Fantasy Football: How 2023 NFL Draft's tight end class stacks up using key stable metrics

Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes tight end Dalton Kincaid (86) runs after a catch against the USC Trojans in the second half at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

• The PFF big board and stable metrics align (again) at the top: Utah’s Dalton Kincaid posted strong stable metrics across the board and solidifies his spot atop a strong class.

• More exciting tight ends that are primed to rejuvenate the tight end position in fantasy: Michael Mayer, Sam LaPorta, and Darnell Washington all shine in key stable metrics. Now they just need prime landing spots in the draft.

• Get to know more about this rookie class by checking out the other positions ranked so far: Running backs, wide receivers and even edge defenders for IDP are also ranked based on their stable metrics.

Estimated Reading Time: 13 mins

NFL draft season is well underway, and there are plenty of fantasy football general managers who are building their rookie draft boards for dynasty purposes. Utilizing all information available is going to be key in building those draft boards, and looking at how each position stacks up against one another from an analytics standpoint is just one of the many tools to consider during the evaluation process. This series focuses purely on the key stable metrics that translate more often than not from college to the NFL.

A few notes about how this series will work:

  • Rankings are based entirely on how these players performed in PFF’s stable metrics over the past two seasons.
  • Athletic ability and size are not taken into account for this process. Again, this is just one of many evaluation tools to consider.
  • This list includes the top 25 players at their respective position based on Mike Renner’s PFF big board but does not give any weight to projected draft capital or the ranking in order to stack the class up in a nonpartisan manner.

Top 10 TEs in PFF receiving grade since 2021

Player Receiving Grade Receiving Snaps
Dalton Kincaid, Utah 92.5 646
Michael Mayer, Notre Dame 91.7 786
Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State 90.2 489
Sam LaPorta, Iowa 88.7 667
Noah Gindorff, North Dakota State 83.1 178
Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion 78.0 454
Darnell Washington, Georgia 77.8 380
Marshon Ford, Louisville 76.7 674
Payne Durham, Purdue 73.8 780
Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan 72.9 390

Utah’s Dalton Kincaid lives up to his billing as one of the best receiving tight ends in a strong class with multiple nominees for that title. He totaled 1,400 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns over the past two seasons thanks to his impressive route running and good hands. He led all tight ends with a 91.8 receiving grade in 2022.

Michael Mayer recorded more receiving yards since 2021 (1,649) than any other tight end in this year’s draft class while tying with Kincaid for the most touchdowns (16). Notre Dame’s all-time receptions leader among tight ends was also highly effective as a run blocker, which should translate to a greater volume of snaps for fantasy purposes once he gets to the NFL.

Tucker Kraft had a dominant 2021 season where he finished second among FCS tight ends in receiving yards (770) and fourth in receiving grade (89.1). Unfortunately, his 2022 season was shortened as he missed a chunk of games early in the year, but still finished just outside the top 10 at his position in yards (348) and receiving grade (76.6) through nine games.

Top 10 TEs in PFF receiving grade versus single coverage since 2021

Player Receiving Grade vs. Single Coverage Receiving Snaps vs. Single Coverage
Dalton Kincaid, Utah 91.3 203
Michael Mayer, Notre Dame 85.3 237
Sam LaPorta, Iowa 84.1 204
Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion 83.6 139
Davis Allen, Clemson 73.2 164
Daniel Barker, Michigan State 73.0 112
Cameron Latu, Alabama 72.1 207
Josh Whyle, Cincinnati 69.9 137
Kyle Patterson, Air Force 69.0 22
Luke Musgrave, Oregon State 68.2 111

Unsurprisingly, the top two tight ends in receiving grade against all coverage types are the same two against single coverage. Both Kincaid and Mayer earned the top two receiving grades at their position in 2022, with Mayer earning the country’s highest overall grade at the position (92.5). Kincaid, however, was the clear leader when facing single coverage, posting more plays of 15 or more yards (16) than any other tight end in this class against the coverage.

Sam LaPorta has earned consideration as one of the top receiving tight ends in this class as one of just three tight ends in this class to post over 400 receiving yards against single coverage since 2021. While he didn’t have much luck converting his high reception total into touchdowns over the past two seasons, finding the end zone just four times, he was still a significant part of Iowa’s passing offense. A similar role in the NFL will surely yield better results in that regard considering his solid receiving metrics and ability.

After a productive and promising 2021 season during which he posted 692 receiving yards (ninth) and five touchdowns, Zack Kuntz appeared in only the first five games of 2022 and was shut down for the rest of the season due to injury. However, he reemerged at this year’s NFL Combine and earned Mike Renner’s freakiest athlete superlative among tight ends, as he finished above the 90th percentile in every single athletic measurable. Also boasting an ability to win against single coverage, Kuntz could be worth a shot in the later rounds of fantasy rookie drafts.

Top 10 TEs in PFF receiving grade versus zone coverage since 2021

Player Receiving Grade vs. Zone Coverage Receiving Snaps vs. Zone Coverage
Michael Mayer, Notre Dame 90.4 358
Dalton Kincaid, Utah 90.3 325
Sam LaPorta, Iowa 84.9 317
Darnell Washington, Georgia 79.2 212
Payne Durham, Purdue 78.2 408
Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan 75.3 215
Blake Whiteheart, Wake Forest 74.9 260
Marshon Ford, Louisville 72.9 330
Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion 72.4 228
Brayden Willis, Oklahoma 69.0 194

Get you a tight end who can do both, as the saying famously goes, and between Mayer, Kincaid and LaPorta, their strength against single coverage also translates to zone coverages, providing confidence that they’ll have no problem facing complex NFL defenses. These three were also the most productive tight ends in this class in terms of receiving yards and explosive plays (15-plus yards). 

Darnell Washington broke out in 2022 after limited playing time in his previous two seasons at Georgia, mostly as a result of injuries. Washington’s size and athleticism didn’t translate as much versus single coverage, but when it came to attacking zone coverage he led the class in yards per reception (15.3) thanks to 8.2 yards after the catch per reception (second).

Top 10 TEs in percentage of open targets since 2021

Player Percentage of Open Targets Total Targets
Marshon Ford, Louisville 61.67% 120
Brayden Willis, Oklahoma 60.71% 84
Leonard Taylor, Cincinnati 60.00% 70
Travis Vokolek, Nebraska 60.00% 50
Brenton Strange, Penn State 56.10% 82
Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan 54.93% 71
Josh Whyle, Cincinnati 54.84% 93
Will Mallory, Miami (FL) 53.70% 108
Darnell Washington, Georgia 52.54% 59
Davis Allen, Clemson 51.11% 90

Marshon Ford saw more targets (120) than any other player inside this top 10, and while he found a way to get open at a higher rate than anyone here, he had one of the lower reception rates on catchable passes (89.5%) once he was open. Ranking 19th of 22 draft-eligible tight ends on catchable receptions when open didn’t stop Ford from racking up 684 receiving yards on such targets, which ranked third, behind only Kincaid and Mayer.

Oklahoma’s Brayden Willis suffered similar issues as Ford in terms of reeling in catchable passes when open, ranking 21st of 22 draft-eligible tight ends in that regard. However, the more important metric when projecting from college to the pros is the ability to get open, while drops, of which Willis led the group with five when open, have proven to be an unstable metric to significantly weigh into evaluations.

Leonard Taylor and Travis Vokolek tied with a 60% open target rate but did so on smaller sample sizes than most tight ends in this class. Both players ended up being relatively unproductive in comparison to some of the top prospects in this class.

Top 10 TEs in percentage of open targets versus single coverage since 2021

Player Percentage of Open Targets vs. SNG Coverage Total Targets vs. Single Coverage
Will Mallory, Miami (FL) 43.48% 23
Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan 37.50% 16
Travis Vokolek, Nebraska 37.50% 8
Cameron Latu, Alabama 34.29% 35
Dalton Kincaid, Utah 32.08% 53
Leonard Taylor, Cincinnati 31.82% 22
Brayden Willis, Oklahoma 31.58% 19
Josh Whyle, Cincinnati 30.77% 26
Kyle Patterson, Air Force 30.00% 10
Brenton Strange, Penn State 29.63% 27

While Will Mallory did get open against single coverage at a higher rate than any tight end in this class, the important context here is that each of those single coverage targets over the past two seasons resulted in an average depth of target of just 3.0 yards — the lowest in the class. While he does boast top-tier speed at the position, his usage in Miami did not ask him to stretch the field vertically, despite that speed, resulting in a 7.3-yard average depth of target since 2021 (17th).

Luke Schoonmaker saw a big improvement in 2022, even on a near-identical workload as the 2021 season, he was able to become more productive for the Wolverines thanks to his ability to get open. Schoonmaker more than doubled his receiving total from the year prior while matching his touchdown total on 31 fewer offensive snaps, showing the significant development evaluators would hope to see from one of the older tight end prospects in the class (24 years old).

The most impressive numbers from this group arguably come from Kincaid, once again, and Alabama’s Cameron Latu, who saw the most targets in this group. Latu’s ability to get open against single coverage becomes especially apparent in the red zone, where he was able to convert five open touchdowns against single coverage — the most in the class over the past two seasons.

Top 10 TEs in yards per route run since 2021

Player Yards Per Route Run Receiving Snaps
Kyle Patterson, Air Force 2.40 48
Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State 2.36 489
Dalton Kincaid, Utah 2.29 646
Michael Mayer, Notre Dame 2.19 786
Sam LaPorta, Iowa 2.06 667
Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion 1.92 454
Darnell Washington, Georgia 1.66 380
Luke Musgrave, Oregon State 1.59 319
Noah Gindorff, North Dakota State 1.56 178
Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan 1.55 390

Kyle Patterson out of Air Force saw only 48 receiving snaps over the past two seasons, by far the fewest. Patterson’s small sample size did inflate a few of his metrics but should not be weighed heavily, or at all, with the large majority of his college role spent run blocking.

Kraft’s 2021 season pushes him near the top of the group as a receiver once again, as he was able to add to his production and yards per route run at the FCS level by also finishing inside the top three in this class in missed tackles forced (25) and yards after the catch (614).

Top 10 TEs in average depth of target since 2021

Player ADoT Total Targets
Luke Musgrave, Oregon State 12.85 56
Blake Whiteheart, Wake Forest 12.38 57
Kyle Patterson, Air Force 11.93 15
Darnell Washington, Georgia 10.69 59
Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion 10.31 146
Dalton Kincaid, Utah 9.52 146
Cameron Latu, Alabama 9.11 90
Marshon Ford, Louisville 8.68 120
Josh Whyle, Cincinnati 8.34 93
Daniel Barker, Michigan State 8.33 75

Both Luke Musgrave and Blake Whiteheart stretched the field at a higher rate over the past two seasons than any other tight end in this class, as each saw 25% of their targets come 20-plus yards downfield, resulting in those class-leading average target depths. Musgrave appeared in only two games in 2022 but was looking like a big part of the Beavers’ offense, commanding a 30% target rate when on the field, which led to a team-leading 11 receptions and 169 receiving yards over that span before he got hurt.

Top 10 TEs in yards after the catch per reception since 2021

Player YAC/REC Total Receptions
Darnell Washington, Georgia 7.26 38
Brenton Strange, Penn State 6.79 52
Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State 6.67 92
Travis Vokolek, Nebraska 6.61 31
Noah Gindorff, North Dakota State 6.57 23
Brayden Willis, Oklahoma 6.45 53
Will Mallory, Miami (FL) 6.24 72
Sam LaPorta, Iowa 6.01 111
Cameron Latu, Alabama 5.75 56
Josh Whyle, Cincinnati 5.69 58

Washington’s one year of production makes him an intriguing evaluation despite the smaller sample size. His athleticism and size are among the best in the class, and if he’s utilized in a large role, which could be difficult out of the gate, he offers one of the highest upsides for fantasy purposes in this class when adding in his impressive stable metrics.

Penn State’s Brenton Strange doesn’t boast the size or athleticism to stack up with some of the best in this class, but he steadily improved his production across the board during his time at Penn State. Sixty percent of Strange’s receiving production over the past two seasons came after the catch, which was the highest rate among tight ends in this class. 

Top 10 TEs in positively graded run-blocking plays since 2021

Player % of Positively Graded Run-Blocking Plays Total Run-Blocking Snaps
Darnell Washington, Georgia 14.1% 555
Brayden Willis, Oklahoma 13.2% 555
Kyle Patterson, Air Force 12.9% 381
Travis Vokolek, Nebraska 11.5% 390
Michael Mayer, Notre Dame 11.1% 704
Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State 11.0% 553
Leonard Taylor, Cincinnati 10.9% 496
Payne Durham, Purdue 10.8% 528
Josh Whyle, Cincinnati 10.5% 541
Noah Gindorff, North Dakota State 10.0% 321

Run blocking is included in the list of stable metrics, and while it isn’t necessarily the most important when it comes to fantasy football, it at least offers some insight into which players may be effective for certain schemes and helps keep them on the field more often. For Georgia’s Washington, for example, getting work as a run blocker and a receiver can still result in fantasy success if given similar usage to George Kittle, Mark Andrews and Dallas Goedert, who are the top examples of tight ends who often do both.

Combined consensus ranking of all stable metrics since 2021

Ranking Tight End PFF Big Board TE Rank
1 Dalton Kincaid, Utah 1
2 Darnell Washington, Georgia 5
3 Michael Mayer, Notre Dame 2
4 Kyle Patterson, Air Force 21
5 Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State 6
6 Sam LaPorta, Iowa 4
7 Brayden Willis, Oklahoma 16
8 Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan 7
9 Marshon Ford, Louisville 13
10 Josh Whyle, Cincinnati 10
11 Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion 8
12 Cameron Latu, Alabama 12
13 Payne Durham, Purdue 20
14 Travis Vokolek, Nebraska 22
15 Luke Musgrave, Oregon State 3
16 Noah Gindorff, North Dakota State 17
17 Brenton Strange, Penn State 14
18 Will Mallory, Miami (FL) 11
19 Daniel Barker, Michigan State 18
20 Leonard Taylor, Cincinnati 15
21 Davis Allen, Clemson 9
22 Blake Whiteheart, Wake Forest 19


Dalton Kincaid posted top-five marks in five of nine stable metric categories and performed well enough to line up perfectly with Mike Renner’s decision to make him the No.1-ranked tight end prospect. Even as a smaller tight end, Kincaid was so good as a receiver that he’ll likely continue to play the majority of his snaps lined up as a receiver versus an in-line tight end in the NFL, although he proved to be effective doing both at Utah.

Darnell Washington is able to just barely edge his way into the No. 2 spot using these metrics but did so on a much smaller sample size than Michael Mayer, who was No. 3 using these ranks. Washington’s impressive size and athleticism translated into a very good 2022 season. He will have to keep that development going if he’s to be effective in the NFL after barely playing in years prior to last. 

The previously mentioned Mayer was very similar to Kincaid as the only other tight end to also finish in the top five in five of nine stable metric categories. Mayer was much better as a run defender, but Kincaid’s ability to separate at a higher rate was the bigger difference and could be the key to fantasy success when choosing one over the other.

Kyle Patterson’s incredibly small sample size was dismissed earlier and probably should be again for fantasy purposes since he was able to push himself this far up the rankings. There just isn’t enough data on him as a receiver to truly believe he can maintain his strong numbers on a larger workload.

As strong as the correlation between these stable metric tight end rankings and the PFF big board are, there are still some strong outliers, such as Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave. Musgrave is No. 3 on the big board, but because of an injury-shortened 2022 season and an inconsistent 2021, he didn’t have a chance to shine in most stable metrics. If the combine and the two games he played in 2022 are any indications of what Musgrave can bring to the table in the NFL, he’ll almost certainly live up to his No. 3 ranking in this class.

Clemson’s Davis Allen is also among the greater discrepancies between these rankings and the PFF big board. What hurts Allen’s showing in these ranks is that his production was limited in numerous ways, ranking 21st (of 22) in yards per reception (9.7) and 18th in yards after the catch per reception (4.2) while generating a below-average average target depth (7.6). What intrigues about him outside of the stable metrics is his ability to make contested catches, leading the class with an 85.0% success rate in those situations since 2021.


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