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Best Ball Tight End Targets and Sleepers for Fantasy Football Drafts

Greg Dulcich Fantasy Football Rankings, Waiver Wire Pickups, Draft Sleepers

The 2023 fantasy football season was a frustrating one from a tight end perspective. To sum it up, you either had Travis Kelce or you didn't. While one of the best tight ends of all time is still crushing it at age 33 and showing no signs of slowing down, there was a drastic dropoff from the rest of the group. Mark Andrews and George Kittle played hurt and Andrews was beset by his quarterback Lamar Jackson missing the final 5 games of the season. T.J. Hockenson started slow until a mid-season trade to Minnesota and Kyle Pitts suffered from Marcus Mariota's poor play and then got injured.

It's not likely we are to see such a drastic dropoff between Kelce from the rest of the elite tight ends again this year, but that doesn't necessarily mean we should fade Kelce either. Ultimately, it comes down to your build and where the values are at ADP. This year's 2023 rookie tight end class is considered by some scouts to be the best we have ever seen, but how quickly many of them can learn the position on the fly at the NFL level and still produce for fantasy is another.

The general rule for me in best ball is that for the most part, I am not fading particular players, I am fading ADPs. There are some solid sleeper tight ends available later and there are some very promising ones early. Ultimately, it will come down to your overall risk tolerance and build. On platforms like Underdog, which are half PPR, tight ends are valuable, but they aren't as valuable as they are on sites like FFPC, which is a full PPR - TE premium format. Nonetheless, having an elite tight end will leave you better served at advancing through the Underdog playoffs in Weeks 15-17. Average Draft Position based on Underdog ADP from August 2 to August 9, 2023.

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Tight End Best Ball Fantasy Football Targets

Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

TE1, 6.2 ADP

Incredible analysis there, Kyle. Seriously, bravo. Next, are you going to tell me that water is wet and the sun also rises in the east? Last year in fantasy football there was Travis Kelce at the Tight End position and everybody else. In FFPC, where the scoring is full PPR with TE Premium scoring, tight end receptions are worth 1.5 points. Obviously, in full PPR - TE Premium formats, Kelce is going to be worth more. In some FFPC best ball drafts he's even going as high as the 1.02. TE premium adds a different element to best ball and even allows you to take 3 elite ones (if the value is there) since the other 2 can be put in at flex when they have a monster week.

On Underdog Fantasy, where receptions are only worth 0.5 points per reception, Kelce isn't as valuable, but he does give you an advantage over the rest of your league, and his Week 17 matchup where the Chiefs play the Bengals could be a high-scoring affair (as well as a nice correlation with CIN). When the playoffs arrive in best ball formats you will be better served to advance with an elite tight end. Kelce will be 34 this fall, but there haven't been any signs of him slowing down. We should expect Hall of Fame players like Kelce without much injury history to not decline as quickly as other players might. While it's unlikely the rest of the TE crop behind him drops off into oblivion like they did last year, there is still a rock-solid case for Kelce in the Chiefs' offense as long as he is still attached to Patrick Mahomes.

Darren Waller, New York Giants

TE6, 73.9 ADP

It's understandable there is some recency bias with Waller. Injuries really limited him the last two seasons with the Raiders and he only played 20 out of 34 possible games. Waller is going to be 31 in September, but he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, even averaging 13.9 yards per reception last year. The Giants traded for him in the spring only giving up a 3rd Round pick. The good news is the Giants offense projects a lot better than the Raiders does and Waller will be attached to Brian Daboll and an improving quarterback in Daniel Jones.

Without a bonafide No. 1 wide receiver on the team, it's not unreasonable to think that Waller has the potential to lead the Giants in targets this year. In the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Waller averaged close to 100 receptions and over 1,100 receiving yards with 6 TDs in each. While it may be unreasonable to expect him to get back to that level, he is an explosive tight end who can stretch the field and be a YAC monster with the ability for big plays. In best ball formats we are mostly looking for TEs with the ability to drop a 30-burger in a given week, especially in the playoffs. Waller and Daniel Jones are a very affordable and cheap stack with upside for 2023.

Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers

TE10, 108.0 ADP

While not always flashy, Freiermuth is Mr. Reliable. In his first two NFL seasons, the Muth is 8th all-time in receptions for a tight end. This puts him in the same company as players like Rob Gronkowski, George Kittle, and Jimmy Graham. Freiermuth is a do-it-all tight end of sorts but seems to have established some elite chemistry with Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett. Last season, the Muth had 96 targets and 63 receptions for 732 yards and 2 TDs.

He doesn't have the same upside as someone like George Kittle or Darren Waller and is more of a volume-play at tight end in best ball, he does have a relatively safer floor. If you miss out on an elite TE early, taking Freiermuth in Round 9 and pairing him up with 1 or 2 tight ends with upside later in the draft is not a bad play. My friend and fantasy colleague, Andrew Cooper over at Fantasy Alarm calls this his "Yin-Yang TE Strategy." One other thing to like about Freiermuth is that he can be cheaply stacked with Kenny Pickett and is a good correlation play in the fantasy playoffs with a Week 16 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals as well as Week 17 against the Seattle Seahawks.

 

Tight End Best Ball Fantasy Football Sleepers

Greg Dulcich, Denver Broncos

TE12, 126.4 ADP

With Sean Payton coming to town, the Denver Broncos offense may look a little different in 2023. QB Russell Wilson had a brutal inaugural season at Mile High as the Broncos limped to a 5-12 finish that saw former HC Nathaniel Hackett fired before the season was up. WR Tim Patrick, unfortunately, tore his Achilles early in training camp and will miss the season, and WR K.J. Hamler was medically released due to a heart condition. As the WR depth chart thins out that could open things up for Dulcich to be a more viable weapon in the passing game alongside of WR Jerry Jeudy.

After being injured early on, Dulcich played in just 10 games last season and had 51 targets with 33 receptions, 411 yards, and 2 TDs. It wasn't an all-world performance, but he showed enough as a rookie to give us a degree of confidence heading into Year 2. Per Fantasy Points data, Dulich had the second-highest percentage of uncatchable targets in 2022 at 27.5%, behind only Kyle Pitts with 35.1%. HC Sean Payton has even referenced Dulcich playing a sort of joker role for the Broncos' offense in 2023. If you miss out on one of the early TEs, Dulcich is a nice player with upside in Round 11. The Broncos also play the Chargers in Week 17, so Dulcich can be cheaply stacked with Russell Wilson and paired with another Chargers player for the bring back.

Mike Gesicki, New England Patriots

TE24, 196.4 ADP

There is a fundamental change at hand in the NFL landscape. As defenses are trying to not give up big plays, they are playing back in a Cover 2, soft-shell type of coverage. This has opened up things for offenses underneath. Defenses are basically saying "You can run it for 4-5 yards because we're betting that eventually you'll take a negative play or get called for holding." In this chess match of sorts, offenses will be utilizing more 12-personnel (2 tight end packages) where the defense is forced to put a defensive back or a linebacker to cover the tight end who is split out. If that tight end is athletic it's likely a DB, which creates a mismatch for the offense to run it.

Entering in is Mike Gesicki. After being underutilized in Mike McDaniel's scheme in Miami last season, Gesicki signed a one-year deal with the Patriots and notably HC Bill Belichick who has gotten to see him twice a year for the last 5 years. Gesicki is an athletic TE who can stretch the field and pick up yards after the catch. While now 27 years old, Gesicki ran a 4.54 forty-yard dash at the 2018 NFL Combine. He also posted a 41-inch vertical and a 10'9" broad jump. His shuttle and 3-cone times were elite and he earned an RAS (Relative Athletic Score) score of 9.97, which was near perfect. For fantasy and especially in best ball, we want athletic tight ends with the ability to generate big plays.

While we don't completely know how the Patriots offense will look in 2023, they do not have a proven No. 1 WR on the depth chart, which has led some to think that they could run a lot of 12 personnel (as mentioned above) with TE Hunter Henry in-line to block with Gesicki split out. QB Mac Jones works the short and intermediate areas of the field well enough to think that Gesicki could be a nice value in fantasy this year being drafted as the TE24. The Patriots play the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 and while the weather could be a concern, Gesicki is a nice bring-back play with Buffalo or a late backdoor type of stack with Mac Jones if you get sniped early.

Trey McBride, Arizona Cardinals

TE28, 205.0 ADP

We honestly have no idea what to expect from Arizona's offense this year as QB Kyler Murray is attempting to return from a late-season ACL tear in 2022, which leaves his status for Week 1 in doubt. The only established pass catcher on the roster at this point is WR Marquise Brown and it's not unreasonable to think that McBride can be a Top 2 target on the team this year. As a rookie in 2022, McBride had a modest 39 targets for 29 receptions, 265 yards, and 1 TD. He didn't see a lot of snaps early on as he was buried behind veteran TE Zach Ertz (who is also recovering from a major knee injury).

McBride is an athletic tight end and was the first one taken in the 2022 NFL Draft, going in Round 2. He ran a 4.56 forty-yard dash and is quick in the open field. 2023 will likely be a rebuilding year of sorts for the Cardinals as former GM Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury were fired. The Las Vegas Sportsbooks aren't projecting much for the Cardinals this season as they rank in the bottom 3 in projected wins as well as projected points. Nonetheless, McBride was highly regarded as a prospect and could see plenty of action this year. The negative game scripts will likely be there as well.

Was there anyone you felt was left off this list? Feel free to get at me on Twitter and best of luck in fantasy football this season!



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