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How to Approach Rookie Tight Ends in 2023

Why Henry could be fantasy factor for NE in 2023
Patrick Daugherty and Denny Carter are joined by Phil Perry to discuss the Patriots' receiving options and why tight end Hunter Henry can be an underrated week-to-week option for fantasy managers.

Among the many tropes fantasy analysts throw out, “rookie tight ends don’t produce” is probably at the top of the list for most accurate. In the past 10 years, only 18 tight ends have reached at least six PPR points per game (while playing at least ten games) in their first NFL season. Last year, 25 tight ends accomplished reached this mark. Only two were rookies.

There are still some wins to be had though. Pat Freiermuth racked up 60 catches plus seven scores as a rookie and went completely undrafted in most formats. Evan Engram turned in six games with at least 15 points while Noah Fant put up a pair of 20-point games.

Going back to the 18 successful rookies, there were a few shared traits between the group and some characteristics that didn’t seem to matter much. We’ll start with the least important factors and work our way forward.

Slot Duties

The rookie tight ends ran marginally fewer routes out of the slot as a percentage of their total routes than the average NFL tight end did in 2022. A few of the rookies saw over half of their routes from the slot, but the median among the cohort was 33 percent. Slot work simply comes down to what a player is good at and what the team needs. It’s not a signal of great usage as a rookie, nor is it a hindrance.

Blocking Ability

The majority of the successful rookies logged over 200 blocking reps. This, however, was seemingly a function of their snap counts. The average Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade was 56.4. PFF graded 34 tight ends above 60 last year. Only 2-of-18 dipped below a 52 grade, so it’s possible being a disaster as a blocker can hurt a rookie tight end, but being good isn’t a prerequisite to success.
On the other hand, there have been nine rookie tight ends with a PFF run-blocking grade over 70 in the past decade. Three of them topped five PPR points per game but none reached our already-low threshold of six. Blocking earns playing time, but the data is too noisy to call it anything more than a bonus for our purposes.

Snap Share

This one stems from blocking but is where we start to find some signal within the noise. The average snap share was 60.4 percent. Four tight ends topped a 70 percent snap share and three didn’t even cross 50 percent. Focusing on the average, it’s clear there needs to be a path to a strong role when measured by playing time, but there is still wiggle room here.

Weak Competition

The easiest way to get that role is to have less talented players as competition for snaps. Only three of our 18 failed to lead their team’s tight ends in targets. The majority of our tight ends held the No. 2 on their new roster to fewer than 35 targets. The backups were generally blockers first. Hayden Hurst was likely the best backup to the 15 tight ends who led their room in targets.

College Production

College production isn’t as predictive at tight end as it is for receivers or running backs, but it does show up as a meaningful stat for first-year production. The rookie hits had an average career College Dominator of 18.6 percent. That’s a strong number for a position that isn’t known for making waves at the collegiate level.


Conversely, athleticism is a more powerful predictor of tight end production than it is for receivers or running backs. The average Relative Athletic Score of our group was 7.89. The mean RAS of a rostered NFL player is 7.16 and tight ends as a group are below that average, so a 7.89 RAS is well above what you would expect if it did not matter.

Looking at the median RAS for our group makes them appear even more athletic as it sits at 8.8. Eight of the group had a RAS over nine, putting them in the top 10 percent of players who have given us workout data.


All but two of the 18 went to non-Power Five schools. Every other rookie success story entered the league after facing the highest level of competition college football had to offer. My guess is that, given how difficult transitioning from college to the pros is at tight end, doing it from a Division II school or even a Group of Five program is virtually impossible.

Draft Capital

This one is easy because draft capital is an attempt by the 32 NFL franchises to synthesize all of the variables I have mentioned here plus countless others into a single number. The average draft pick spent on the 18 rookie tight end is 61.5. Two of the tight ends were UDFAs. Including them and then looking at the median gives a draft capital pick No. 52. Or, if you count both the UDFAs—Will Tye and Tim Wright—as the final pick after the draft, the number jumps to 83.2, the middle of the third round. Rounds one through three make up two-thirds of our successes and including the top of the fourth round gets that number to 78 percent.

With a somewhat thorough review of how first-year tight ends succeed under our belts, let’s look at who is currently being drafted and if their ADP makes sense.

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Dalton Kincaid

ADP: 124.7

You can read my full prospect profile of Kincaid here, but the short version is that he was extremely productive in college and efficient on a yards-per-route-run basis. However, he did stay in school for five years and was unable to do athletic testing at the combine or his pro day. He was a strong prospect, but not my top tight end of the class. As a pro, Kincaid lacks one of the crucial characteristics of successful rookie tight ends, an easy depth chart to climb. Dawson Knox has a snap share north of 80 percent in each of his past two seasons and signed a $52 million extension last year.

The Bills ran 12-personnel on a league-low, 3.7 percent of their plays last year and the league-high was only 30.9 percent. In 2022, only 15.5 percent of all pass attempts came out of 12-personnel. Kincaid needs to supplant Knox on the depth chart outright to pay off his ADP, and I don’t see that happening in 2023.

Suggestion: Fade outside of Josh Allen stacks

Sam LaPorta

ADP: 151.7

LaPorta’s ADP is continuing to rise with positive training camp buzz and could get into a range that forces me stop drafting him soon. He was a strong prospect, finishing his career with back-to-back seasons of a 26 percent College Dominator. He rose to the post-draft TE3 in my rankings after he was taken with the No. 34 overall pick. However, much of that is already being priced into his ADP. All camp reports have him barreling toward a starting job, but he could be one of the many rookie tight ends who take the field often and never give us spike weeks. A stunning 93.4 percent of the games played by rookie tight ends drafted in the first three rounds since 2000 have resulted in fewer than eight half-PPR points.

LaPorta wasn’t a touchdown scorer in college, finding the end zone just five times in four years. He also averaged just 12 yards per catch and wasn’t used as a downfield option. He’s a fine pick as the TE18, but as his price rises I’ll likely stop drafting him.

Suggestion: Keep buying unless he gets ahead of TE15 in price

Luke Musgrave

ADP: 205.3

Musgrave was one of the many winners I noted from the first two weeks of training camp. He is running with the first-team offense, moving around the formation, and the starting gig is supposedly “his to lose.” He was not a productive player in college, though he had 169 receiving yards in two games as a senior before going down with a season-ending injury. Musgrave then put his name on the map at the combine with a 9.78 RAS. With only fellow rookie Tucker Kraft and H-back Josiah Deguara standing in his way, playing time should not be an issue for Musgrave. Jordan Love could be a problem for his weekly ceiling, but an ADP beyond pick 200 is factoring that in far too much.

Suggestion: Keep buying, especially on teams with three tight ends

Michael Mayer

ADP: 208.3

For the purposes of my look into the rookie tight ends, I counted Notre Dame as a Power Five school, which means all of the rookies being drafted this year fit that criterion. Mayer also falls in line with the weak competition trend, having only Austin Hooper to beat out for the starting gig. He had a stellar, 26 percent career College Dominator and led all tight ends in yards per route run last year. The only knock on his profile was a pedestrian RAS of 7.66. Given his nonexistent cost in drafts and elite receiving profile, he looks like a screaming buy.

Suggestion: Take out loans to acquire more Mayer (don’t actually do this)

Darnell Washington

ADP: 215.4

I’m surprised to see Washington with an ADP at all, but he was rumored to be a first-round pick heading into the draft. He has also had an interesting camp.

With Pat Freiermuth locked into a starting role, Washington’s ceiling is capped at something similar to what Isaiah Likely did last year (36-373-3) and his floor is Noah Gray (7-36-1). He is a fun dynasty prospect but shouldn’t be drafted in even 20-round formats.
Suggestion: Only draft in dynasty formats