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Using historical NFL player comparisons to value top 2022 free agent tight ends

Tampa, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki (88) runs with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

While the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams are still focused on this year and Super Bowl 56, the rest of the league and its fans are preparing for the offseason. PFF is also getting into the action with the launch of its 2022 Draft Guide and free agency rankings, which allows you to sort by position or team needs and includes OverTheCap contract projections as well as historical grades and wins above replacement (WAR) numbers for the past three seasons.

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This article is part of a series going through PFF's top-ranked free agents (excluding quarterbacks) by position group, using their past stats to match them with historical players. Once we have a sample of similar players, we can see how they performed in subsequent seasons to get an idea of the current player’s range of outcomes. I’ll also include any potential bargain free agents who aren’t at the top of our rankings but look better than expected in WAR projections.


For each of the tight ends below, the closest comparable players were found by measuring the similarity between them based on several features — age (within one year), weight, WAR, previous-year WAR, WAR per snap, air yards per target, targets per game and PFF receiving grades.

The most similar players across these metrics are grouped together to calculate the expected WAR numbers for 2020 and 2021, and the weight of each comparison reflects the level of similarity. I didn’t use the same number of comparisons for all players, as it is more difficult to find a wide range of comparable seasons for older players.

The first plot shows the relevant WAR numbers for each of the tight end’s closest comparisons, the next displays past and future performance for the free agent based on the comparisons and the final table shows the dollar values based on positional WAR baselines for each outcome (expected, ceiling and floor) through 2023.

I decided to restrict the forecasts to the next two years in order to maximize the number of comparable players we have in the data set, reduce error for longer forecasts and reflect the fact that all but the NFL's top-tier free-agent contracts are glorified two-year deals that give teams the option to continue.

No. 21: Mike Gesicki

Gesicki has increased his targets, receptions and receiving yards every year during his rookie contract. The Penn State product peaked in 2021 as the Miami Dolphins second-most productive receiver, behind rookie sensation Jaylen Waddle. Many of Gesicki’s comparable players have regressed in future seasons, but others such as Zach Ertz took their careers to new levels.

Despite higher production, Gesicki’s WAR total fell slightly in 2021, mostly due to an incrementally lower receiving grade.

We project Gesicki will sign for around $14 million per season across four years. We project that Gesicki will be a slight value at that price, though our WAR numbers are generally optimistic about the value of tight ends.

Outcome 2020 2021 2022 2023 Two-Yr Avg
Actual/Expected $21.0 $19.7 $15.7 $16.4 $16.1
Ceiling (90th) N/A N/A $22.7 $25.2 $23.9
Floor (10th) N/A N/A $7.6 $5.0 $6.3

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