As we wrap up our series recapping the 2022 NFL Draft and how incoming rookies will translate, today’s episode of PFN’s Premier Fantasy Football Podcast will break down the rookie TEs and how they project for 2022. How do the rookie tight ends fit in with their new offenses, and how should fantasy football managers view these TE prospects for the 2022 season?
While this class does have several tight ends who could see the field, rookie TEs, as a whole, tend to struggle to find fantasy relevance on their new teams, given the time required to learn the nuances of the position. While there might not be a Kyle Pitts in this year’s class, that doesn’t mean fantasy managers should completely avoid diving into this class to find potential sleepers for the 2022 fantasy football season.
Trey McBride, Arizona Cardinals
If there was a tight end who is ready to break out as a rookie in a similar vein to Pat Freiermuth of last season, it would be Trey McBride. Coming out of Colorado State, McBride is as pro-ready as it gets. Not only is he an accomplished blocker, but at the point of the catch, he shines.
At 6’4″ and 246 pounds, McBride is able to manipulate his body at the point of the catch vertically, expanding his catch radius. Furthermore, he doesn’t hear footsteps in the middle, securing the ball in crowded areas and delivering the hit rather than receiving it.
McBride broke out as a true sophomore but hit his stride in 2020 and 2021, accounting for 35.6% and 38%, respectively, of the team receptions. His best season came in 2021, recording 90 receptions for 1,121 yards and a TD.
The issue here is the landing spot. Last season, the Cardinals traded for Zach Ertz, and he had one of his best seasons in several years, finishing as the overall TE5 with 763 yards and five TDs. This performance helped him earn a three-year extension with the team.
Ertz is the locked-in TE1, relegating McBride to a backup role and a competition for the No. 2 with Maxx Williams, who is recovering from a torn ACL that prompted last year’s midseason trade.
It’s reasonable to believe we will see McBride on the field in 2022, but will it be enough to make him fantasy-relevant? It is possible as the Cardinals ran 12 personnel 22% of the time last season, but Ertz was the only tight end to record over 20 targets last season. If Ertz were to miss a game or two, McBride would be in the spotlight for fantasy. But as things currently stand, he’s likely to go undrafted in fantasy drafts this year.
Jelani Woods, Indianapolis Colts
Sometimes simply targeting the most athletic guy works out. If that’s the case this season, then Jelani Woods is set to take off. Woods dominated the offseason testing process, resetting the bar with a perfect 10.00 RAS score. At 6’7″ and 253 pounds, Woods ran a ridiculous 4.61 40-yards dash with elite 10 and 20-yard splits and jumped 37½” in the vertical and 129″ in the broad.
Woods is a move tight end, which is what the NFL likes to use. Place him in the slot and create an instant mismatch. Mo Alie-Cox is the current TE1 for the Colts but has never been “the guy.” He has that chance now in 2022 following the retirement of Jack Doyle. Woods does still need refinement as a pass catcher, both with his routes and hands, but those can change quickly.
Woods will also benefit from playing under Frank Reich, who is well-known for his love of the position and for incorporating them into the game plan. The likely outcome for Woods in 2022 is as a primary backup with some snaps. But he will see most of his action in the red zone where being 6’7″ can’t be taught.
Personally, I doubt he becomes fantasy relevant without an injury in front of him to Alie-Cox. But if that day comes, Woods could find success in Indianapolis.
Greg Dulcich, Denver Broncos
Greg Dulcich is an explosive tight end that thrives in the passing game. He has long arms and extends effortlessly to snag balls out of the air. Dulcich is an above-average route runner against man and knows how to settle into the soft spot of zones. He also has enough speed to make big plays happen, as shown by his 19.9 and 17.3 yards per reception, respectively, over his last two seasons, each ranking second in FBS.
Dulcich, unlike many TEs in this year’s rookie class, has a path for touches. Not only that but touches in a high-powered Denver Broncos offense led by Russell Wilson.
In the wake of the trade that sent Noah Fant and other pieces to Seattle for Wilson, this placed Albert Okwuegbunam directly in the spotlight. A hyper-athletic tight end himself, Albert O is certainly a breakout candidate, but he’s never been a No. 1. In fact, rumblings out of camp lean at this not only being a hotly-contested position battle but that Dulcich could be in the lead.
As the summer progress, we’ll have a much better idea. If Dulcich can win the battle, he’ll likely be the fourth or fifth option in the progression. Yet, there is most certainly a path for Dulcich, if the starter, to be a top-15 TE in 2022. He could sneak his way inside the TE1 range a few weeks along the way.
Jeremy Ruckert, New York Jets
Jeremy Ruckert was never the focal point of the Ohio State passing game. But when you look at the ridiculous WR depth chart they have, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Nevertheless, Ruckert is extremely talented. In the pre-draft process, I said a few times he could be the one we look back at and wonder how he slipped so far in dynasty rookie drafts.
That was before landing with the Jets. After lacking a legitimate tight end option for Zach Wilson, the Jets doubled down this offseason, adding both C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin to their roster. This places Ruckert, at best, as the TE3 on the depth chart. It could take a few seasons for us to see Ruckert see meaningful snaps in the NFL. Unfortunately for fantasy, he’s not an option at TE in 2022.
Cade Otton, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As of the time of recording and writing this, Rob Gronkowski has yet to decide on his future. He very well could come back, which is still where I lean, or he could choose to sip mai tais on the beach. Either way, it must be nice to be him.
If this holds, it will leave Cameron Brate as the TE1 and Otton as the TE2 with O.J. Howard leaving in free agency to sign with the Buffalo Bills. Brate has spent his entire eight-year career with the Bucs, playing in 115 games with only 32 starts. Over the last two seasons, in games where Gronkowski missed time, Brate averaged just 3.4 targets, 1.4 receptions, and 14.6 yards per game.
That is what Otton needs to beat out, and I think he could if given the opportunity. With that said, this is a team vying for a title. Traditionally, those tend to rely on veterans. This makes me lean toward Brate having the starting role reasonably secure, but Otton could become a factor midseason.
Otton is not a rookie TE I would draft in fantasy. But he’s someone I would watch closely to see what happens in Tampa. However, the minute Gronk shows up, he’s the only one who matters for fantasy.