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Rookie Tight Ends: Good Fantasy Options in 2022?

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth (88) runs after a catch against Cleveland Browns cornerback Greg Newsome II (20) during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 26-14.
Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Tight end is a position where difficult decisions must be made each week from a fantasy football perspective. Most leagues have one slot for tight ends, along with a flex spot where owners prefer to put running backs and wide receivers. With most fantasy teams using just one tight end per week, the question of where fantasy football rookie tight ends fit into the mix is a tougher question than where first year running backs and receivers belong.

In this guide to rookie tight ends in fantasy football, we examine what fantasy owners should look for in a tight end. We also look at how rookie tight ends have compared to their more experienced counterparts, and which tight ends might be valuable to fantasy owners going into the 2022 NFL season.

What makes rookie tight ends successful?

The potential for usage is the most important thing that makes a rookie tight end a solid addition to a fantasy football roster. There are only so many targets for a tight end to get over the course of a game, competing with wide receivers and other tight ends in the passing game. Owners should look for rookie tight ends that are set to see the field from the start of their career, on offenses that do not have so many options that they drown the rookie tight end out.

The coaching philosophy of the team is also huge in determining what kind of year a rookie tight end will have. Some coaches use tight ends as little more than additional wide receivers in today’s pass-heavy offenses, while others use them more regularly as extra blockers. Diagnosing the scheme that a tight end will have to fit into can help owners project which rookies will be frequent pass catchers.

Tight ends are typically bulkier and not quite as quick as wide receivers. As a result, yards after the catch are less of a source of fantasy points for tight ends. This makes red zone targets incredibly valuable for tight ends, as they usually need to be closer to the end zone to score than running backs and wide receivers. Looking at which teams target tight ends in the red zone can also showcase landing spots where there is value at the tight end position for rookies.

What to look for in fantasy football rookie tight ends

The physical tools of a rookie tight end are the most important indicators of how they will perform in the NFL for fantasy purposes. The ability to block for running backs is great for NFL teams looking for tight end help, but run blocking does not yield points in fantasy football. Instead, fantasy owners should look at the speed and route running of rookie tight ends before drafting them.

Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (8) is defended by New York Jets defensive back Sharrod Neasman (35) in the second half during an NFL International Series Game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Falcons defeated the Jets 27-20.
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie tight ends that have shown that they can create separation and run routes effectively have the best chance to put up big numbers in fantasy football. In today’s NFL, tight ends like George Kittle and Kyle Pitts have proven that they can run like wide receivers in bigger frames. The rookies that show that capability will be given more chances to make impact plays than other tight ends just entering the league.

Versatility is also key for rookie tight ends in fantasy football. Unlike the running back position, versatility for tight ends does not refer to the ability to run the ball and catch it out of the backfield. Instead, it refers to the ability for rookie tight ends to line up on the line of scrimmage as well as split out the way a wide receiver would line up. Finding that kind of versatility can lead to selecting a tight end that coaches can put on the field in more offensive packages, meaning more snaps and the potential for more points.

Best rookie tight end seasons

Over the last three seasons, six NFL rookie tight ends have finished in the top-25 in fantasy points in their rookie campaigns, per NFL.com. While there were no top-25 tight ends from the rookie ranks in 2020, the 2021 and 2019 rookie classes had high-level production at the top end:

Notice how different some of the names on this list are in terms of their style of play. Kyle Pitts, for example, is one of the best athletes at the tight end position the league has ever seen. Noah Fant, meanwhile, relies more on separation and red zone targets to be effective. There is no one-size-fits-all solution at the tight end position, especially among rookies looking to become fixtures in the league.

NFL rookie tight ends to draft in fantasy this season

Before your fantasy draft, you are likely wondering which of the 2022 rookie tight ends will be the most useful for your fantasy team. Aside from the highly touted prospects out of college such as Kyle Pitts last year, rookie tight end production can be harder to predict than rookie production at other positions. However, these five options could be an integral part of your fantasy team by the time the season wraps up:

  • Trey McBride, Arizona Cardinals

    Trey McBride was the first tight end selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, going in the second round to the Arizona Cardinals. In his final year at Colorado State in 2021, McBride caught 90 passes for 1,121 yards despite the struggles of the Rams as a whole. In his first NFL season, he has plenty of competition on the depth chart in Arizona, but could be a strong candidate to get tight end targets.

    Joining McBride at the tight end position in Arizona are Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams. Ertz is on the wrong side of 30, while Williams is just returning from an ACL injury. McBride should get some early looks this season, which he could parlay into a more sustained opportunity to put up numbers in the high-powered offense of the Cardinals.

  • Greg Dulcich, Denver Broncos

    Things have changed quickly for the Denver Broncos coming into this season. They dealt Drew Lock and Noah Fant to Seattle, bringing in Russell Wilson to play quarterback and making themselves a more viable contender in the AFC West. The decision to trade Fant could mean some targets out of the gate for Greg Dulcich, who the Broncos took in the third round out of UCLA.

    Dulcich looks like a firm second option for the Broncos behind Albert Okwuegbunam, who had 33 catches of his own behind Fant last season. Dulcic averaged 18.3 yards per catch in his final two seasons at UCLA, and has the ability to make an immediate impact for a Broncos team that should be better as a whole through the air with Wilson at QB.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Jelani Woods (80) catches a pass for a touchdown with Buffalo Bills safety Josh Thomas (36) defending during the second half at Highmark Stadium.
Photo Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
  • Jelani Woods, Indianapolis Colts

    This will be the third year in a row that the Indianapolis Colts have a new quarterback, as they will start Matt Ryan after going with Carson Wentz and Philip Rivers in the previous two seasons. This year will also mark a big change at tight end for the Colts with Jack Doyle retiring. The Colts used a third round pick to bring in Jelani Woods out of Virginia, as they look to get some tight end production out of their rookie class.

    Woods will join starter Mo Alie-Cox and Kylen Granson in the tight end ranks for the Colts. But Alie-Cox and Granson combined for just 35 catches last season. There is a lack of a clear first choice at tight end for the Colts coming into this season, and the 6’7” Woods could very well fill it after catching eight touchdowns in his senior season.

  • Daniel Bellinger, New York Giants

    The tight end situation has been a disaster for the New York Giants over the last couple of years. Evan Engram had trouble both staying on the field, and catching the ball when he was playing. They brought in Kyle Rudolph last year, which was not effective either. This season, Engram and Rudolph are both off the Giants roster, and fourth round pick Daniel Bellinger will have a chance to play right away.

    Bellinger has been the team’s first-string tight end since spring practices, working ahead of veteran option Ricky Seals-Jones. With the news this week that Seals-Jones was placed on injured reserve, ending his season, Bellinger solidified his starting spot. His path to having an impactful rookie season is the most straightforward of this group.

  • Chigoziem Okonkwo, Tennessee Titans

    The Tennessee Titans have made excellent use of multiple tight ends in recent seasons, with Anthony Firkser, Geoff Swaim, and Jonnu Smith all making plays from this position in the last two years. Heading into 2022, the Titans are led by Austin Hooper and Swaim at tight end. But there is potential for Chigoziem Okonkwo to break through and become a viable fantasy tight end option by the end of this season.

    Okonkwo caught 52 passes in his final season at Maryland last year, in a Big Ten filled with elite level defenses such as Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State. The biggest challenge for Okonkwo will be getting an initial shot to perform, though he was targeted twice in the Titans’ preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens.