The tight end landscape is known for being tumultuous and filled with uncertainty. The only real certainty at the position has been that Travis Kelce is the TE1. However, all good things must end, and Kelce will be 34 this coming October. It is time to start to look towards a future without him because it is closer than you think.
It can be difficult to read the tea leaves for what to expect when it comes to tight ends. There are young talented players who have incredible upside. Then there are older prospects who have consistently shown that they are at the top of their game. I broke down my top three tight ends after Kelce to make an argument for why each could be the next top tight end: Kyle Pitts, Mark Andrews, and T.J. Hockenson.
Kyle Pitts: Young Prospect, High Upside
The first tight end of the three to discuss has become an area of hot debate. There is a question as to whether Kyle Pitts will live up to the hype or not. In terms of athleticism, Pitts blows the doors off the competition. Still, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster since Pitts entered the league.
This athletic specimen’s first season had him trending in the right direction for the expectations when he was drafted 4th overall by the Atlanta Falcons. He ended the 2021 season as TE6 in point per reception (PPR) formats, averaging a decent 10.4 points per game (PPG). Last season was concerning, however. Pitts averaged just 7.6 PPG in 10 games before an injury sidelined him for the rest of the season after week 11, where he finished as TE33. The injury aside, Pitts had only topped 10 points 3 times last season while healthy.
This brings into question whether it is an issue with Kyle Pitts or if there is one with the offense around him. My money is on the latter situation. The Falcons had a failed experiment with Marcus Mariota as their quarterback for a majority of last season. There are still some questions as to who the starting quarterback will be, as well. The Falcons should be in a better position than they were last year either way between either the young Desmond Ridder or the always-electric Taylor Heinecke.
Regardless, dynasty is all about the long game. Whether the Falcons figure out their quarterback situation or he goes to a new team, Pitts is primed to be a top TE in this league.
Mark Andrews: Proven Time and Time Again
There has been some discussion for Mark Andrews to be the top tight end for some time already as the Baltimore Ravens top tight end. Since entering the league in 2018, he has finished as TE6 or better each year except for his rookie season. Over the past four years, Andrews has averaged an impressive 14.1 PPG in PPR, which is the 3rd most in that stretch of time. This shows that Andrews has the consistency that you want in a top player at any position. Andrews even finished as TE1 once in his career in 2021. Andrews has the floor you should be targeting, as well as the ceiling that you would expect out of the top tight end.
Todd Monken is another exciting aspect for Andrews as he is the new offensive coordinator in Baltimore. There is a lot of promise that Monken is going to revitalize the Raven’s passing game. More importantly, as Sports Illustrated pointed out, Monken has an affinity with using the tight end position to create mismatches. In an interview discussing the Raven’s tight end situation with Monken, he said, “…they both have the ability to make plays down the field, run after catch. So, it’s a great starting point because I think they’re tough matchup guys.” This makes having Andrews on your team even more tantalizing.
T.J. Hockenson: Youth and Consistency
T.J. Hockenson is somewhere between Pitts and Andrews in terms of where he is at in his career. He has the draft capital of being a top-ten pick like Pitts. He has also shown similar consistency to Andrews, as Hockenson has finished as a top 5 TE two out of the four years he has been in the league. In fact, if you extrapolate Hockenson’s PPG over the time that he missed due to injury in 2021, he finishes as a top-five tight end each year minus his rookie season, similar to Andrews. Finally, Hockenson lands between the two in age, with his 26th birthday coming up this July. He has plenty of treads left on the tires as he is just entering his prime years and has shown he has the ceiling and the floor you should be looking for in a tight end.
The most intriguing aspect when it comes to Hockenson is how he was traded to the Vikings halfway through last season. He put up 13 PPG during his short time there and averaged 8.6 targets a game in his time there. This shows how Hockenson had quickly integrated himself with the Vikings’ game plan and how quickly Kirk Cousins came to rely on him. Now he has had a full offseason to work with Cousins and better develop the chemistry between them. What’s more is how the Vikings have invested this offseason in Josh Oliver, the previous blocking tight end for the Baltimore Ravens. This points to the Vikings using more of 12 personnel, or having two tight ends on the field at once, which will force more mismatches on the field and help open things up for Hockenson down the field.
As stated, it can be difficult to tell which tight end is going to maintain being the best for fantasy relevancy. Few can maintain the dominance that Travis Kelce has for the past several years. However, each of these tight ends offers the upside you are looking for as a starter, and each has the ability to be the next TE1 that carries your team to a championship.