PFN’s list of the top tight ends in the NFL heading into the 2022 campaign is primarily highlighted by veterans. Given that TE is such a challenging position to adapt to in the NFL — and the fact that multiple future Hall of Famers are still playing in the league — younger tight ends were hard-pressed to find a place in our rankings. Let’s see how the full list of the top 32 tight ends in the NFL shakes out.
Top NFL tight ends in 2022
1) Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
The epitome of consistency, Travis Kelce has been a first or second-team All-Pro in each of the past six seasons. He topped 1,000 yards in all those campaigns, and even a slightly down year in 2021 resulted in a 92-1,125-9 line.
With Tyreek Hill gone, Kelce will become an even more critical asset for the Chiefs. Kansas City brought in receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Skyy Moore, but Kelce should comfortably lead the team in targets next year. His alignment versatility (62% of his snaps were in the slot or out wide) and ability to find open space should lead to plenty of opportunities.
The real question is how long Kelce can keep this up. Elite tight ends can often maintain top-end production into their mid-to-late 30s. Tony Gonzalez managed 83 catches and eight touchdowns in his age-37 season with the Falcons. Kelce turns 33 in October, so he should have a few excellent years left.
2) Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
Kelce gets the deference at No. 1 based on his long track record, but Mark Andrews was the most productive tight end in the NFL last season. As the primary target in Baltimore’s offense, Andrews’ 26% target share was easily the best among tight ends and ranked sixth among all pass catchers.
The former third-round pick appeared in all 17 games as one of the few Ravens players who managed to stay fully healthy last year, and he was efficient even when Lamar Jackson was unavailable. In the five games in which backup Tyler Huntley was the primary quarterback, Andrews still averaged 8.6 receptions, 99.2 yards, and scored three total touchdowns.
The Ravens traded Marquise Brown to the Cardinals during the draft, and they haven’t added any additional receivers. Andrews already blew up last year, and his 153 targets were the third-most by a tight end since 2000. It seems crazy to think he could surpass his 2021 stats, but given the state of Baltimore’s WR depth chart, Andrews could receive even more targets next season.
3) George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
Kelce and Andrews are a little underrated as blockers, but neither is on George Kittle’s level. The 49ers tight end is one of the best run-blocking tight ends in the NFL. That’s an especially vital skill in a San Francisco offense that ran the ball at the fourth-highest clip in the league in 2021.
Kittle’s lack of size and production at Iowa forced him to fall to the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but he’s capitalized on his elite athletic testing at the pro level. He’s probably the most complete tight end in the NFL, and his highs are extremely high, as evidenced by his 88-1,377-5 effort in 2018.
Injury concerns are Kittle’s main issue, and he’s missed 13 games over the past three seasons. If he can stay healthy, Kittle will be a reliable target for presumptive 49ers quarterback Trey Lance in his first year as a full-time starter.
4) Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
Kyle Pitts will likely top the list of the NFL’s best tight ends many times over the next decade-plus. Heck, it’s even possible he’s at No. 1 by next year.
The Falcons selected Pitts fourth overall in last year’s draft, making him the highest-drafted tight end of all time. The Florida alum rewarded Atlanta’s faith, posting the second-most yards receiving (1,026) and third-most receptions (68) of any rookie TE in NFL history.
Tight end is a notoriously difficult position to pick up in the pros, but Pitts made a seamless transition, recording the highest average depth of target (11.2 yards) among TEs.
Pitts only scored one touchdown last season, and given the Falcons’ current quarterback situation, he may not find the end zone much in 2022 either. However, once Atlanta finds their long-term solution under center, the sky will be the limit for Pitts.
5) Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
After managing back-to-back seasons with 90+ catches and 1,100+ yards, Darren Waller was hit by the injury bug in 2021. An ankle injury cost him Week 7, while a strained IT band sidelined him for five games near the end of the season. Now fully healthy, the 29-year-old is set up for a rebound campaign in 2022.
New Raiders head coach and offensive play-caller Josh McDaniels certainly knows how to get the tight end involved after spending years with Rob Gronkowski in New England. A season ago, Las Vegas ranked 19th in offensive DVOA, but an improved unit could lead to more opportunities for Waller.
Of course, following the Raiders’ acquisition of Davante Adams, Waller may not be the target hog he once was. But if Vegas’ offense performs at a higher level next season, it may not matter that Waller receives a smaller slice of the overall pie.
6) Rob Gronkowski, Free Agent
Gronk isn’t just one of the best tight ends in the NFL heading into the 2022 season — he’s one of the greatest TEs of all time. His career production is up there with Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, and other legends at the position.
Gronkowski is still on the free agent market, but there’s little to no chance he signs with any team other than the Buccaneers. Tom Brady could certainly use him. With Chris Godwin likely to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list, Gronk would join Russell Gage and Cameron Brate as options over the middle with Mike Evans on the perimeter.
A historically great blocker for the tight end position, Gronkowski was only asked to block on 36.6% of his snaps, one of the lowest TE rates in the league. That’s likely because the Bucs were trying to reduce his wear and tear. If he returns, Gronk will be a specialized weapon for Brady with a chance to earn his fifth Super Bowl ring.
7) Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
After the Eagles traded Zach Ertz to the Cardinals in mid-October, Dallas Goedert became Philadelphia’s primary tight end for the first time in his career. He responded by putting up 56 catches for a career-high 830 yards and four touchdowns on a 79% snap rate.
Goedert has never received more than 87 targets in a single season. While he could reach a new mark now that Ertz is gone, Goedert will have to contend with the addition of A.J. Brown, who is sure to soak up looks for Jalen Hurts. And if the Eagles continue to run the ball at the highest rate in the NFL, Goedert could be relegated to a blocking role.
But when given a chance, Goedert is an outstanding pass-catching weapon. In 2021, he ranked first among tight ends in yards per route run and yards after the catch per reception (min. 50 targets). Signed to a four-year extension last November, Goedert will be part of Philadelphia’s offensive attack for seasons to come.
8) Zach Ertz, Arizona Cardinals
Ertz slots in right behind his former Eagles cohort. After getting dealt to Arizona, the 32-year-old experienced an uptick in production, recording 56 receptions, 574 yards, and three touchdowns over 11 games in the desert.
Ertz’s career-high target mark is 156, and while he probably won’t even reach that figure again, he could be in for 130-140 looks in 2022. DeAndre Hopkins is suspended for the first six games of the season, Christian Kirk departed in free agency, and it’s unclear if the Cardinals have figured out how to use Rondale Moore. Second-round rookie TE Trey McBride could see time in 12 personnel, but he’ll have to get past Maxx Williams just to become Arizona’s No. 2 tight end.
Trade acquisition Marquise Brown will take over a significant role in the offense, but Ertz will be Kyler Murray’s primary target over the middle of the field. Ertz isn’t going to break many tackles or offer much after the catch. He’s at the stage of his career where he mostly hauls in the ball and goes down. But as long he can keep finding holes in opposing defenses, he’ll be effective.
9) Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys
Even after the Cowboys drafted Dalton Schultz in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, it didn’t look like he was set up to be Dallas’ tight end of the future. Blake Jarwin was far more involved in the team’s offense from 2018-19, and the former undrafted free agent signed a three-year extension with the Cowboys in March 2020.
Unfortunately, Jarwin tore his ACL in the 2020 season opener, opening the door for Schultz to take over the starting role. Schultz has capitalized with 141 receptions, 1,423 yards, and 12 touchdowns over the past two years. Jarwin sadly suffered a potentially career-ending hip injury in 2021 and is no longer with the Cowboys, so Schultz won’t have any competition for targets next season.
With Amari Cooper gone and Michael Gallup recovering from an ACL tear, Schultz is poised for a career year. Assigned the franchise tag in March, Schultz may be wise to hold off on a long-term agreement until after what should be a promising 2022 campaign.
10) Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
Mike Gesicki is not your father’s tight end. He lined up inline on just 7% of his plays, the lowest rate of any tight end in the NFL. Spending most of his time in the slot or out wide, Gesicki was asked to block on only 29% of his snaps, fifth-fewest among TEs.
It’s actually a little surprising Gesicki didn’t contest his franchise tag designation as a tight end, especially given that the wide receiver tender was worth roughly $7.5 million more than the TE tag. Jimmy Graham made the same case when he was franchised in 2014 and was in the process of appealing an arbitrator’s decision against him when he agreed to an extension with the Saints.
First-year Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel has suggested Gesicki will be used more as a blocker in 2022. If Miami is going to be as run-heavy as McDaniel’s 49ers were last season, Gesicki will have to get better as a blocker. But after posting a career-high 73 catches and 780 yards in 2021, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to change his role.
Top NFL TEs in 2022 | 11-32
11) Hunter Henry, New England Patriots
12) Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills
13) T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
14) Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers
15) Noah Fant, Seattle Seahawks
16) Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
17) C.J. Uzomah, New York Jets
18) David Njoku, Cleveland Browns
19) Logan Thomas, Washington Commanders
20) Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Chargers
21) Evan Engram, Jacksonville Jaguars
22) Hayden Hurst, Cincinnati Bengals
23) Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos
24) Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears
25) Tyler Conklin, New York Jets
26) Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
27) Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers
28) Jared Cook, Free Agent
29) Austin Hooper, Tennessee Titans
30) Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings
31) Harrison Bryant, Cleveland Browns
32) Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots