Dynasty Ultimatums: 5 TEs Entering Make-or-Break Fantasy Seasons

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The 2023 NFL season is finally just around the corner, bringing with it a plethora of unanswered questions for many notable players. As dynasty managers, it is crucial to maintain honesty with ourselves regarding realistic expectations for these players. It can be challenging to lose faith in a player we once acquired with high hopes. One effective strategy is to establish dynasty ultimatums for players on our rosters who face considerable uncertainties. In the final article of this series, we will discuss controversial tight ends who are entering make-or-break years, highlighting the specific goals that they need to accomplish in the upcoming season to fulfill their current expectations.

Check out the first three articles from this series, featuring quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers.

Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

There have truly been few players in fantasy football history who have exhibited the level of dominance of Travis Kelce. He stands in a league of his own at the tight end position, defying age perceptions with unmatched consistency. His unprecedented streak of seven straight 1,000-yard seasons and five finishes as the overall TE1 is a testament to his brilliance. Moreover, in three of the past five seasons, he’s achieved over 1,300 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns, including a career-high 12 touchdowns in his latest campaign. In essence, having Kelce as your team’s starting tight end provides an unparalleled advantage in fantasy football. Over the last five seasons, he is second only to Davante Adams in receptions, further solidifying his status as the most dominant force in the game. As he enters the 2023 season at 34 years old, there are natural concerns about Father Time finally catching up to him. However, Kelce has shown little signs of slowing down, leaving fantasy managers with a sense of comfort and optimism for the upcoming season. 

2022 Red Zone Report:

Travis Kelce 30 19.70% 19 17.30% 63.30% 9
Justin Jefferson 28 15.20% 16 12.50% 57.10% 6
D.K. Metcalf 27 19.10% 9 10.00% 33.30% 5
Ja’Marr Chase 26 19.40% 15 17.20% 57.70% 5
Austin Ekeler 25 19.70% 18 16.80% 72.00% 5

Excluding his rookie season, Kelce’s durability has been remarkable, suiting up for at least 15 regular-season games every year. Additionally, playing in an offense led by Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes has earned him several postseason appearances. These positive developments speak volumes about his resilience as a player, even though they undoubtedly take a toll on his body. Yet, we are discussing a player who has consistently ranked as either the TE1 or TE2 since 2016, alongside the best quarterback in football. All signs point to yet another highly productive season for the league’s premier tight end. However, it is essential to acknowledge that replicating his outstanding reception, receiving yardage, and touchdown totals from last season would be a significant challenge. Despite his age, Kelce’s value in fantasy football is currently at an all-time high, further emphasizing his current spot on the throne as the king of tight ends.

Below is a graph on “Top-3 Tight End Seasons by Age” crafted by Marvin Elequin in his article “The Lifecycle of a Dynasty Tight End (Fantasy Football)“:

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As represented in the graph above, it is a rarity for a tight end to achieve a top-three finish heading into their mid-30s. Nevertheless, Travis Kelce is far from your average tight end. We have seen a select few elite tight ends deliver highly productive seasons at this stage of their careers, such as Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. Gonzalez even managed to finish as a TE1 in his age-37 season. Although replicating that feat would be a significant challenge for Kelce, underestimating his ability to achieve such heights might also be unwise. At this age, it is more common for players to experience an abrupt end to their elite run, making it challenging to predict when that might happen. This is the primary concern when evaluating Kelce’s dynasty outlook moving forward. Anything less than the overall TE1 finish in 2023 would be seen as a disappointment for Kelce, as that remains his primary objective to meet his dynasty ultimatum. Ideally, we hope to see him maintain statistics similar to last year’s outstanding performance. For competing teams, it is highly recommended to hold onto Kelce and continue to ride the train until the wheels fall off. He is a game-changer for any championship-caliber team and should be viewed that way heading into the new season. However, if your team is not in immediate contention for a championship, now may be the ideal time to trade him. When doing so, it is essential not to settle for anything less than an extremely substantial return. Reach out to all teams in your league that might be interested in adding his services to ensure you get the best possible haul in return.

Darren Waller, TE, New York Giants

Darren Waller‘s journey and ascension to stardom is one of the most remarkable comeback stories in the NFL. After overcoming substance abuse early in his football career, Waller has become one of the league’s premier tight ends. In fantasy football, Waller has emerged as a rare asset who can significantly benefit your rosters at the tight end position. Often referred to as “The Wallerus” on the show, Waller has become a fan favorite and an easy player to root for. With consecutive seasons of 1,100+ receiving yards in 2019 and 2020, his talent is immense and undeniable. However, injuries have clouded his recent fantasy outlook, causing him to miss 14 games in the last two seasons. Entering a make-or-break season at the age of 31, Waller seeks to revitalize his career in his first season in the Big Apple.

After spending five seasons with the Raiders, Waller will aim to replicate his success as a member of the New York Giants in the upcoming season. Despite recent injury setbacks, in his 56 games played with the Silver and Black, Waller totaled 286 receptions for 3,469 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. Due to this elite level of production, the Raiders rewarded him with a record-breaking three-year contract worth up to $51 million. However, just six months later, they traded him in exchange for a third-round pick. The Giants appear to be a promising landing spot for Waller to extend his career, as they have a high quantity of receiving options but lack quality in that department. The pathway appears clear for Waller to step in as the highest target earner in this offense in 2023. Notably, he has ranked third among all tight ends in receiving yards per game since 2019 (65.3). He will also have the opportunity to play with Daniel Jones this season, who is coming off a career year. Jones’ career had been fairly mediocre until 2022 when he experienced a remarkable resurgence and led his team to an unexpected playoff berth. The 2023 season will largely be dependent on the Giants’ continued success under new coaching and management. If Jones and the offense can continue to be efficient and productive, Waller could be an intriguing fantasy option yet again in 2023, largely due to his high projected volume as Andy discussed on the Footballers recent Fire & Ice episode.

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In the upcoming season, Waller’s fantasy finish could realistically take two completely different paths. He could suffer another injury-plagued season, which would shape the trajectory of his dynasty outlook moving forward. On the other hand, he has the potential to stay healthy and return as a top asset in his position this season. His dynasty ultimatum is to maintain his health throughout the majority of the season and secure a top-five finish at tight end. Achieving this goal would make him a valuable addition to a championship-worthy dynasty roster. Conversely, if your team is not equipped to compete this year, it might be wise to consider unloading him from your team while there is still positive news and interest surrounding him.

Dalton Schultz, TE, Houston Texans

Dalton Schultz is the perfect example of a player who flourished in the ideal environment and system to enable him to reach his maximum potential. Despite lacking elite traits across various categories, Schultz successfully secured a significant role with the Dallas Cowboys over the last couple of seasons. Although he earned limited playing time in his first two years with the team, he was able to emerge as a favored target for Dak Prescott in recent seasons. This led to an impressive 2,000 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns over the past three years. In 2021, he had a breakout season, finishing as the TE3 and achieving career highs with 808 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Now, Schultz ventures into the 2023 season as part of the Houston Texans. As the most seasoned pass-catching option on the Texans’ youthful roster, he remains vastly overlooked in fantasy football this year, despite his proven talent and previous success.

The Texans may be pretending to have fair competition for the starting quarterback position during training camp, but overlooking C.J. Stroud would be a massive mistake. After selecting him with the second overall pick in this year’s draft and trading away their first-round selection for next year, he deserves a chance to prove himself immediately. Regardless of who starts at quarterback in 2023, it is apparent that the Texans could face challenges as one of the weaker teams in the league, which might limit their touchdown potential. On the other hand, Dalton Schultz could become a reliable target in the offense, resulting in a substantial number of opportunities. While Houston has other pass-catching options like Nico Collins, Robert Woods, John Metchie, and a couple of unproven rookies, none of them seem likely to dominate targets in the offense. 

Ultimately, Schultz needs to show that he is more than just a product of his previous system. Despite his unfavorable odds, if he replicates his past success in this unproven offense, his dynasty outlook could remain promising moving forward. Despite his young age of 27, Schultz finds himself facing uncertainty as he is on a one-year deal with Houston. This situation puts added pressure on him to deliver another productive season to earn a substantial, long-term contract after this year. His dynasty ultimatum is to finish the season as a top-10 tight end in 2023. This would be a significant step for Schultz, showcasing his versatility and ability to succeed outside of Dallas. Houston, we have a problem. It will be up to Schultz to figure out if he can be a part of the solution.

Cole Kmet, TE, Chicago Bears

Cole Kmet’s dynasty outlook is difficult to evaluate. He is only 24 years old and coming off his most productive season in the NFL. Notably, he scored seven touchdowns over the last ten games to end the 2022 season. This came after a 28-game drought without a touchdown dating back to his rookie year. Although this was a positive development, he also saw his target count drop from 93 in 2021 to 69 last season. This was mostly due to the Bears’ offensive game plan, which ran the ball for a league-leading 56.2% of the time. Still, he managed to lead the team in receiving yards with 544, which could be seen as both a positive and a negative. Entering his fourth professional season, Kmet has several obstacles to overcome in order to prove that he can be a reliable weekly starter for your dynasty teams. 

While they have posted a combined 9-25 record over the past two seasons, the Chicago Bears are feeling more optimistic heading into 2023, mainly due to the anticipated growth of Justin Fields. While Fields showed historic prowess on the ground last season, there is still a lot of room for improvement in his passing abilities. To bolster their offensive passing attack, the team acquired a true WR1 in D.J. Moore. Moore is an established wide receiver with three 1,100+ receiving yard seasons. He has also consistently commanded over 100 targets in each of the past four seasons. Conversely, Chicago ranked at the bottom of the league in this category with only 377 passing attempts last season. If you factor in Moore’s 162 targets in 2021 to Chicago’s passing attempts last season, it would have given him an absurd 43% team target market share. Even without the addition of Moore, competition for targets is stiff with Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool also vying for opportunities. Additionally, the team brought in Robert Tonyan, who may not significantly impact Kmet’s playing time but has been a formidable touchdown threat in his career. Kmet must prove that his seven touchdowns from the previous season were not an anomaly and can be replicated. It will not be an easy task for Kmet to have a standout statistical season in 2023, considering the offensive approach, the competition for targets, and the need for improved quarterback play. Nevertheless, it is ultimately up to Kmet to rise to the challenge and show his potential to continue to grow as an offensive threat in the upcoming season. 

Lowest Team Pass Attempts Per Game (2022):

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CHI 22.2
ATL 24.4
TEN 26.8
CAR 26.9
BAL 28.7

Despite being mentioned in this article, Kmet enjoys much more job security compared to other options at his position. The young tight end secured a four-year, $50 million extension with Chicago. This is an especially significant development when considering that this is the first extension provided by new General Manager Ryan Poles, who was not involved in drafting Kmet. This extension, along with his second-round draft capital, reflects positively on his future dynasty outlook. However, there are questions about Kmet’s contributions as a fantasy asset moving forward. He excels in blocking and other non-scoring skills, but might never evolve into the offensive force that some projected. While he achieved seven touchdowns last season, replicating this level of scoring may be uncertain given his profile, especially considering he had no receiving touchdowns in the previous season. Without those added touchdowns, Kmet’s fantasy production from last season would have been very underwhelming. Kmet’s dynasty ultimatum is to finish the 2023 season as a top-10 tight end. While he is still currently regarded as one of the more promising young tight ends in the league, this season presents an ideal opportunity for him to demonstrate his true worth to dynasty managers.

Jake Ferguson, TE, Dallas Cowboys

Not too long ago, the Dallas Cowboys drafted Dalton Schultz in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. Now, after multiple seasons as a formidable TE1 for the team, Schultz is set to join the Houston Texans. As a result, all eyes will be on the team’s second-year tight end, Jake Ferguson. Like Schultz, Ferguson was a fourth-round pick in his draft class and already showed immense potential in his rookie season. Despite playing behind Schultz, Ferguson had a productive professional debut, recording 19 receptions for 174 receiving yards and two touchdowns on the year. While these stats may not jump off the page, the young tight end displayed enough promise to potentially secure the starting job in 2023. Additionally, he impressed in the blocking department, being primarily used as a blocker in 74.5% of his offensive snaps in 2022. This is a rare skill for a young tight end to possess and it could help him stay on the field for the majority of snaps.

While Ferguson seems to be the current favorite for the starting job, there is still heavy competition for the position. The Cowboys drafted Luke Schoonmaker in the second round of this year’s draft. Besides having an extremely cool last name, Schoonmaker displays impressive athletic potential, although not as refined of a blocker as Ferguson. It is essential for Ferguson to prove his worth to the team immediately since they chose to pay such high draft capital for the position this offseason. Peyton Hendershot also shined in limited playing time last season and made the most of his opportunities. However, it is fair to say that neither player is as prepared as Ferguson to step in and make an immediate impact as the starter. Notably, the Dallas Cowboys have been known for their pass-heavy offense in recent seasons. However, with the change in offensive coordinator from Kellen Moore in 2023, there is a bit of uncertainty regarding target distribution and how many opportunities will be up for grabs. The team boasts a wealth of pass-catching weapons like CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, and Michael Gallup. Dalton Schultz has been a prominent target in the offense, averaging 96.5 targets per season over the last two years with Dallas. If Dak Prescott continues to target the tight end position heavily, there is optimism that Ferguson could be poised for a breakout season.

While Schultz has been a focal point of the Dallas offense in recent seasons, it is important to consider if his success is attributed more to the team’s system rather than his pure talent. With that said, he achieved an extremely impressive feat as the third-highest-scoring tight end in fantasy football in 2021, with only Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce outscoring him. Following his breakout campaign, he continued his success with another top-10 finish at the position in 2022, despite missing a few games due to injury. Although Ferguson had much fewer opportunities than Schultz last season, he showcased his abilities with the second-highest yards after catch per reception on the team. This was second only to the electric Tony Pollard. In light of these observations, it is essential for Ferguson to prove this season that he is deserving of being the team’s TE1 and can follow a similar career trajectory to Schultz. Due to this, his dynasty ultimatum is to finish the 2023 season as a top-12 tight end. I have been advocating for teams to consider acquiring Ferguson in dynasty leagues since early last season, considering his potential opportunity. The upcoming season will be pivotal in determining how to evaluate his worth and dynasty value moving forward.

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