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Rookie tight ends

Can first-year tight ends make an instant impact?

It’s a big year for rookie tight ends, with six of them selected in the first two rounds. But it’s tough to wade into those waters and come away with a successful draft pick.

Since the NFL moved to 32 teams in 2002, there have been 57 tight ends chosen with first- or second-round draft choices. Only four of those guys finished with top-10 numbers in their first seasons. And if we’re supposing we’re in a 12-team league, let’s thrown Rob Gronkowski in there as well. He had a good year in 2010, catching 10 touchdowns (with only 42 receptions, he ranked 11th in PPR scoring formats – would be in the top 10 in standard).

In the chart below, I have put two black dots next to each of those guys’ names.

And there have been another 10 guys who’ve ranked between 13th and 20th using PPR scoring. Not great production, but certainly worthy of being rostered in typical fantasy leagues (with 12 teams each carrying two tight ends). (I’ve got one black dot on those guys.)

Those aren’t great hit rates. With there being 42 other tight ends, we’re looking at ballpark figures of almost three out of four rookie tight ends not really being worth drafting in that first year. And about a 1-in-10 chance of getting a player that would grade out as a starter.

Those are the general lay-of-the-land odds for this draft class. They suggest that probably one or two of these 2023 rookies will finish with top-20 numbers, with about a 50 percent chance that one will sneak into the top 10.

Opinions will evolve as we work our way through OTAs, camp and the preseason, but Dalton Kincaid for now is the one I’m most excited about. I think the Bills are planning on using him as more of a slot receiver – a bigger version of Cole Beasley. If he can pick things up reasonably well, I could see Kincaid putting up top-10 numbers in his first season. I haven’t stacked a board yet, but I expect I’ll have Kincaid as a top-15 tight end.

There were three other tight ends selected with top-10 picks in the second round: Sam LaPorta, Michael Mayer and Luke Musgrave. I’ve got them all as wait-and-see guys. They each have some potential, but all of those teams also have other tight ends who muddy the waters. With each, I want to see them do something notable in a preseason game before I maybe select them as a backup tight end. (If we’re drafting today, I’m not picking any of them.)

With the Lions, they had three different tight ends catch touchdowns in the 10 games after they traded T.J. Hockenson last year. They all caught 9-11 passes in those games. None of those three are great (two weren’t even drafted), but I can’t say at this point that I’m confident it’s going to be all LaPorta all of the time, with him dominating the action (especially when they roll out the play-action deception around the goal-line).

As an aside, Detroit is the only team that has used two top-10 picks on tight ends in the last 20 years. Neither finished with top-30 numbers in their first season.

With the Raiders, they also have Austin Hooper. He’s got some receiving ability, and he’s more experienced. Three years ago, Hooper was briefly the highest-paid tight end in the league. He’s 28. He caught 31 passes and 2 TDs in his final 10 games last year (in a crappy Tennessee offense). I don’t think they’ll be just kicking him to the curb. I believe Hooper and Mayer will both be playing and catching balls. That’s my rough draft expectation.

Of the three, Musgrave is the one I’m most excited about. Had he not missed almost all of last year with a knee injury, he might have been selected a lot higher. But the Packers also selected another good tight end prospect in the fourth round. Before I draft Musgrave, I want to see how him and Tucker Kraft are being used in the preseason games. But decent chance one of those Green Bay tight ends finishes with top-20 numbers.

Later in the second round, the Cowboys selected Luke Schoonmaker. I think that’s a three-way battle for playing time there. He’s a little more talented than Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot, but those guys have the considerable advantage of having been around for a year. Ferguson had the cool play on Thanksgiving last year where he hurdled a defensive back, then put his head down and charged for more yards.

In the chart below, you’re seeing rookie tight ends selected in the first two rounds since 2002. I’ve got them not in chronological order but by in the order they were drafted (with the five tight ends selected with top-10 picks at the top).

TIGHT ENDS DRAFTED IN THE FIRST TWO ROUNDS
YearPlayerPkRecYdsTDPPRRk
2021•• Kyle Pitts, Atl.46810261176.66
2006Vernon Davis, S.F.620265365.028
2004Kellen Winslow, Cle.6550010.079
2019T.J. Hockenson, Det.832367280.731
2014Eric Ebron, Det.1025248155.840
2002•• Jeremy Shockey, NYG14748942175.43
2017• O.J. Howard, T.B.19264326105.220
2019• Noah Fant, Den.20405623113.015
2009Brandon Pettigrew, Det.2030346276.627
2010• Jermaine Gresham, Cin.21524714125.116
2013Tyler Eifert, Cin.2139445295.526
2002Daniel Graham, N.E.2115150136.043
2017•• Evan Engram, NYG23647226173.65
2003Dallas Clark, Ind.2429340169.024
2018Hayden Hurst, Balt.2513163135.359
2023Dalton Kincaid, Buff.25?????
2002Jerramy Stevens, Sea.2826252369.224
2006Marcedes Lewis, Jac.2813126131.651
2017David Njoku, Cle.2932386494.724
2008• Dustin Keller, NYJ30485353119.514
2005• Heath Miller, Pitt.30394596120.914
2007Greg Olsen, Chi.3139391292.122
2004Benjamin Watson, N.E.3221603.693
2012Coby Fleener, Ind.3426281266.138
2023Sam LaPorta, Det.34?????
2016• Hunter Henry, S.D.35364788131.818
2013Zach Ertz, Phil.35364694106.923
2023Michael Mayer, L.V.35?????
2008•• John Carlson, Sea.38556275147.77
2007• Zach Miller, Oak.38444443106.416
2014Austin Seferian-Jenkins, T.B.3821221255.141
2004Ben Troupe, Ten.4033329171.926
2003Ben Joppru, Hou.41000.0--
2010•• Rob Gronkowski, N.E.424254610156.611
2018Mike Gesicki, Mia.4222202042.249
2023Luke Musgrave, G.B.42?????
2011Kyle Rudolph, Min.4326249368.934
2020Cole Kmet, Chi.4328243264.042
2017Gerald Everett, LAR4416244253.742
2017Adam Shaheen, Chi.4512127342.749
2006Joe Klopfenstein, St.L.4620226148.635
2011Lance Kendricks, St.L.4728352062.437
2013Gavin Escobar, Dall.479134234.454
2008Fred Davis, Was.4832705.484
2018• Dallas Goedert, Phil.4933334490.420
2014Jace Amaro, NYJ4938345284.524
2019Irv Smith, Min.5036311279.133
2019Drew Sample, Cin.5253008.092
2014Troy Niklas, Ariz.5233806.893
2006Anthony Fasano, Dall.5314126026.655
2021• Pat Freiermuth, Pitt.55604977153.713
2002• Doug Jolley, Oak.5532409284.918
2015Maxx Williams, Balt.5532268164.839
2022Trey McBride, Ariz.5529265161.540
2013Vance McDonald, S.F.558119019.962
2023Luke Schoonmaker, Dall.58?????
2006Tony Scheffler, Den.6118286470.926
2003L.J. Smith, Phil.6127321165.128
2008Martellus Bennett, Dall.6120283472.330
2004Kris Wilson, K.C.61000.0--
2023Brenton Strange, Jac.61?????
2003Teyo Johnson, Oak.6314128132.843
2009Richard Quinn, Den.64000.0--

—Ian Allan

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