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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Christian D'Andrea

Ranking every NFL team’s tight end units starting with — who else? — the Chiefs

Tight ends are some of the most versatile players in the NFL.

Their dance cards are continually stacked with assignments, from rumbling downfield as receivers to sealing off blocks so running backs can thrive and even staying in as a pass blocker to keep their quarterbacks’ pockets clean.

It’s also a position where stars can emerge from unexpected sources. Future Hall of Famer Travis Kelce lasted to the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. George Kittle was a fifth round selection. Darren Waller had to overcome two substance abuse suspensions and land with a needy Raiders team before breaking out as a 1,000-yard threat.

That makes ranking 2023’s tight end platoons a difficult task. With a dearth of star power at the top of the list — a pain fantasy football managers know all too well — there’s room for young breakout players to leave their mark on the Sunday landscape. Some will stake their claim with explosive performances through the air. Others will cement their spot in the lineup by erasing linebackers from running plays. A handful will excel at both.

With that in mind, let’s take a preliminary look at which teams offer the best tight end rotations for the upcoming season. Versatility counts and depth helps, but reliable star power at the top is a more important part of the equation than it was when breaking down running back rooms earlier this offseason.

Let’s begin at the bottom.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Cade Otton, Ko Kieft, Payne Durham

This is a young, unproven group with the capacity to surprise. Otton was a workable rookie safety valve for an offense that rarely allowed Tom Brady time to breathe. Kieft was his block-first running mate. Durham looks and plays like a classic Big Ten tight end and will have several opportunities to contribute for a team set to spend 2023 figuring out what comes next.

Miami Dolphins

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Durham Smythe, Tyler Kroft, Eric Saubert

Mike McDaniel’s offense didn’t have much use for Mike Gesicki last season, so a return to more traditional in-line tight ends may be a better fit for his plans. Smythe and Kroft are potent blockers who’ll make occasional catches and let Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle do the heavy lifting downfield. It’s not sexy, but it worked in 2022.

Cincinnati Bengals

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Drew Sample, Irv Smith, Devin Asiasi

Smith is a former top 50 pick who has only played eight games the past two years and has never cracked more than 365 receiving yards in a season. Sample was drafted 52nd overall and has 13 catches over his last two seasons. Asiasi is yet another former Day 2 pick with 44 receiving yards in three years as a pro. Maybe these guys will exceed expectations — there’s still raw ability there! — but Joe Burrow is going to rely on his wideouts quite a bit this fall.

Los Angeles Chargers

Bob Self/Florida Times-Union

Primary tight ends: Gerald Everett, Donald Parham, Tre McKitty

Everett’s nine drops last season were the most in the NFL, per Pro Football Reference, and his 6.4 yards per target didn’t even crack the top two-thirds of regular tight ends in 2022. McKitty is a reliable blocking presence and Parham still has the potential to be something useful, though it hasn’t manifested beyond fits and starts early in his career.

Green Bay Packers

Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Primary tight ends: Luke Musgrave, Tucker Kraft, Josiah Deguara

Green Bay will field the least proven tight end rotation in the league — though there’s always a chance Marcedes Lewis re-appears to lend veteran wisdom and block linebackers at age 39. Musgrave has massive potential but what could have been a breakthrough senior season at Oregon State was cut down by injury after only two games. Kraft has to jump up from FCS but is athletic enough to make two-tight end sets a thing in Jordan Love’s debut season as the Packers’ starting quarterback.


Washington Commanders

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Logan Thomas, John Bates, Armani Thomas

What does Thomas still have in the tank? He turns 31 next month and had just 323 receiving yards in 14 games last season. Bates hasn’t been able to pick up that slack, though his blocking ability will ensure he sees the field in 2023. Will either player serve as a surefire asset for whomever is throwing passes in D.C. this fall?

Carolina Panthers

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Ian Thomas, Hayden Hurst, Tommy Tremble

Hurst will be the top receiving option in a meat-and-potatoes platoon for rookie quarterback Bryce Young. His useful 2022 was predicated on a career-low 4.9 air yards per target — sixth-lowest among all tight ends with at least 25 targets last season. Coming in 48th out of 48 players on that list? Thomas, whose average throw came only 2.3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Granted, that was the result of some awful quarterbacking, but Young’s gonna have plenty of help with his short routes in 2023.

Indianapolis Colts

Jenna Watson-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Jelani Woods, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson

Granson and Woods tied for the team lead among tight end targets last season, but that was only 40 apiece. Woods’ size (6-foot-7, 265 pounds) and athletic prowess give him a Mark Andrews-type upside, and he should only improve in his second year as a pro — particularly if Anthony Richardson can continue to impress. Alie-Cox remains a valuable depth piece who can step up when needed.

Detroit Lions

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Sam LaPorta, Brock Wright, James Mitchell

LaPorta has a tremendous opportunity to contribute immediately for a Lions offense in dire need of a productive tight end. He can handle that pressure; his 657 yards were roughly one-third of Iowa’s total passing offense in 2022. Now he gets to fill former Hawkeye alum TJ Hockenson’s shoes in Detroit.

Dallas Cowboys

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Jake Ferguson, Luke Schoonmaker, Peyton Hendershot

Dalton Schultz’s departure means Ferguson gets a shot to be Dak Prescott’s top tight end. The good news is he caught better than 86 percent of his targets last season. The bad news is there were only 22 of them. Schoonmaker is a big-bodied blocker who’ll have plenty of opportunities to contribute as a rookie.

Los Angeles Rams

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Hunter Long

Over the past four seasons Higbee has proven he can be a productive tight end regardless of quarterback. Now he has to hope Matthew Stafford’s return can help him reverse a slide in which his yards per target dropped from 8.7 in 2020 to 5.7 (seventh-worst among tight ends) in 2022. Hopkins has the athleticism to emerge as a field stretching threat, though it hasn’t translated to actual production yet.

Tennessee Titans

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Chigoziem Okowkwo, Josh Whyle, Trevon Wesco

Okonkwo might be sneaky good. The uber-athletic second-year player ranked second among all tight ends thanks to a sterling 9.8 yards per target and first with 14.1 yards per catch. But his production was also a product of a limited Titans offense with few other viable options downfield … which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like the 2023 version of this team. He could really use some help behind him.


Seattle Seahawks

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Noah Fant, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson

Fant has yet to develop into the player the Broncos once thought he could be, but his pairing with Dissly gives Pete Carroll a solid 1-2 punch at the position. They’re used for blocking and the short range targets that open up when DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett have defenses distracted deep. They’ll have even more room to thrive now that Jaxon Smith-Njigba is a Seahawk.

Las Vegas Raiders

Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Michael Mayer, Austin Hooper, OJ Howard

The Raiders need someone who can make an immediate impact in the receiving game to lend Davante Adams some support. Fortunately, Mayer slid to the second round after a distinguished career at Notre Dame. The question is whether his good-not-great athleticism will allow those skills to translate on Sundays. Otherwise, there will be a lot of pressure on Hooper and Howard to step up — a combination that would have been pretty exciting together circa 2018.

Denver Broncos

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Greg Dulcich, Chris Manhertz, Albert Okwuegbunam

Dulcich’s rookie campaign was waylaid by injury but he had 411 receiving yards in the 10 games he played and his 7.8 average air yards per catch ranked sixth among all tight ends, suggesting he’s built for a role in the intermediate and deep ranges for Russell Wilson. Manhertz will have his impact felt in the run game, while Okwuegbunam disappointed in 2022 and now has to fend off former Sean Payton draft pick Adam Trautman to keep his roster spot.

Houston Texans

Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Primary tight ends: Dalton Schultz, Tegan Quitoriano, Brevin Jordan

Schultz will be called upon to lead an extremely young group — Quitoriano and Jordan are currently a combined 45 years old. The former Cowboy wasn’t able to reclaim the efficiency of his career-best 2021 (his 6.5 yards per target ranked only 32nd in 2022), but he remains a viable target who can thrive in the space created by his wideouts downfield.

New York Giants

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Primary tight ends: Darren Waller, Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager

Waller turns 31 in September, and while his odometer is relatively low for a veteran thanks to the late start to his high-rep days, it’s fair to worry about an age-related decline when his athleticism plays such a prominent role in his success. Bellinger is a useful insurance policy, but a very different player. Waller’s best seasons came when his average target flew roughly eight yards downfield. Bellinger’s air yards per catch as a rookie? Just 4.1.

Arizona Cardinals

USA Today Sports

Primary tight ends: Zach Ertz, Trey McBride

Ertz continues to bring value as a short range target, even in his age 33 season. McBride took over for him in the back half of the season thanks to injury but failed to stand out, in part due to the backup quarterback situation following Kyler Murray’s torn ACL. He’ll have the opportunity for a breakthrough in 2023 after being 2022’s first drafted tight end.

New Orleans Saints

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Juwan Johnson, Taysom Hill, Foster Moreau

This is a weird group to rank, seeing as the top two guys on the depth chart are more kinda/sorta tight ends than textbook examples. Johnson is an emerging tight end capable of stretching defenses and Hill is … Taysom Hill.

But Moreau may be the most interesting man in this rotation. Not only did he beat cancer but he was quietly very effective in Darren Waller’s stead last season. His 7.8 yards per target was a top 20 mark and his 8.1 air yards per pass proved he can be a useful mid-range target for old friend Derek Carr.

Jacksonville Jaguars

AP Photo/Adam Hunger

Primary tight ends: Evan Engram, Brenton Strange, Luke Farrell

Engram was exactly what Trevor Lawrence needed him to be in 2022, setting career highs in receptions and receiving yards along the way. Even so, concerns about his lack of early career consistency led the Jags to merely franchise tag him for 2023. If he falls off or prices himself out of the team’s future, rookie second-rounder Strange is there as an insurance policy. And Farrell is a useful blocker for jumbo formations.

Chicago Bears

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Cole Kmet, Robert Tonyan

From Week 9 onward, Kmet put together 36 catches for nearly 400 yards and six touchdowns despite a deficit passing offense in Chicago. He’s got extreme breakout potential — especially in what could be a contract year if Chicago doesn’t extend him before the season. Tonyan is well suited for a supporting role; a short and intermediate range target who can rumble after the catch.

Cleveland Browns

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: David Njoku, Harrison Bryant, Jordan Akins

The Browns are loaded with capable tight ends who can quietly keep an offense on pace. Njoku has yet to live up to his first round status but he remains a consistent presence who can punish defenses for overlooking him. Akins is a wild card — a player who had a mini breakout for a bad Texans team thanks to averaging more yards after the catch (7.3) vs. before (6.1). He’ll be counted on to add extra playmaking in an offense with limited reliable wideout options.

New York Jets

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Tyler Conklin, CJ Uzomah, Zack Kuntz

Aaron Rodgers will have a heady mix of in-line and field-stretching tight ends in his debut season as a Jet. Conklin exceeded expectations last season with a 552-yard campaign, but brings additional value as both a run AND pass blocker — important, given the uneven state of the team’s offensive line. Uzomah is a very solid second option and Kuntz is an athletic marvel for the position who’ll need to sand down some rough edges before making what could be an outsized NFL impact.

Buffalo Bills

USA Today Sports

Primary tight ends: Dawson Knox, Dalton Kincaid

Buffalo used its top draft pick to add Kincaid, who wrapped up his college career with a 70-catch, eight touchdown campaign over 12 games at Utah. He’ll immediately push Knox for targets, though the incumbent brings plenty of talent in his own right. Kincaid’s role will be to step up on Sundays where Knox’s lack of consistency is a concern — and to give Stefon Diggs the receiving support the Bills’ offense badly needs.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington, Zach Gentry

If Washington is ready to go in 2023 and lives up to his sheer athletic potential, this is a dynamite group capable of dragging Kenny Pickett to significant improvement. As is, it’s still pretty decent. Freiermuth continues to round into a bruising all-around tight end who springs blocks and stands out as a viable second or third receiving option. If he can get his catch rate back where it was alongside Ben Roethlisberger (75 percent) while keeping the average target depth he utilized with Pickett (up from 5.3 yards to 8.3) he’ll be an All-Pro.

New England Patriots

The Indianapolis Star

Primary tight ends: Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki, Anthony Firkser

Henry remained a consistent presence in Mac Jones’ passing game even as Matt Patricia worked to dismantle it. More importantly he’s played all 17 games in each of his seasons as a Patriot so far. Gesicki will work in-line and as a big slot presence and maybe even as a deep threat given the state of the team’s wideout room. Firkser will probably get some fullback reps under Bill Belichick and might be sneakily effective as a part-time presence.

Philadelphia Eagles

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Dan Arnold

Goedert led all tight ends in yards per target (an absurd 10.2, fourth-best among all players) despite an average target depth of 6.1 yards. He is THRIVING in the space created by AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith. Stoll is here to block but he’s a helpful safety valve when needed. Arnold might not even make the roster, but the former Wisconsin-Platteville wideout could fit the field-stretching role for which Nick Sirianni is looking.

Atlanta Falcons

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, Parker Hesse

Pitts’ disappointing sophomore season was a function of awful quarterback play (and injury). Desmond Ridder may not get him all the way back, but few in the league can match his capacity for production. Reuniting Smith with former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith should help restore his value as an athletic moving piece to slide across the Falcons’ formations. Hesse is fine, but former Florida quarterback Felipe Franks is also competing for snaps as a depth option at tight end and provides some extra intrigue down the Atlanta depth chart.

San Francisco 49ers

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Cameron Latu

When you’ve got the most complete tight end in the game at the top of your depth chart, it supersedes most concerns about the guys behind him. Kittle is an eager and elite run blocker whose 9.8 yards per target average over the prior five seasons is tops among any tight end with more than 66 targets to his name. He’s a yards-after-catch machine who operates perfect in Kyle Shanahan’s low-risk, high-impact passing offense. Woerner is there for jumbo packages to clear a path and Latu is a bit of a project who has big play capabilities to pair with a solid blocking frame.

Minnesota Vikings

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: TJ Hockenson, Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt

Hockenson was Minnesota’s second-most effective receiver in his 10 games as a Viking last fall. While that didn’t come with upper crust efficiency numbers it still proved he could be a consistent performer in high usage situations; his 44 first downs ranked third among all NFL tight ends. Oliver is a lottery ticket pickup who has improved steadily in his first three seasons as a pro and gives the Vikings a second athletic end to deploy in 12 formation lineups.

Baltimore Ravens

Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely, Charlie Kolar

Andrews’ average air yards per throw were most among any tight end with at least 50 targets last season. Granted, that’s because there was little else to work with in the Ravens’ passing offense, but he remains a viable downfield threat as well as a massive red zone presence. Likely proved to be a viable second option, though drops were a concern. Kolar only played in two games as a rookie but his Iowa State career suggests he might be the best TE3 in the NFL.

Kansas City Chiefs

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Primary tight ends: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Jody Fortson

Kelce had 1,338 receiving yards last season; fourth-most for a tight end in a single season in NFL history and more than any other NFL team’s total tight end production in 2022 except for the Baltimore Ravens (1,418 yards). Gray may simply be swimming in the wake created by Kelce and Patrick Mahomes, but he’s also making the most of his opportunity; his 8.8 yards per target was a top 10 number among tight ends last fall.

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