2022 Late Round Tight End Targets

by Theo Gremminger · Best Ball Plays & Strategy

The tight end spot is one of the more polarizing and less predictable positions in fantasy football. Some fantasy players target elite TEs and make them the centerpiece of the draft plan. Others use the early or late rule, either taking a top-three tight end or waiting for whatever arbitrary number they choose to follow for their contingency plan (such as TE18 or below). Some punt the position and draft a late option.  Nevertheless, one thing is certain- having difference-making TE producer can make up for other team inefficiencies and help create monster lineups that leave you in a position to win your league. When this production is found, without using high draft capital, it makes the chances of fielding an elite lineup even higher. Today. I bring you the 2022 late round tight end targets.

For this article, 2021 ADP is from FFPC Main Event August drafts courtesy of Fantasy Mojo. This is a tight end premium scoring, high stakes format with some of the best drafters in the country. For this year’s TE ADP, we will look at Underdog drafts.

A Review of 2021

Last season, throughout the summer, drafters debated just how high to take rookie Kyle Pitts. Some drafters predicted Darren Waller overtaking Travis Kelce as TE1 overall. Other drafters targeted T.J. Hockenson as their next potential breakout fantasy star and weighed how high to press the draft button for him when they were on the clock. George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Mike Gesicki, Dallas Goedert ….by the end of the summer, the fantasy echo chamber had reached TE overload.

Mark Andrews eventually finished No. 1 overall at his position and was a league winner. Travis Kelce continued to produce at an extremely high rate and finished No. 2. among tight ends. Andrews was drafted as TE6, and Kelce was, of course, was the first TE selected.  When reviewing what happened last season, what stands out the most is who finished as TE3- Dallas’ Dalton Schultz.

Dalton Schultz and Zach Ertz

Schultz finished with 30 more points than Pitts and was drafted as TE41! Almost all Schultz managers picked him up as a waiver wire selection. I know some of my most successful teams last year were ones where I rostered Schultz, and this was the case in many leagues throughout the country.

When looking further into last year’s top 12 tight end finishers, there was a huge disparity between draft capital and scoring finish. Dawson Knox finished as TE11 but was the No. 39 TE selected. Zach Ertz finished as the TE5 but fantasy gamers drafted him as the No. 24 tight end off the board. Fantasy gamers drafted Pat Freiermuth as TE26, but he finished as TE13. Freiermuth is even more impressive when looking at his scoring in the context of splits – although he did not technically crack the top 12.

2021 was not some outlier TE season. Market inefficiencies like Schultz also occurred multiple times in the last few years. Names like Logan Thomas, Robert Tonyan and Darren Waller were all massive hits despite low (if any) draft capital.

Top 12 TEs from 2021

Looking solely at the top 12 finishers drafted outside the top 24 TEs selected, we have a number of players fitting these criteria. In most leagues, none of these players were drafted at all. I also included Waller as a special case. Despite FFPC High Stakes drafters pushing him up the board as TE15, he went lower in other formats as TE2 was a particularly flat tier that season. His finish warrants a closer look and simply put he was an absolute baller that season. 

Some awesome names from fantasy past that surely will either put a smile on your face or make a grimace appear are Schultz, drafted as TE 41 and finished as TE 3, Knox, drafted as TE 39, finished as TE 11, Tonyan, drafted as TE 31 and finished as TE 3, Thomas from Washington, drafted as TE 38 and finished as TE 4. I will never forget losing a game when Tonyan, aka rhymes like ‘Funyuns’, when he went for three touchdowns on MNF vs the Falcons. What are some traits all of these players have in common and how can we apply it to early 2022 ADP?

What Makes a TE1?

Draft Capital

Every player on this list was drafted except for Tonyan. Knox was the highest drafted player, going in the late 3rd and Waller was the lowest drafted player going as a 6th rounder.
Breakout Year: Players on this list had their impactful TE finish occur in their third or fourth season in the league. Logan Thomas is the notable exception, but if we reset his career clock after his positional switch from QB to TE , he made his breakout in his fourth season at the position.

Size

All of these players have legit NFL TE size. Knox is the shortest at 6-4, and all others were 6-5 or 6-6. Tonyan is the lightest at 237 and Higbee was the heaviest at 255.
QB Play: Four out of these seven seasons came with QBs we would consider to be elite: Dak Prescott twice, Josh Allen, and Aaron Rodgers. Derek Carr, Alex Smith, and Jared Goff were the other three.

Targets and Touchdowns

Here we see some variance. Waller had his breakout on the heels of 117 targets, leading this group with Thomas a close second with 110. Tonyan was the TD monster with 11 on only 59 targets. Analytically, Tonyan has one of the biggest outlier TE finishes we have ever seen. Knox was slightly better with 71 targets resulting in 9 TDs. 2021 Schultz had the perfect blend of targets (104) and TDs (8).

Perception of a Crowded Tight End Room

Schultz was brought down twice by the presence of Blake Jarwin. Fantasy analysts saw the athletic Jarwin as the  TE to target over the more precise Schultz. Knox had a quiet year one and two, and there were some analysts who actually thought Jacob Hollister was a threat to him last season. Higbee was overlooked with the higher drafted Gerald Everett also in LA. All of that is super interesting, but let us get on with it. Who are some of the cheap TEs that could potentially help me win my league in 2022?

Albert Okwuegbunam- Denver Broncos (TE15)      

Okwuegbunam is the most expensive option on this list but also checks off the most boxes. Does he have draft capital? Check, drafted in the fourth round, he is very much in the round three to round six sweet spots most of the previous outliers fell into. He certainly has potential elite quarterback play in Russell Wilson. Okwuegbunam is in a “crowded” tight end room as third-round draft pick Greg Dulcich scared off a few drafters of late. He is entering year three – another outlier sweet spot. He is big at “6-5” and 258-pounds. Okwuegbunam is also fast, posting a 4.49 40-yard dash time (98th-percentile amongst tight ends).

There is nothing shocking or groundbreaking about recommending Albert O as a potential league winner. There are a lot of analysts who are very excited about him, and he is a name dynasty and redraft grinders are hearing a lot this offseason. However, when you take a deeper look and see all the historical boxes he checks off, it makes drafting Okwuegbunam more logical.
Okwuegbunam’s situation reminds me of 2013 Julius Thomas. Thomas was overlooked despite playing with Peyton Manning. Drafters were rightfully focused on wide receivers like Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Brandon Stokely. Thomas was a waiver wire pickup and ended up winning leagues with a 65 catch-12 touchdown season. It is very difficult to project touchdowns, but Okwuegbunam could be a red zone monster.

Cole Kmet- Chicago Bears (TE17)

Kmet had a positive year two leap last season. He improved from 28 catches as a rookie up to 60 catches on 93 targets. What he did not have were touchdowns. He had a whopping zero touchdowns last season despite a 17.7 percent target share and 12 red-zone targets. The Bears did absolutely nothing to hurt Kmet’s chances at a potential target increase. Kmet is going to have a legitimate chance at a 120 + target season. Even if Kmet does not make a massive leap forward and produce at an elite level, he is a good bet to exceed TE17. I will take some shots on him as a TE2 in multiple formats.

Noah Fant- Seattle (TE21)

Despite a potentially atrocious offense, we still should have our eye on Fant. Last season, Fant was drafted as TE9 and finished as a top-12 tight end. He is now TE21. This feels like an overcorrection and a potentially hilariously mispriced player. Seattle traded Russell Wilson, the most successful quarterback in its franchise’s history to Denver this past season for a package that included Fant, two firsts, and two second round draft picks. Fant having a career season would provide a lot of good will to the Seattle front office and coaching staff.

We are not talking about some plodding career backup here. Fant was a first-round draft pick and is one of the more athletic TEs in football. Seattle may want to run to the point of  turning the clock back to the time of the Wing T, but do they have a strong enough team to do so? There could be a lot more positive game scripts, and Seattle may have to begrudgingly be forced to pass more- a lot more. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are accomplished and talented wide receivers, but Fant is clearly the No. 3 target. He does not have to deal with a talented backup tight end like Okuegbunam in Denver.

Fant only checks one box and seems like an outlier on this list, But I am a believer in his talent and profile. Much like Kmet, Fant is a player with a good chance of beating his current ADP- and there is a shot it is by a good amount.

David Njoku (TE20) and Harrison Bryant (TE41)- Cleveland

Cleveland is one of the better bets on this list at providing a huge ADP winner. The Browns added an elite quarterback in Deshaun Watson, and we will finally get a chance to see a more open and aggressive Kevin Stefanski offense. A franchise does not trade three first rounders and additional draft picks and pay Watson a $45 million signing bonus not to put the pedal to the metal and see a return on their investment. The Cleveland pass-catchers will no doubt be beneficiaries from playing alongside Watson. Amari Cooper seems like the defacto WR1 after arriving in a trade from Dallas. Third-round draft pick David Bell should have a role as the Jarvis Landry replacement. Donovan Peoples-Jones should also have a role.

David Njoku

But the TE position is where we could see the largest payoff. Austin Hooper headed to Tennessee and left 61 vacated targets behind. David Njoku is the biggest beneficiary here. The Browns made a point of franchise tagging him this past offseason, paying him almost 11 million guaranteed. This is only the second time since the Browns returned in 1999 they have franchise-tagged anyone.

They followed up with an even larger contract: a four-year deal worth 56 million. Njoku will be one of the highest paid tight ends in football. A former first-round pick, Njoku has a somewhat disappointing start to his professional career, but the Browns clearly love his talent and are deeply invested in him financially. This feels like a potential Logan Thomas-type breakout. Njoku is entering year six of his career. His highest TE finish was TE9 all the way back in 2018. It takes a leap of faith to project him to be a potential league winner, but it is in the realm of possibilities.  The arbitrage play is Bryant. A former Mackey winner entering year three of his career. If Njoku suffers an injury, Bryant would immediately enter as this team’s starting tight end. 

Mo Allie-Cox (TE32), Jelani Woods (TE37), Kylen Granson (TE46)- Indianapolis

This is a situation that drafters seem to have no idea what to make of but want to take some shots on. Allie-Cox enters year five of his career, but he is a former college basketball player who did not play football in college. There is some untapped upside and late development there with Allie-Cox. Woods is a rookie, but he is a remarkable athlete. Few players in the NFL possess his size-speed-athleticism combination (6-7, 253-pounds, 4.61 40-yard draft), and the Colts used a third rounder on him this past draft. Often times in murky positional battle situations, the cheapest option is the best. The cheapest option is Kylen Granson. This is a situation worth monitoring and hopefully there is some clarity this summer about a potential pecking order. There is a good chance this is simply a tight end by committee, but if one player distinguishes themselves from the pack, they could crush their ADP.