- Evan Engram – Jacksonville Jaguars
Similar to David Njoku, Evan Engram was a former first-round pick that flashed early in his career, struggled for a few years, and then revived himself in 2022.
This #10 spot is pretty open for the taking with not a whole lot of strong candidates, but Engram did enough in his fresh start with the Jaguars to claim the spot. He’s always lined up as a big slot, and his size/athleticism combo makes him an extremely dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands. Doug Pederson made it a point to scheme him up touches for a reason.
Outside of athleticism & YAC, Engram doesn’t pop in many other areas, but his mismatch ability vs man and fringe top 10 rankings in target share, target rate, yards per route run, and yards per team pass attempt were certainly above average.
- David Njoku – Cleveland Browns
Similar to Evan Engram, David Njoku was a former first-round pick that popped early in his career, but fell off in the years following before a 2022 revival. An insanely good athlete that can make plays in space, give defenses in man coverage an absolute headache, and was finally both healthy and utilized correctly at the same time given the Browns finally treated him as more of a receiver & less of a blocker this past season.
In the 2018 season (Njoku’s breakout season), he ran over 25 routes per game, but in the three years following, Cleveland limited him to under 17.5 routes per game and forced him into a blocking role in their run-heavy offense. The Browns reverted him back to that 2018 receiving usage with 25.7 routes run per game this past season, and what do you know? Njoku put himself right back on the map.
- Pat Freiermuth – Pittsburgh Steelers
Pat Freiermuth built off his impressive rookie campaign with an even better second season. He served as just a big safety blanket near the line of scrimmage, but built upon this with far more usage as an intermediate-to-downfield playmaker. Freiermuth’s 18.4% air yards share, 8.7aDOT, 12 deep targets, and nine 20+ yard receptions this past season were all drastic jumps up from his year one numbers, and actually some of the better marks amongst all tight ends in the NFL.
This has really helped round out Freiermuth’s receiving profile. He’s a known threat with the ball in his hands that posted two yards after contact per reception & 1.3 yards after catch per reception, both of which are elite markings. His alignment versatility and production in key “have to have it” moments also shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Only Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase had more receiving yards in the last 5 minutes of the 4th quarter last season than Pat Freiermuth (174 yards).
Freiermuth’s 15 receptions were also tied for 2nd most in the NFL. Easy to see who was the Steelers’ go-to guy in the clutch.
— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) May 11, 2023
- T.J. Hockenson – Minnesota Vikings
Hockenson hasn’t lived up to his eighth overall pick status, but establishing yourself firmly as a top 10 tight end at 25 years old is far from failure. His volume receiving stats in 2022 were certainly boosted by running the second most routes amongst all tight ends in some receiver-friendly offenses (Detroit, Minnesota), and he doesn’t pop as a top three, or even a top five tight end in very many metrics.
On top of inconsistent blocking, I can’t put Hockenson in the top five conversation, but I still view him as a really nice complimentary weapon that offers plenty of athleticism, YAC ability, and elite ball skills at the catch point. A consistent 20% target share earner that’s 1.5 yards after catch above expectation per reception was right with George Kittle & Dallas Goedert for highest marks amongst all tight ends last year.
- Darren Waller – New York Giants
Darren Waller has spent the past two seasons battling throughout multiple injuries, thus missing month’s worth of time. It makes him a bit of a tough evaluation, but when healthy, Waller has proven to be one of the league’s premier receiving tight ends. A big (6’6”, 255 pound) target with crazy rare athleticism makes Waller a mismatch for just about any defense. A true vertical threat that has posted high air yard/aDOT marks whenever he’s on the field.
If Waller has regressed post-injury, this ranking will prove too high. However, he’s still just two years removed from posting back-to-back 1,100+ yard seasons and league-highs amongst all tight ends in receptions (107), target share (28.7%), and yards after catch (562) the last time we saw him at full health. If that Waller still exists, he’ll put himself back in the top five.
- Kyle Pitts – Atlanta Falcons
I know Kyle Pitts burned a lot of people in fantasy football last season, but let’s not let that cloud judgment on how truly special he is as a receiving talent. I broke down his special receiving profile here, and although this is from a dynasty fantasy football perspective, the metrics and breakdown included help clarify exactly what I’m talking about. Pitts only had 356 yards in ten games last season, but that can be blamed by Atlanta’s extremely low-volume. Get Kyle Pitts in even just a sufficient passing offense, and this elite wide receiver talent in a tight ends body will pop. We saw this when Pitts went for over 1,000 yards in 2021, piecing together one of the greatest rookie campaigns from a tight end we’ve ever seen.
- Dallas Goedert – Philadelphia Eagles
With Dallas Goedert landing at number four on this ranking, I fully realize I’m higher on him than consensus. As a receiver, Goedert managed over a 19% target share despite playing next to A.J. Brown & DeVonta Smith, one of the league’s best one-two punches at wide receiver. A really solid athlete that can bounce through traffic with the ball in his hands, win with size plus physicality and the catch point, and was extremely efficient as a receiver last season; first in yards per target, and third in both yards per route run & 20+ yard receptions amongst all tight ends last season.
He’s also a great blocker, which is really what comfortably gave Goedert the top-five nod for me. Truly one of the NFL’s most well-rounded tight ends, don’t let the stars around him distract you from that fact.
Dallas Goedert is a top-five tight end in the NFL
Great blocker, aggressive at the catch point, solid YAC producer, over a 19% target share playing next to AJB/Smitty, first in yards per target + third in YPRR & 20+ yard receptions amongst TE’s in 2022
Good/elite at everything pic.twitter.com/S24sEXySq5
— Aidan Maher (@Aidan_Maher17) May 15, 2023
- Mark Andrews – Baltimore Ravens
Mark Andrews has established himself as one of the NFL’s most productive receiving tight ends over the past few seasons. He’s not some crazy elite athlete or big yards-after-catch producer, but his massive catch radius, hands like glue, and an extremely high-IQ to find open space over the middle of the field. This makes Andrews an elite big slot that can also split out wide and beat corners with his sheer size & prowess at the catch point. He was the only tight end that posted a top three yards per route run mark lining up both out of the slot and inline last season. Andrews even tallied a 24.1% target share in 2019, 25.4% in 2020, 26.6% in 2021, and 29% in 2022. True alpha stuff.
Mark Andrews has posted…
•Back-to-back seasons as TE1 in target share
•Four straight seasons as TE1 in air yards share
•Four straight seasons as a top five TE in yards per route run
•Four straight seasons as a top four TE in yards per team pass attempt
— Aidan Maher (@Aidan_Maher17) May 16, 2023
- Travis Kelce – Kansas City Chiefs
There’s no doubt about it, Travis Kelce is the best receiving tight end in the NFL. He’s currently riding a streak of seven straight 1,000+ yard seasons, and posted the following marks in comparison to all other tight ends in the NFL: first in target share, receiving yards, yards after catch, touchdowns, and 20+ yard receptions, and second in air yards, juke rate, and yards per route run.
His sustained excellence has put him firmly in the running for greatest receiving tight end of all-time. A true mismatch nightmare for any defense given his movement skills & route-running at 6’5”, 260 pounds. He’ll even find every open pocket against zone coverage, and has shown off extremely impressive ball skills, a wide catch radius, and lots of juice with the ball in his hands.
- George Kittle – San Francisco 49ers
George Kittle is probably the only tight end in today’s game that is truly one of the best in both the blocking and receiving department. He’s an historically great yards after catch threat, and although some critics would argue this is thanks to great play-calling & heavy personnel offering Kittle great matchups & plenty of space, his 2.3 yards after contact per reception were clearly the best amongst all tight ends with over 35 receptions last year. There’s an obvious knack for burning angles and bouncing off tackles in Kittle’s game.
He’s not considered some elite vertical pass-catcher, yet he still tallied top-six air yard marks last year, and finished second in 20+ yard receptions behind only Travis Kelce. And of course, his blocking is absolute teach-tape stuff. In my opinion, he’s the best blocking tight end in football, and it pops in both the running & passing game. Kittle truly does everything at an extremely high-level.