- Travis Kelce leads the way: Kelce’s 91.6 receiving grade in 2022 was the best at the position.
- Mark Andrews joins the top tier: Over the past two years, Andrews’ 1.05 WAR is second-best at the position.
- George Kittle rounds out the top tier: Kittle is an absolute monster with the ball in his hands with 30 missed tackles over the past two years.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
A top-tier receiving tight end can transform any NFL offense and is a nightmare matchup for defenses.
There are some promising rookies that just entered the league, but they need to prove it in the NFL. As we’ve seen in recent years, those talents that can maintain high-level play are hard to come by. Just like in 2022, the gap between the top two tiers and the position average is rather significant, and PFF’s top 15 tight ends entering the 2023 NFL season will show that. The rankings are split into three tiers based on a variety of factors, including PFF’s play-by-play grading system, PFF's wins above replacement (WAR) and more.
Tier 1: Elite
Kelce has been a dominant force at the position for almost a decade and arguably just had the best season of his career. He and Patrick Mahomes have the best chemistry in the NFL, and Kelce shows no signs of slowing down. His 91.6 receiving grade in 2022 was the best at the position, as were his 25 missed tackles, 39 explosive plays and his 2.24 yards per route run (at least 50 targets).
Andrews comes in at No. 2 on this list due to the number of targets his offense feeds him in comparison to the next man on this list. The Ravens have had very little outside of Andrews over the years, and he continues to put up elite numbers. Over the past two years, Andrews’ 1.05 WAR is second best at the position. If he has one weakness in his game, it’s his ability after the catch, as he forced just three missed tackles in 2022 to go along with a middling 3.6 yards after the catch per reception.
If Kittle was fed as heavily as the top tight ends in the NFL, his numbers would rival Kelce’s. Alas, he’s played like a traditional inline tight end and has to compete with several top-tier weapons for targets in the 49ers' offense. Kittle’s 87.8 receiving grade ranks second over the last two years, and he is an absolute monster with the ball in his hands with 30 missed tackles over that same time.
Tier 2: Great with potential to become elite
Goedert dropped just two passes in 2022 while generating the fourth-most explosive plays at the position with 27. His 1.76 yards per route ranks fifth, and his 96.1% catchable catch rate ranks second among all tight ends. Goedert has been fully unleashed in the Eagles offense since Zach Ertz was shipped off to Arizona.
A midseason trade did wonders for the former Iowa Hawkeye, as Hockenson fit the Vikings offense and tied for the third-highest WAR among TEs in 2022 at 0.41. Hockenson only trailed Kelce in receptions for the 2022 season, including the playoffs, which resulted in the second-most yards from the position.
The Steelers trusted Freiermuth in 2021 as a rookie, feeding him 85 targets. In Year 2, that total was boosted to over 100 targets. He finished with the seventh-highest receiving grade in 2022 at 78.3 and continues to be a plus pass protector when asked to do so.
If this list was compiled a year ago, Pitts would be in the top five after a tremendous rookie season. Then 2022 happened, which was nothing less than a disaster for fantasy owners and Pitts’ stock. The talent is no doubt still there, but he needs to be utilized more optimally with better QB play.
Tier 3: Good but needs pieces around to be great
Schultz’s two-year WAR ranks fifth at the position in addition to the fact that he has earned over 100 targets in back-to-back seasons,and has just one fumble over the same time span. His 16 touchdowns rank fourth, and his 81 receiving first downs are tied for fifth at the position. While he was allowed to leave in free agency from the Dallas Cowboys, it’s hard to argue with the numbers he’s put up.
You had to know he was coming on this list at some point. Hill is not a traditional tight end nor is he a modern-day one, as he occupies a unique role that only he can do and has provided tremendous value to the Saints, ranking ninth in PFF WAR the past two seasons. While Juwan Johnson had a breakout season in 2022 and they just signed Foster Moreau, Hill is the slotted “starter,” and his versatility gives the Saints a lot of options.
Njoku was given a hefty salary last offseason, and he rewarded the Browns with the best season of his career with a 78.7 receiving grade. His 1.55 yards per route run over the past two seasons is eighth-best at the position, and he has just one fumble over that time frame.
A year ago, Waller ranked third on this list, but injuries continue to limit his ability to stay on the field and thus, his effectiveness on the field. After two seasons of 86.8-plus grades, Waller hasn't landed above 74.5 as a receiver. If Waller can stay healthy, he’s one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
12. Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills
Knox’s days in Buffalo might be numbered due to the arrival of Dalton Kincaid, but that won’t detract from his value to the Bills in 2023. With the seventh-highest WAR at the position over the past two seasons, Knox has been a safety valve for Josh Allen despite middling grades the past four seasons.
We want to see Okonkwo receive an expanded role to show what he can do with more targets because what he did on 48 targets as a rookie in 2022 was spectacular. He led all tight ends in yards per route run (2.56) and ranked third in receiving grade at 84.6. His ranking on the list might be generous but in a league that’s searching for young talent at the position, Okonkwo has the ability to become a difference-maker at the position.
Everyone has been waiting for Engram to break out since he was drafted in the first round in 2017, and it finally happened in 2022, as he was paired with a good coach and quarterback that knew how to utilize him properly. A career high in receptions, yards and first downs gained, Engram thrived under Doug Pederson with Trevor Lawrence pulling the trigger.
Everett enjoyed a career year in 2022 with Justin Herbert throwing him targets as the main tight end option for the first time in his career. Everett continues to be one of the best in the NFL with the ball in his hands, as he racked up the second-most missed tackles in 2022 and didn’t fumble a single time in 2022.