eventually logging 44 receptions for 598 yards and 8 TDs in his final collegiate season at Virginia. His 6’7” size and 4.61 speed make him an easy receiving threat who will help replace some of Doyle’s production, especially if Alie-Cox can’t replicate it on his own. H-back Kylen Granson and UDFA Andrew Ogletree also have the potential to have an impact on an Indy team that has always emphasized the use of tight ends.

8. Rams – Tyler Higbee

Higbee tore his MCL in the NFC Championship game, forcing him to miss the Super Bowl and undergo surgery this offseason. Before the injury, Higbee logged 560 yards and 5 TDs, fairly similar to his 521-yard, 5 TD campaign in 2020. But the raw stats don’t quite quantify the difference in Higbee’s role between the two years, which changed rather drastically with the transition from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford. His average depth of target dropped from 8 yards to just 5.3 as he went from a secondary receiving option to primarily a dump-off one. Still, Higbee is a first-down machine who cannot be ignored in a talented Rams offense.

Beyond Higbee, the Rams return Kendall Blanton and Brycen Hopkins, who have struggled to find stable footing during their time. Hopkins was an unsung hero of the Super Bowl, but he’s been a healthy scratch 23 times in two seasons. Even after last year’s TE2, Johnny Mundt went on IR, Blanton still struggled to earn snaps.

7. Cardinals – Zach Ertz/Trey McBride

Ertz had a bit of a resurgence in Arizona after an ankle sprain slowed his production as his time in Philadelphia closed. The 32-year-old totaled 574 yards and 3 TDs in 11 games, finishing third on the team in receiving yards and second in receptions. While he’s on the back nine of his career, he’s still a formidable weapon whose chemistry with the recently extended Kyler Murray should only increase with more practice reps together.

The 2021 John Mackey Award winner, McBride was my highest-rated tight end in this draft class. With above-average skills in every facet of his game, I fully expect him to make an immediate impact. However, the need for him to do so will be low as long as Ertz stays healthy and maintains his production from a season ago. Nonetheless, hauling in 90 receptions for 1,121 yards is incredible production for a college tight end, considering the position is often not a focal point of NCAA offenses. That says to me that McBride will earn time sooner than later.

Beyond Ertz and McBride, the Cardinals also have Maxx Williams and former Charger Stephen Anderson under contract.

6. Dolphins – Mike Gesicki

While he was targeted on 22.2% of his routes in 2021 and will play 2022 on the franchise tag, I feel that Gesicki will have a down year in Mike McDaniel’s new offense. That’s primarily because McDaniel heavily emphasizes the tight end’s ability to run block, where Gesicki has never been even an average player. That could lead to him losing some snaps, or it could look as it did in Tennessee last year, where teams know a pass is coming because Gesicki is in the game. Third, on the team’s career tight end leaderboard in both receptions and yards, I think the former second-rounder will have to show he’s improved as a blocker to earn a long-term extension. That said, he’s still a dangerous threat as a receiver, even more so with less attention on him now that the Dolphins have remade their wide receiver corps.

If Gesicki does begin to lose ground, expect those snaps to be taken by Durham Smythe or second-year pro Hunter Long.

5. Browns – David Njoku/Harrison Bryant

I think that Njoku will be Cleveland’s second option behind wide receiver Amari Cooper and fully expect him to have a breakout season following the 4-year, $54.75 million extension he signed this offseason. 22.2% of his receptions in 2021 went for 20 or more yards, he returns the most receptions and receiving TDs of any Browns player, and he’s grown as a run blocker every season since entering the league in 2017.

If I’m so high on Njoku, why include Bryant in this discussion? Well, head coach Kevin Stefanski has run multiple tight end sets over 40% of the time in both seasons at the helm in Cleveland, and I see no reason why that will stop now. 13 personnel will likely be down, as I tend to believe the Browns used it so much last season as their wide receiver talent continued to deteriorate. With at least three NFL-starter caliber receivers now on the roster, it’s much more likely that 12 personnel will take over as the base offense, which means Bryant will still get plenty of snaps. Built similarly to the 6’4”, 246 lb Njoku, the 6’5”, 230 lb Bryant gives Cleveland another all-around tight end that they can use interchangeably with Njoku as a blocker and receiver.

4. Falcons – Kyle Pitts

Billed as a generational talent at the position coming out of Florida last season, Pitts went over 1,000 receiving yards in his first pro season, something nobody since Mike Ditka had done. For those efforts, NFL personnel ranked him the fifth-best tight end in the league, per Jeremy Fowler’s annual survey. One NFL coordinator said Pitts will “be in that Waller and Kelce class after next year…he doesn’t even know what he’s doing yet – wait until he figures it out.”

Part of figuring it out will be improving as a blocker, perhaps the one knock on him as a collegiate prospect and an area where he showed improvement but still has room to grow as an NFLer. Catch rate statistics are also not favorable to Pitts, who ranked 22nd in the league with a catch rate of just 61.8%. Defenses will be keying in on him this season, especially with one of the most unproven wide receiver rooms in the league surrounding him. However, he’ll still be the field-stretching, big-play threat in Atlanta’s offense and needs to be planned for accordingly.

3. Raiders – Darren Waller

Waller had a down season in 2021, largely due to knee and ankle injuries that robbed him of 6 games. However, he still managed 55 catches for 665 yards and 2 TDs, a solid season for practically anyone at the position not named Darren Waller. As a former wide receiver with 4.46 speed, the 29-year-old is more than capable of lining up as an outside receiver, where his 6’6” frame gives him a healthy advantage over defensive backs. With a new offensive system and the addition of Davante Adams, it’s hard to say exactly what Waller’s role will be, but we know he’ll have a big one. While he may not be catching upwards of 100 passes a season anymore, shutting him down will be a key part of the game plan in both Raiders games this season.

2. Chiefs – Travis Kelce

Now 32, Kelce remains the best route runner of any tight end in the league, allowing him to remain open in one-on-one situations despite his slow physical decline. With 92 catches for 1,125 yards and 9 TDs last season, Kelce was particularly effective against the Chargers. Across two games, he posted 17 catches for 295 yards and 2 TDs, going over 100 yards both times and scoring the walk-off touchdown in a Week 15 overtime defeat of LA. With Tyreek Hill no longer in the picture, Kelce is the unquestioned focal point of the receiving game in Kansas City in 2022. But throwing more defenders at the problem has never seemed to work, and there’s little reason to believe it’ll start now. Expect big games from Kelce and sigh of relief if Brandon Staley’s defense can contain him.

1. 49ers – George Kittle

Ranked the best tight end in the league for the third season in a row by NFL personnel, Kittle remains the gold standard at tight end despite missing time due to injury, also for the third straight season. The former Hawkeye caught 71 passes for 910 yards and 6 TDs while missing three games due to a calf injury, considered a down season for him because of his 1,000-yard pedigree in 2018 and 2019. Regardless, he led the league in yards per route run for a tight end, with 2.35. Despite that production, I’m inclined to say Kittle is a better blocker than receiver because he’s the best blocking tight end in football. An explosive player, whether holding the ball or not, Kittle approaches every play with the mentality that he will run through you. Whether that’s opening lanes in the run game or busting his way through defenders for yards after the catch.

Story originally appeared on Chargers Wire