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Pope’s Pick 6: Tight Ends to Avoid in Fantasy in 2022

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Welcome to Pope’s Pick 6. Twice a week I’ll be bringing you a quick look at my fantasy football thoughts in quick-hit form. Today: Tight ends to avoid in fantasy in 2022.

 

With the rise of tight end premium leagues, this position has become even more important to us fantasy managers, especially with the lack of fantasy viable players within the position. However, hitting on this position gives you a huge weekly advantage as a majority of your league will be struggling to find a weekly starter. Over the years we have seen many championship rosters with players like Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, George Kittle or Mark Andrews, on them. So let’s take a look at a few players you should avoid, to help you make that championship week.

Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders

As one of the fundamental pieces in the Raiders’ offense, Darren Waller has carved out two top-five fantasy finishes in the last three years. Last season was the first time he missed finishing inside the top five since joining the Raiders, finishing as the TE17 in PPR due to an injury that forced him to miss six games. On a per-game basis he also slipped down to the TE7, only averaging 12.2 PPR points a week, down from the 17.4 he averaged in 2020. In his absence, we saw the emergence of Hunter Renfrow—per the FTN Fantasy splits tool, Renfrow saw his per-game averages go up by 0.67 targets, 1.25 receptions and 14.91 yards in games Waller missed. Those aren’t huge numbers, but Renfrow did see a huge increase in the red zone, scoring five touchdowns over the last five weeks of the season. Even more damning for Waller’s stock, the Raiders traded for Davante Adams this offseason.

This will be the first time in Waller’s Raiders career he is not the team’s lead target. Adams has cemented himself as a true primary target in the NFL and one who demands a large number of targets at that. Since breaking out in 2017, Adams has averaged 10.3 targets, 7.1 receptions, 87.3 receiving yards and 0.8 touchdowns per game. He likely commands a massive target share in Vegas, just as he did in Green Bay, leaving that much less for Waller and the others. With this in mind, it is hard to see a path where Waller sees over 110 targets, as he did in his two top-five finishes, leading him to a finish closer to a TE2 than the top tier of tight ends. 

Zach Ertz, Arizona Cardinals 

Zach Ertz 2022 Fantasy Football Tight End Avoids

After joining the Cardinals partway through the 2021 season, Zach Ertz became one of the best fantasy tight ends finishing as the TE4 with 131.8 points over the last 11 weeks of the season. As a Cardinal, he averaged 7.4 targets, 5.1 receptions, and 52.2 receiving yards, scoring three times, en route to 12.0 PPR points per game. Good right? Well, it’s important to note that most of this production came with DeAndre Hopkins out of the game. Hopkins played only two full games with Ertz on the roster, and one of those was the tight end’s Arizona debut, when the team had incentive to feature its flashy new addition. The other game the two played together was Week 14, and it was Ertz’ worst game as a Cardinal, with only a single 10-yard catch on 2 targets.

Hopkins will miss the first six games of the season to suspension, but the Cardinals have already mitigated that with the offseason addition of Marquise Brown. Brown, coming off career-best numbers for targets (146) receptions (91) and yards (1,008), will soak up targets himself, and when Hopkins returns, those are two target hogs that will make it difficult for Ertz to tally up the receptions himself. All of this on a team that only passed 56% of the time last year, 21st in the NFL. That all makes it hard to see a path for Ertz to get anything close to the target load he had last season, which means he’s set for something more like a TE2 finish in 2022 than the mid-range TE1 he was last year.

 

Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins 

Mike Gesicki has finished as a TE1 three years in a row, finishing as high as the TE7 (159.3 PPR points) in 2020 down to TE12 (136.0) in 2019. He saw 80-plus targets in 2019 and 2020, then had a career-high 112 in 2021, also reaching career highs in receptions (73) and yards (780). On the flip side, he only scored twice last year, down from 5 and 6 the two previous years. 

This offseason, the Dolphins hired Mike McDaniel as head coach and added receivers Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson to go alongside 2021 rookie sensation Jaylen Waddle. That all creates a loaded wide receiver group, the best the Dolphins have had in years. The new head coach means it’s difficult to predict exactly what this offense will look like, but given McDaniel’s experience with the 49ers, we can guess that the run game will be very important. That’s especially true given the team retained Myles Gaskin and added Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel and (most importantly) receiving-back specialist Chase Edmonds this offseason. All that together means it’s very possible Gesicki will be the third, fourth or fifth option in this passing game. That would make it hard for him to reach 80-100 targets, and without that volume he’d need a lot more touchdown success than he’s displayed so far in his career to finish as a TE1.

Noah Fant, Seattle Seahawks 

Noah Fant has all the physical tools you want in a top-tier tight end, inside the 95th percentile in every workout metric, per Player Profiler. He stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 249 pounds, making him an ideal NFL-sized tight end. But even with all that profile, the production has been … adequate, and not much more. He has put up two very similar seasons the last two years (62-673-3 on 93 targets in 2020, 68-670-4 on 90 in 2021). Those are solid workloads for a tight end, good for back-to-back top-12 finishes (TE9 in 2020, TE12 in 2021), but not exactly following through on his first-round pedigree.

It’s hard to see a path to him making the leap in 2022. Fant is in Seattle, heading northwest in the trade that sent Russell Wilson to Denver. That means he will likely continue to see poor quarterback play, paired with either Drew Lock or Geno Smith, which will certainly limit the offensive ceiling of the Seahawks team. On what promises to be a fairly anemic offense, Fant will have to contend with star receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and per the FTN Fantasy advanced receiving stats, they combined for 22 of the team’s 35 end zone targets last year. With a bad offense, a bad quarterback, and as at best the third fiddle in the team’s passing game, it’s hard to see a path to Fant putting up another back-end TE1 season.

Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos 

As a rookie in 2020, Albert Okwuegbunam dealt with multiple injuries, including a Week 9 torn ACL. The injuries all limited him to only four games and 15 targets. Coming off the injury last season, he produced 330 yards and two touchdowns on 33 receptions as the Broncos’ No. 2 tight end behind Fant. But with Fant heading to Seattle in the Russell Wilson trade, there are plenty of murmurs about Okwuegbunam as a breakout candidate for 2022. But how likely is that?

New Denver head coach Nathaniel Hackett has never featured tight ends heavily in the past, and that’s before considering that this Broncos offense already has Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon as good-to-better weapons at receiver and running back, plus rookie third-round tight end Greg Dulcich battling Okwuegbunam for work. All that competition means it will likely take an injury — maybe multiple injuries — for Okwuegbunam to get enough targets to be a fantasy-relevant option in 2022. 

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns 

David Njoku 2022 Fantasy Football Tight End Avoids

David Njoku has left fantasy managers wanting more over much of his five-year career since being drafted in the first round in 2017, especially when you look at his 2018 numbers (56 receptions on 88 targets for 639 yards and 4 touchdowns, TE9 in PPR) that appeared to signify a breakout. After a 2019 ACL injury, Njoku has yet to regain his 2018 form, in part due to the Browns employing a committee of Njoku, Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant. Last year, Njoku put up 475 yards and 4 scores, best of the committee and his best since that 2018 season. That led to the Browns letting Hooper go this offseason and signing Njoku to an extension.

All that said, his 2022 does not promise much as it stands. This is a run-heavy offense that might be enough to support receiving weapons if Deshaun Watson were on the field, but the likelihood of him facing a length suspension means Jacoby Brissett should be at the helm for most or all of the season. Brissett is a perfectly viable backup, but as a starter in his career, he’s only produced one top-24 player for fantasy (Jack Doyle, TE7 for Indianapolis in 2017). With Amari Cooper the No. 1 target, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt commanding plenty of work out of the backfield, and the underwhelming Brissett throwing the ball, it’s unlikely Njoku can find a path to being a top-12 tight end in 2022. 

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