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Sophomore tight ends

Will experience lift last year's tight ends above this year's bumper crop?

It’s a big year for tight ends in the draft. Dalton Kincaid, Michael Mayer, Darnell Washington and Luke Musgrave might all be picked in the top 40. But with tight ends tending to need time to develop, it’s reasonable to wonder whether they can outperform the less-talented tight ends from a year ago.

In the 2022 draft, no tight ends were selected until pick 55. It’s a modest group. But those guys have the advantage of having been with their NFL teams for a year, learning the offense. And while those players weren’t as heralded coming in, there were plenty that had credible rookie seasons.

Chigo Okonkwo was putting up top-10 numbers late in the year. Trey McBride (pictured) caught 20 passes in his last five games. Jelani Woods had an 8-catch game against the Steelers. Isaiah Likely had some effective fill-in games for the Ravens. And Greg Dulcich and Cade Otton played some.

With the advantage of being a year ahead in their development, some of those less-heralded 2022 tight ends probably will finish with better numbers than some of these choice rookies coming in. (But I speak in general terms; let’s see where these guys coming in land before we start placing them on draft boards.)

I ran some numbers on this, and they show that it’s pretty common for tight ends to emerge in their second season. In the last 20 years, 24 second-year tight ends have finished with top-10 numbers (using PPR scoring). Only two of those players had put up top-10 in their first year (in bold). Another 12 finished with top-20 numbers (tagged with dots), so that means 10 of the 24 made the substantial move up from outside the top 20.

The numbers suggest that there is a viable path for guys like McBride, Okonkwo and Woods to maybe finish with top-10 numbers. I’m not putting them there yet on my board. I’d feel a lot better about each of them if those teams weren’t terrible. But maybe.

2ND-YEAR TIGHT ENDS WITH TOP-10 NUMBERS
YearPlayerGRecYdsTDPPRRkRookie Yr
2011• Rob Gronkowski, N.E.1690132718330.9142-546-10
2002Todd Heap, Balt.16688366193.4116-206-1
2011Jimmy Graham, N.O.1699131011296.0231-356-5
2004Antonio Gates, S.D.158196413255.4224-389-2
2018• George Kittle, S.F.168813775258.7343-515-2
2004• Jason Witten, Dall.16879806223.0335-347-1
2011• Aaron Hernandez, N.E.14799107216.5345-563-6
2020T.J. Hockenson, Det.16677236177.3332-367-2
2005• Chris Cooley, Was.16717747190.4437-314-6
2003Randy McMichael, Mia.16495983126.8439-485-4
2019• Mark Andrews, Balt.156485210209.2534-552-3
2014Travis Kelce, K.C.16678626189.260-0-0
2007• Owen Daniels, Hou.16637683157.8734-352-5
2010Brandon Pettigrew, Det.16717224167.2830-346-2
2020• Noah Fant, Den.15626733149.3840-562-3
2022• Pat Freiermuth, Pitt.16637322148.2860-497-7
2001• Bubba Franks, G.B.16363229122.2834-363-1
2018David Njoku, Cle.16566394143.9932-386-4
2008Greg Olsen, Chi.16545745141.4939-391-2
2003Jeremy Shockey, NYG9485352113.5974-894-2
2019• Dallas Goedert, Phil.15586075148.71033-334-4
2008• Zach Miller, Oak.16567781139.81044-444-3
2005Ben Troupe, Ten.15555304132.01033-329-1
2002Alge Crumpler, Atl.16364555111.51025-330-3

As long as I’ve got the numbers I, I will also show another 20 second-year tight ends from the last 20 years. These are the guys who ranked between 11th and 15th using PPR scoring. With this group, two had finished with top-10 numbers as rookies, while four had ranked in the top 20. (This looks like a far-more likely landing spot for McBride, Okonkwo, Woods and the other 2022 tight ends.)

2ND-YEAR TIGHT ENDS WITH TOP-15 NUMBERS
YearPlayerGRecYdsTDPPRRkRookie Year
2015Richard Rodgers, G.B.16585108160.11120-225-2
2012Kyle Rudolph, Min.16534939158.31126-249-3
2007Tony Scheffler, Den.16495495133.91118-286-4
2009Jermichael Finley, G.B.13556765152.6126-74-1
2019Mike Gesicki, Mia.16515705138.01222-202-0
2007Vernon Davis, S.F.14525094126.91220-265-3
2009John Carlson, Sea.16515747150.41355-627-5
2014Zach Ertz, Phil.16587023146.21336-469-4
2015Eric Ebron, Det.14475375130.71325-248-1
2018Evan Engram, NYG11455773126.31364-722-6
2006• Heath Miller, Pitt.16343935103.31339-459-6
2003Daniel Graham, N.E.14384094102.91315-150-1
2004L.J. Smith, Phil.16343775101.71327-321-1
2001Anthony Becht, NYJ1636321598.11316-144-2
2011• Jermaine Gresham, Cin.14565966151.61452-471-4
2013Coby Fleener, Ind.16526084140.81426-281-2
2017• Hunter Henry, LAC14455794126.91436-478-8
2009Fred Davis, Was.16485096134.9153-27-0
2018• O.J. Howard, T.B.10345655120.51526-432-6
2004Dallas Clark, Ind.1525423597.31529-340-1

—Ian Allan

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