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Fantasy Football’s Biggest Risers of 2022: Tight End

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Drafting a bunch of players who return draft-day value is a great way to have a decent fantasy football season. Win a few games, maybe squeak into the playoffs, not hate your season.

Of course, we want more than that. Your job as a drafter is to find players who will exceed value, not just return it. So today, we’re looking for players who will exceed draft day value in 2022. Maybe that means a player drafted as a starter who could end up leading his position; maybe it’s a player taken late in drafts who can return starter value. Regardless, these are the players on the rise in fantasy football in 2022.

 

After diving into the quarterbacks and running backs last week, and wide receivers just Saturday, we find ourselves at the conclusion of this miniseries with tight ends. This is another position that has a high turnover rate historically outside of a select few. Travis Kelce had a stranglehold at the top position for five years running until last season when Mark Andrews overtook him. Does this start a new era at the tight end position? Or was 2021 a fluke? Either way, the time is now to understand who is on the rise at the position, as the changing of the guard is around the corner. Below we have a list of tight ends who could rise up the fantasy charts in 2022. 

Potential TE1 Overall

Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons 

Kyle Pitts 2022 fantasy football tight end risers

Last season, Kyle Pitts entered the league as the highest-drafted tight end in league history after Atlanta took him at fourth overall. As a 21-year-old, he finished his rookie campaign with 173.8 PPR points, finishing as a top-five tight end in PPR scoring — the highest for a rookie since Evan Engram in 2017. He also finished top five in tight end targets with 110 targets, catching 68 and producing 1,026 receiving yards and one touchdown. What made this possible is his overall versatility and ability to line up anywhere, as he played from the slot (43.8%), out wide (34.2%) and as the traditional inline tight end (21.8%). This allowed the Falcons to use him as a matchup nightmare, and this will continue into 2022. With Calvin Ridley suspended and Russell Gage gone via free agency, the door has opened for Pitts to truly become the team’s top option. Now being one year older and more experienced, he should see close to 150-plus targets in 2022 — similar to Andrews last season. With this increased volume, along with more touchdown production, Pitts will be ready to make that leap and take over the tight end crown.

Potential Top 12 finishers

Irv Smith, Minnesota Vikings 

The optimism around Irv Smith last season was high after Kyle Rudolph moved on, but a preseason meniscus injury derailed the train. Prior to this injury, we had seen two productive seasons from the Alabama product, totaling 676 yards and seven touchdowns. That was all while only seeing 90 targets in two years behind Rudolph, so we can see why the hype was there for him seeing an increased role. Now 23, Smith is set to start the season as the team’s top tight end. Last season, Tyler Conklin led the Vikings’ tight end room with 87 targets, and although he’s a solid NFL tight end, he is not known for his receiving ability. This was on display in 2021, as he only caught 61 of these targets and only produced 593 yards and three touchdowns. Although the production was not elite, there were plenty of targets, especially in the red zone. Sixteen of Conklin’s 87 targets came in the red zone, 10th among tight ends. Eight of those were in the end zone, seventh at the position. Assuming that workload transitions to Smith, those are great numbers for identifying a breakout. Now after a full year of recovery, Smith is ready to emerge as a top tight end option for fantasy managers in 2022.

Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears

Cole Kmet was the top tight end from the 2019 draft class, but he has had quite a lackluster start to his NFL career, especially for fantasy purposes. He was stuck on a Matt Nagy-led Bears team, which allows us to give him the benefit of the doubt for now. In 2021, we had hoped for a production jump but he finished as the TE21 while averaging a measly 7 PPR points a game. The opportunity was there — he saw 93 targets, top 10 among TEs, including 14 in the red zone and 6 in the end zone — but the scoring wasn’t, as Kmet ended the season with zero touchdowns. Many tight ends are reliant on touchdowns to produce the lion’s share of their fantasy points, so the fact that Kmet managed 112 PPR points without scoring is fairly impressive. Fast forward to 2022 and the Bears have a new coaching staff, but one that is limited as far as offensive playmakers go. In other words, Kmet will get plenty of targets, as he is in line to be the team’s No. 2 option in the passing game behind Darnell Mooney. These targets should especially increase in the red zone, as he is one of the bigger targets Justin Fields has. We can also expect the Bears to find this area of the field a touch more in 2022 with an improved coaching staff and team. If Kmet manages to bring in a few of these end zone targets that are coming his way in 2022, we will see him shoot up the ranks quite easily. 

 

Austin Hooper, Tennessee Titans 

After multiple prolific fantasy seasons in Atlanta, Austin Hooper moved on to Cleveland in 2020 with high expectations from the fantasy community. However, he only managed 113.5 and 93.5 PPR points in two seasons as a Brown. He saw 131 targets in his two years in Cleveland, a big dropoff from the 185 he totaled his last two years in Atlanta. Hooper was let go by the Browns this offseason and found himself in what could be a good situation again, this time in Tennessee, a team that leans heavily on the run game and likes to use tight ends in the passing game. The 2022 Titans are a mishmash at receiver after dealing away A.J. Brown in the draft and releasing Julio Jones. Their top two receivers are rookie first-rounder Treylon Burks — a player with immense ability but who may need some seasoning — and Robert Woods — who turned 30 this year and is working back from an ACL tear. In other words, when looking at likely target share, all these factors point in the positive direction for Hooper. In 2022, Hooper could see a career high in targets, exceeding the 97 he had in 2019 — a year that he finished as the TE6. As a team in the thick of the AFC playoff race, the Titans will have plenty of opportunity for Hooper to find the end zone and produce fantasy points. 

Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Chargers 

After a one-year prove-it deal in Seattle, Gerald Everett was not re-signed by the team and ended up returning to Los Angeles, just in a different shade of blue than the one sported by his former Rams team. Last season he battled some injury issues, but he was still able to finish with 114.8 PPR points (TE20), just behind his predecessor with the Chargers, Jared Cook, on 20 fewer targets. Last season, the Chargers showed that they are a highly potent offense on the rise, and in the process Cook saw the fifth-most end zone targets among tight ends with 9. Cook also finished in the top 15 in overall targets and red zone targets, showing us that the tight end position is a spot that the Chargers and Justin Herbert like to target in important situations. Now with Everett in the lead role, we can expect much more production. He was also great at the catch point, only dropping three balls last season and was a perfect 5-for-5 in contested catch situations. The roster is full of playmakers, but it’s easy to see a path to a TE1 role for Everett in an offense that has produced big-time numbers from Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry in the past. This Chargers team ranked fifth in points per game last season, and there’s little reason to expect that to get worse in 2022. An ascension similar to Dawson Knox last season could be in store for Everett in 2022. 

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