Ranking NFL’s top 10 tight ends of 2022: Travis Kelce headlines group of proven veterans, up-and-comers
The tight end position is one of the most underrated positions in the game of football. They are called upon some plays to serve as an offensive lineman, and then a wide receiver in others. Sometimes, they have to do both on the same play. The tight ends who are skilled enough to play in the NFL are some of the most athletic players and some of the hardest-workers in the league. This position group also features some of the best personalities.
Below, we will break down our list of top 10 tight ends entering the 2022 season. There are several things we took into consideration when it came to forging this catalog: How the player fared in recent seasons, basic statistics such as receptions, yards and touchdowns, Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value, and a guess on how the player will perform moving forward.
To give us just a little more flexibility in this list, we did not include Rob Gronkowski, as he hasn’t made a decision about 2022 just yet. Let’s jump in.
Honorable mentions: Pat Freiermuth, Noah Fant, Hunter Henry, Dawson Knox
There are some who will be surprised to see Ertz on this list, but he played well after being traded to the Arizona Cardinals — something not everyone expected. He finished the 2021 campaign ninth among all tight ends in receiving yards with 763, fourth in receptions with 74 and tied for ninth in receiving touchdowns with five. Pro Football Reference also gave Ertz an AV of eight, which was tied for fourth among all tight ends in the NFL last season. It was fun to see him catch eight balls for 88 yards and two touchdowns from Colt McCoy against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11.
Ertz didn’t exactly dominate in run blocking, but he averaged 52.2 receiving yards per game once he joined the Cardinals. If he maintained that pace all year, he would have ranked eighth among tight ends in that category. Without DeAndre Hopkins for six weeks, Ertz should see some nice opportunities in the passing game again this upcoming season. He’s not done just yet.
Schultz was probably the toughest player to rank on this list. With his career year in 2021, he went from a sneaky fantasy football play to a legitimate top 10 tight end in the NFL. Is the best yet to come? He’s only 25, so he really may be one of the best tight ends moving forward.
Schultz finished sixth among all tight ends with 808 receiving yards, third with 78 receptions and fifth in touchdowns with eight. Another reason Schultz is on this list is because he put together probably the best overall blocking season of his career. Per PFF, he improved his 35.2 pass-blocking grade to a 68.1 last season, and his run blocking grade from a 65.4 to a 69.9. The Dallas Cowboys view Schultz as an important facet of their offense moving forward, which is why they franchise-tagged him this offseason.
We were all ready for a breakout season from Hockenson in 2022. He started off hot, as the Detroit Lions’ tight end caught 16 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns in his first two contests, but then tapered off a bit. A hand injury landed him on injured reserve in December.
Despite how the campaign ended, Hockenson set a career high in receiving yards per game with 48.6, which ranked eighth among all tight ends, and boasted a 72.6% catch rate. He took a pretty big step backwards as a run blocker in 2021, according to PFF, but was still a reliable target who Jared Goff liked. Hockenson made the Pro Bowl in 2020, and maybe a career campaign is coming in 2022. His best football is ahead of him.
Gesicki is an interesting player, since he’s more of a slot weapon as opposed to a “true” tight end. He’s not known for his blocking, although new head coach Mike McDaniel said he’s working hard to improve that aspect of his game. While Gesicki caught just two touchdowns in 2021, he recorded a career-high 73 receptions, which ranked fifth among all tight ends, and a career-high 780 receiving yards, which ranked eighth among all tight ends.
Gesicki absolutely deserves a spot on this list because of his versatility, and the fact that he has built up his receptions and yards totals each season. Also, he could really break out under McDaniel. The first-year lead man has seen how George Kittle can affect an offense, so he likely has a big role in mind for his young TE1. Since entering the league in 2018, Gesicki has the eighth-most receiving yards of all tight ends.
The jury is out on if Jalen Hurts is a franchise quarterback, but he helped Goedert set career highs in catches and receiving yards in 2021. There are definitely better receiving tight ends than Goedert, but what makes him so good is that he’s a great blocker as well. The Philadelphia Eagles had the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL last year, and Goedert played a role in that. He’s truly an underrated player, ranking fifth among tight ends in receiving yards last year, and was attributed the third-highest AV.
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We ranked Pitts as the No. 4 tight end in the NFL last year before he even played a snap, and he didn’t disappoint. The Florida product became the first rookie tight end to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season since Mike Ditka back in 1961, and Pitts also broke Julio Jones’ Atlanta Falcons rookie receiving record. Pitts finished third among all tight ends in receiving yards, and led all players at his position who recorded at least three catches in yards per reception with 15.09. He’s already one of the best receivers at his position, but isn’t an elite run blocker. Still, he graded out higher than four other tight ends on this list with a 55.6 grade, per PFF.
Pitts isn’t your standard tight end, but his versatility is what makes him special. Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder will have the opportunity to grow alongside him, because Arthur Smith is surely going to game-plan around his special weapon moving forward.
Waller missed six games due to injury last season, but still finished No. 11 in receiving yards among all tight ends. In terms of receiving yards per game, Waller ranked fifth with 60.5. Apart from his athleticism and versatility, Waller is one of the few tight ends in the league that can serve as the focal point of an offense. In last year’s season opener, he caught 10 of 19 targets for 105 yards and a touchdown in an overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens. That performance caused Jon Gruden to dub Waller the best player he’s ever coached.
The future is bright for the 29-year-old, as Waller has a new head coach in Josh McDaniels who has experience in game-planning around star tight ends. He also now has Davante Adams to work off of, and his agent is working on a new deal to make him even richer. Waller should get back to 1,000 yards receiving in 2022.
You could make the argument that Andrews deserves to be No. 1 on this list if we were just going off of last season. Despite not having Lamar Jackson for about a fourth of the year, Andrews had an incredible campaign. He set career highs in receptions and receiving yards and came one touchdown away from tying his career high of 10. Overall, Andrews led all tight ends in receptions and yards, and was tied for most touchdowns. His first-team All-Pro selection was well deserved.
Andrews setting the Ravens’ franchise record for most receiving yards in a single season last year is basically why the team isn’t worried about its rather green wide receiving corps.
2. George Kittle
The thing you have to love about Kittle is that he finds joy in every facet of football. He’s happy stretching the defense as a receiver and just as willing to bury would-be tacklers as a blocker for the San Francisco 49ers’ running backs. Kittle bounced back after an injury-riddled 2020 campaign, catching a career-high six touchdowns in 14 contests played and finishing fourth among players at his position with 65 receiving yards per game. He was fourth among all tight ends in receiving yards, sixth in receptions and tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns. Kittle is one of the best players in the NFL, and he could serve an important role moving forward as Trey Lance’s versatile yet explosive security blanket.
Kelce is once again our No. 1 tight end in the NFL. While he will turn 33 in October, Kelce hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. It’s true he’s not a stud run blocker, but last year marked Kelce’s sixth straight 1,000-yard campaign — a tight end NFL record he continues to build on — and he picked up his third first-team All-Pro Selection and seventh straight Pro Bowl bid. In 2021, he finished second among all tight ends in receiving yards and receptions, and tied for the lead in touchdowns.
Kelce is simply an elite receiving tight end, and he could have even more responsibility in the passing game this year with the loss of Tyreek Hill.