2022 NFL Draft Rookie TE Landing Spots: Round 1-4 (Fantasy Football)

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The Tight End position didn’t have many big name headliners in 2022 – a change from previous years. In 2021, we had Kyle Pitts drafted #4 overall by the Atlanta Falcons. And in 2019, four tight ends were drafted in the first two rounds, headlined by the two Iowa Hawkeyes: Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson taken within the first 20 picks. In contrast, the first tight end drafted in 2022 occurred at pick 55. Still, draft capital isn’t everything at the tight end position. Indeed, two of the best tight ends in the NFL, Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews, were both 3rd round draft picks. So, there is still a decent possibility that someone from rounds 2-4 could result in a fantasy-relevant tight end. Let’s look at the first ten tight ends drafted and see if we can spot some diamonds in the rough.

Trey McBride – Arizona Cardinals

Round 2, Pick 55 overall

As most experts expected, Trey McBride, out of Colorado State, was the first tight end drafted in 2022. McBride won the John Mackey Award in 2021 for the best tight end in college football. McBride broke out in his Junior year, where he led the Rams in both receiving yards and scoring amid the COVID-shortened 2020 season. He recorded over 100 yards receiving in six games in 2021 and was named a consensus All-American.

McBride had decent measurables at the combine. He’s pretty big – almost 6’4″ and 246 lbs, which makes him a capable pass and run blocker.

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Despite his size, he still has good speed, running a 4.56 at his pro day. This combination of size and speed allowed him to be lined up both in-line and out-wide at Colorado State. Still, his speed and athleticism won’t blow you away, but he makes up for it with strong hands and the ability to make difficult, contested catches. According to PFF, he had 14 (!!!) contested catches, which was eight more than any other college tight end in 2021! You can see his ability to make these types of catches when you watch the film.

Fantasy Outlook: Trey McBride is a well-rounded tight end, possessing all the necessary skills to remain on the field constantly. He is likely already a better run-blocker than Zach Ertz, a skill Ertz never really possessed. Remember, Arizona added Zach Ertz after Maxx Williams suffered a torn ACL injury in Week 5 that kept him out the remainder of the season. McBride has a similar draft profile to Maxx Williams, and Williams was perhaps starting a breakout before the injury (Week 2 – 7 catches for 94 yards, Week 4 – 5 catches, 66 yards, 1 TD). McBride may play a decent number of snaps, but the Cardinals may rely on him more as a blocker while Zach Ertz acts as the primary route runner of the two tight ends. Like all tight ends, McBride’s fantasy outlook will be much brighter in a year or two.

Jelani Woods – Indianapolis Colts

Round 3, Pick 73 overall

You know, the Colts love their giant tight ends (see: Mo-Ali “Gigantor” Cox). True to form, the Colts drafted another enormous tight end in Jelani Woods. Woods is 6’7″, 259 lbs, which is two inches taller than Cox and just eight pounds lighter. Woods showed out at the combine, running a 4.61 40-yard dash, which is incredible considering his size and height. With his height, it’s likely unsurprising that he’s incredibly long as well, having 34.125″ arms.

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Woods is a former quarterback who converted to tight end in college. He was used primarily as a run blocker at Oklahoma State, but upon transferring to Virginia, he received the opportunity to get more involved in the passing game – catching 44 passes for 598 yards and eight touchdowns.

Woods impressed at the combine, and his size is undeniable. He is a bit underweight given his height, but you wouldn’t know it watching him play. Would-be tacklers just seem to bounce off him even after he catches the ball.

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Fantasy Outlook: Woods is a work-in-progress. He is still fairly new to the position, he needs to add a bit more weight to his frame, and his hands aren’t great. Still, his size and athleticism are undeniable, which makes him a tantalizing, but raw, prospect. Woods is unlikely to make any noise in the next year or two, but if he can shore up his hands and pass blocking, he could be a mega-talent.

Greg Dulcich – Denver Broncos

Round 3, Pick 80 overall

Fresh off trading Noah Fant to the Seahawks as part of the deal to acquire Russell Wilson, the Broncos used their second pick of 2021 on a tight end. Dulcich is a former walk-on turned 1st Team All-PAC-12 player. Dulcich gets his work done with athleticism. He loves the vertical routes and is excellent after the catch, which resulted in a yards-per-reception average of 19.88 in 2020 and 17.3 in 2021. Here he is demonstrating his vertical receiving ability and a nice little juke move after the catch against a good LSU team.

Dulcich does not profile as a good blocker, however. It’s possible that he could develop this ability in the NFL. He demonstrated excellent determination in college by both earning a scholarship after walking on the team and adding 40 pounds of muscle while at UCLA. Clearly, he’s a hard worker, but hard work only gets you so far in a league as talented as the NFL.

Fantasy Outlook: Dulcich projects as a low snap-count guy, playing mostly on obvious passing plays. Still, Dulcich isn’t that much different from Noah Fant in terms of skillset, so there is a world where he fills that void, even as Albert Okwuegbunam plays higher snaps as the better blocker. I don’t love Dulcich as a prospect, but you cannot deny a tight end with the ability to generate big plays in the vertical passing game – that’s a formula for big fantasy points. He is a good athlete, but not a great one. I think the NFL will likely tamper his profile, but Dulcich might have the clearest path to fantasy points of any 2022 rookie tight end.

Jeremy Ruckert – New York Jets

Round 3, Pick 101 overall

Ruckert didn’t have huge production at Ohio State, but that is no surprise given the unbelievable talent at the wide receiver position in Columbus (See Chris Olave, Jameson Williams, Garett Wilson, Jaxson Smith-Njigba). Still, Ruckert can make some big-time, impressive catches with his strong hands. He had two highlight-reel, one-handed catches in big situations (B1G Championship Game and the National Championship Game).

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Ruckert was a solid run blocker as well for the Buckeyes. He’s extremely strong and lean to support his big frame (6’5″).

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Fantasy Outlook: The Jets invested heavily in the tight end position during free agency, signing both C.J. Uzomah (3-year, $24 million) and Tyler Conklin (3-year, $21 million). As such, it’s surprising that the Jets added essentially the same player three times – twice in free agency and once in the draft. Ruckert is likely playing behind both Uzomah and Conklin in his rookie year and should find his way onto the team via special teams play.

Cade Otton – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Round 4, Pick 106 overall

Cade Otton’s best feature is his route running. He’s very smart in the passing game – shifty, good at chipping before releasing, and finds soft spots in the zone quite instinctually. He’s also a decent run blocker.

He even put #2 pick and Heisman finalist, Aidan Hutchinson on the ground this past season.

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Cade Otton likely would have been drafted higher had he not gotten hurt for a third of the season and missed the pre-draft prep period. I like what I saw out of Otton, and I think he has a future in the NFL.

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Fantasy Outlook: We can’t talk about a Buccaneers tight end without acknowledging the elephant in the room. Rob Gronkowski still hasn’t decided if he will return to the football field in 2022. Tom Brady is a persuasive fellow, but it’s simply impossible to project the Tampa Bay depth chart without knowing Gronk’s future plans. Ian Rapaport called this pick “Gronk Insurance”, which is on-the-nose. Otton isn’t quite the talent Gronk is/was, but his skill set and well-rounded ability remind me a little of Gronk. Otton has a basketball background, but he didn’t demonstrate a consistent ability to grab contested catches. Otton may be worth a stash in the last round of your dynasty draft, on the off-chance that Gronk decides to retire.

Daniel Bellinger – New York Giants

Round 4, Pick 112 overall

Bellinger was primarily a run-blocker at San Diego State, an offense designed around the run game. He was strong and fundamentally sound in the run game, and showed some impressive athleticism at the combine (4.63 40-yard dash, 22 reps, 34.5 vertical). He had some nice moments when he got the opportunity to catch the ball though.

His 40 yard dash surprised me because he looks slower on film. Here he is easily caught by a safety against Arizona, a team that went 1-11 in 2021. He seems to be an average prospect, but one having a fairly high floor.

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Fantasy Outlook: Tight end was certainly a position of need for the Giants. Evan Engram has moved on and the current TE1 for the Giants is Ricky Seals-Jones (or Jordan Akins, depending on how you feel). It’s entirely possible that Bellinger is the best TE of those three, but I don’t see it. I doubt Bellinger does much in 2022, even behind two players who have had their opportunities but never did much with them. Jones and Akins are both playing for the Giants on a one-year contract, so Bellinger certainly has the opportunity to become the TE1 for New York in, at worst, 2023. There may not be a clearer path for future success among this rookie crop than Bellinger, but I don’t see the talent to be a big impact. At best, he’s probably a TE2 even as a starter next year.

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Charlie Kolar – Baltimore Ravens

Round 4, Pick 128 overall

Kolar is a big player at 6’6″, 260 lbs, and has good length. That means a big catch radius, which NFL scouts love. Kolar is good at using his body to shield off defenders, and was a very good red zone threat using those unteachable traits. Kolar, impressively, had 23 touchdowns for Iowa State as a four-year starter for the team. Kolar’s knock is average blocking and just okay route running. Tight end is a position all about experience and skill, and less so about talent. Kolar’s skill is best demonstrated in the red zone.

Fantasy Outlook: The Ravens love to run multiple tight end sets, sometimes lining up as many as three tight ends even in passing plays. Kolar has a path to playing time, even though Josh Oliver and Nick Boyle are still on the Ravens. Still, the Ravens drafted both Kolar and Isaiah Likely, meaning there is competition for the TE2 position behind Mark Andrews. Neither of these players are taking away targets from Mark Andrews. TE is already a tough position for fantasy, and the second tight end in the lowest passing offense in the league is highly unlikely to make an impact.

Jake Ferguson – Dallas Cowboys

Round 4, Pick 129 overall

Ferguson is a solid tight end, having excellent ball skills and is great at coming down with contested catches. He’s not the fastest tight end, but is still pretty quick in his route running. He had to block a lot at Wisconsin, as you’d expect, but he profiles as only slightly above average in that department. He will likely be asked to run block for the Cowboys primarily, given the existence of Dalton Schultz.

Fantasy Outlook: Ferguson is a nice player, but stuck behind a rock-solid TE starter in Dalton Schultz. An injury to Schultz could open playing time up for Ferguson, but that is likely the only way. He’s a decent insurance policy, but unlikely to be a major fantasy contributor while sharing the same uniform as Schultz.

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Isaiah Likely – Baltimore Ravens

Round 4, Pick 139 overall

Likely is a former wide receiver with good after the catch ability. He was profiled as a great athlete, but his pro-day numbers did not support those assumptions. His background as a wide receiver has hampered his blocking skills so far, so the Ravens are taking a gamble on someone who might be a great pass catcher, but not an every down tight end. The Ravens are known to rotate tight ends – even Mark Andrews doesn’t play big snap count numbers – so a player like Likely could fit into the Ravens rotation nicely. He will have lots of competition though between Andrews, Nick Boyle, and fellow rookie Charlie Kolar.

Fantasy Outlook: See above re: Charlie Kolar. That said, we can have a lot of fun with his name and number:

Which slot on the Ravens TE depth chart will he fall?

RedditCFB on Twitter: "Coastal Carolina TE Isaiah Likely is borrowed in a meme to dunk on Kentucky Hoops." / Twitter

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 Chigoziem Okonkwo – Tennessee Titans

Round 4, Pick 143 overall

Okonkwo was the fastest TE at the combine, and profiles very similarly, at least from a body type and speed profile to Jonnu Smith. Okonkwo shines brightest after the catch, but he typically needs the play to be drawn up for him to receive a target. He’s not a strong blocker, so a move to H-back is likely in his future, which again, is not unlike Jonnu Smith.

Fantasy Outlook: Tennessee signed Austin Hooper in the offseason to play the primary tight end position, and the Okonkwo pick will not change that. Okonkwo is very raw, but the talent is there because he has great vision and can make big plays. Still, he’s probably two years from making an impact, if the Titans have the patience to wait that long.

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