Fantasy News & Analysis

Perfect 2023 fantasy football draft strategy for picking tight ends

2M7NY7T San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) reacts after catching a TD pass during an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Jan.8, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Scot Tucker)

  • Draft a top-seven tight end: The best tight ends in real life are the same as the top tight ends in fantasy, which has been true for multiple seasons.
  • There is a risk/reward to waiting: The longer you wait for a top-seven tight end, the better your team could look, but the higher the odds of losing out on any of the top seven.
  • If you miss out, play the waiting game: It’s better to draft two tight ends late rather than one of the more reliable top-12 options.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

The “perfect draft by position series” takes a look at the strategies that have been used in the “perfect draft strategy by pick” series, as well as those used during my drafts. This compares not only how good these players are but also when you can get these players compared to others. This largely assumes a 12-team league, but similar logic can apply to other sizes with any major exceptions noted. To try some of these strategies on your own, check out our new mock draft simulator.

For help on strategy by pick numbers and league sizes, rankings, or more details about the players, check out the rest of my summer content below. For rankings with better filtering along with auction values, check out our draft rankings page.

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Last updated: 7:15 a.m. Friday, August 4

1. Draft a Tier 3 Tight End

Top Target: T.J. Hockenson, George Kittle

The best value for a tight end is coming in the fourth round with either Hockenson or Kittle.

  • In general, it’s essential to draft one of the top seven fantasy tight ends because the consistency at tight end is stronger than the other positions from one season to another.
  • Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Dallas Goedert, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, Rob Gronkowski, Kyle Pitts and T.J. Hockenson have been the top-eight tight ends in terms of PFF receiving grade over the last three seasons
  • There have been 16 times over the last three seasons where a tight end averaged 11.8 fantasy points per game or more. Fifteen of those 16 seasons have come from the top-eight graded tight ends. The only exception is Dalton Schultz in 2021.
  • If you want a top-five season out of your tight end, you need to draft one of those eight players. Rob Gronkowski is retired, so there are only seven options.
  • Hockenson and Kittle give the most value relative to where they are getting drafted.
  • Hockenson is the lowest-graded of the eight but is boosted up by a strong Minnesota Vikings offense in addition to his target and reception volume. A complete breakdown of Hockenson can be found in his player profile.
  • Kittle has league-winning potential as one of the most consistent tight ends of the past five seasons, with Brock Purdy throwing more deep passes and end zone targets to Kittle than past tight ends.

2. Draft a Tier 4 Tight End

Top Target: Kyle Pitts, Darren Waller, Dallas Goedert

The sixth round is the last chance to pick a top-seven tight end.

  • It’s important to keep an eye on ADP from whatever source you’re drafting. At ESPN, Darren Waller has an 50.9 ADP while Kyle Pitts and Dallas Goedert are near the end of the sixth round. At Sleeper, Kyle Pitts is the one picked in the fifth round while Goedert and Waller are both early sixth round.
  • Pitts is the only tight end with a top-eight grade over the last three seasons who hasn’t averaged 9.5 fantasy points per game in a season yet. He is only 22 years old, and with his talent, he is the most likely young tight end to surpass that threshold this season.
  • Waller should be the top target with the Giants but is the riskiest tight end among the top seven due to his age and recent injury history, as well as the uncertainty that comes with playing for a new team.
  • Goedert is the safest option in this tier due to high volume mixed with low-touchdown upside.

3. Draft Mark Andrews

Andrews has the best shot to overtake Travis Kelce as the top overall tight end, but the third-round price tag is steep compared to waiting another round or two to pick a tight end.

  • Over the last two seasons, Andrews ranks second in targets (8.1), receptions (5.6), receiving yards (69.0) and receiving PPR points (15.15) per game among tight ends.
  • He’s accomplished this while ranking first in most of those numbers per route run, including 2.09 yards per route run.
  • The problem is he hasn’t been running nearly as many routes as the Kansas City Chiefs because the Baltimore Ravens have been among the most run-heavy.
  • That is about to change with Todd Monken as offensive coordinator. Matching Andrews’ efficiency with a pass-first offense gives him a chance of being the top-fantasy tight end again.
  • Andrews has a 34.1 ADP at ESPN, but 25.0 in Sleeper, making it much harder to get him in some leagues than others.
  • He’s being picked around the same time as other top-10 running backs and top-15 wide receivers.
  • Andrews is a fine option there, but it could be a better value just to wait a round.

4. Draft Travis Kelce

Kelce scored nearly 90 more fantasy points than any other tight end last season, but it requires an early-mid first-round pick in order to draft him.

  • He has finished at the top fantasy tight end in six of the last seven seasons.
  • Kelce averaged 6.5 receptions for 78.7 yards and 18.6 PPR points per game last season, which all ranked first among tight ends. 
  • The only basic stat where he wasn’t first is touchdowns, where his 0.7 per game ranked second.
  • It’s very helpful that he is both the most talented tight end and the one who runs the most pass routes, which is why the gap between him and everyone else in fantasy is so large.
  • He is 33 years old and will be 34 by the end of the season, which is far past the age receivers typically start to decline. His age will start to catch up with him sometime, but it may or may not be this year.
  • He is currently fifth in my rankings behind running backs Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler in addition to wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase. This really only makes him an option for the fifth pick in PPR leagues.
  • It’s worth noting that the smaller the league size, the more valuable Kelce becomes. He’s worth considering first overall in an eight-team league.

5. Draft a High-Upside Sleeper and a Reliable Veteran

Top High-Upside Targets: Chigoziem Okonkwo, Dalton Kincaid, Tyler Higbee
Top Reliable Veteran Targets: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett

If a team misses out on a top-seven tight end, then it’s best to just wait and then pick two later.

  • There are three young tight ends who all have a 110 ADP or later that are great sleeper options.
  • They are either rookie or second-year tight ends who have the talent to eventually be top-five tight ends, but it’s a matter of how much volume they will see this season mixed with how much of a jump they can take this season.
  • To help mitigate the risk of drafting one of these players, it’s worth drafting a second tight end that is more stable.
  • Tyler Higbee is the perfect option to pair with a sleeper option.
  • He has consistently averaged between 8.5-10.7 fantasy points per game.
  • He’s gained at least 500 yards each season, but he’s never scored more than five touchdowns in a season.
  • The Los Angeles Rams are weaker at wide receiver compared to other recent seasons, so there is a chance he could see even more targets but still earn low efficiency and little end-zone work.
  • There is a pretty good chance Higbee finishes as a top-12 fantasy tight end, but it's very unlikely he reach the top five.

6. Draft a Tier 5 Tight End

Top Target: Evan Engram, David Njoku, Pat Freiermuth, Dalton Schultz

These four tight ends all have a decent chance of finishing among the top-12 tight ends but don’t have much upside to finish in the top six.

  • Evan Engram finished TE5 last season thanks to volume and staying healthy. He is the lowest-graded tight end in this tier, and the Jacksonville Jaguars now have Calvin Ridley to take targets away from all of the receivers.
  • The other three all finished among the top-12 fantasy tight ends last season and earned grades in the 70s, but Schultz is no longer in the strong Dallas Cowboys offense while Njoku and Freiermuth have increased competition in their own tight end rooms.
  • All but Freiermuth are 27-28 years old, which is beyond the peak age for tight ends, so it’s unlikely we see them play better than what we’ve seen.
  • Part of Freiermuth’s problem is playing time, as his team would sometimes rotate him out for Zach Gentry. The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Darnell Washington in the third round, which could also complicate his situation.
  • They can all be picked to be fantasy starters, but Tyler Higbee was TE6 last season and can be picked after all of these players for a higher floor, lower upside option.

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