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Fantasy Football 2023: Rookie TE Scoring Has Evolved

“Rookie tight ends simply don’t score fantasy points.” - Everyone

While historically tight ends have not performed well, new usage trends suggest this may be changing.

This article dives into how the position is changing and why I think one 2023 rookie could break through and become fantasy-relevant.

If you haven’t already, make sure to read The Elite Fantasy Tight End Blueprint, where I walk through all the key player/team factors that go into elite production. The article contains my current targets and fades at the tight end position for 2023.

History of Rookie Tight End Scoring

During the past 10 years, 88 rookie tight ends have played in at least eight games. The results for fantasy football are sobering, to put it nicely.

The top 10 in fantasy points per game are shown in the table below. For context, the TE12 in fantasy points usually hovers around 10 fantasy points per game.

Tight End Year PPR Per Game
Jordan Reed 2013 12.7
Evan Engram 2017 11.6
Kyle Pitts 2021 10.4
Pat Freiermuth 2021 9.5
Hunter Henry 2016 8.7
Greg Dulcich 2022 8.6
Kaden Smith 2019 8.4
OJ Howard 2017 7.2
Chris Herndon 2018 7.1
George Kittle 2017 7.1

Only four tight ends in the past decade were reasonably consistent fantasy options when they played as rookies.

Earlier this year, I outlined how rookie wide receivers are great bets in fantasy because their production is back-loaded, so they score most of their points in the second half of the season. When putting rookie tight ends through this process, there was no clear trend. Year 1 tight ends have a similar number of spike weeks (10 and 15 fantasy point weeks were tested) regardless if it’s the first or second half of the season. Additionally, there was no significant fantasy boost for the final few games of the season, unlike with rookie wide receivers.

Even if we exclusively look at the few rookie tight ends who performed in fantasy, their production does not skew toward the back end of the season. Strangely enough, that cohort’s production skewed towards the early season. Most likely, this is just a small sample size issue.

Either way, the actionable takeaway is rookie tight ends don’t score many fantasy points, and the occasional guys that do weren’t increasing their scoring for the fantasy playoffs like wide receivers.

Now, let’s turn toward the 2023 rookie tight end class and the one player with some potential for fantasy success in Year 1.

The Silver Lining

Recently, tight ends have been used more creatively within their offense. 

Using our flagship tool, The Edge, we can see below that fantasy points from in-line routes are less plentiful. Kyle Pitts and Pat Freiermuth are the two most recent examples of rookie tight ends performing well over an entire season, and both were held back when running routes from an in-line position.

Proj. PPR/Game is this player’s projected fantasy points per game if 100 percent of their routes came from that alignment.

Player Alignment Routes PPR Per Route Proj. PPR/Game
Kyle Pitts In Slot 291 0.35 10.1
Kyle Pitts In Line 103 0.27 7.8
Kyle Pitts Out Wide 94 0.50 14.4
Pat Freiermuth In Slot 126 0.58 12.2
Pat Freiermuth In Line 194 0.32 6.7
Pat Freiermuth Out Wide 16 1.12 23.5

To spot rookie tight ends who can be fantasy football difference-makers, we should focus on players who could garner a significant amount of slot snaps in Year 1.

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2023 Rookie Tight End Class

More information on all five rookie tight ends listed below (along with several others) can be found in our free Rookie Draft Guide PDF.

Dalton Kincaid - Pick 25, Buffalo Bills

Dalton Kincaid is athletic and was insanely productive during his final year at Utah, where he led all skill players in total yards. The Bills have WR Gabe Davis on the outside, and WR Stefon Diggs splits his reps between the outside and the slot.

With TE Dawson Knox likely to play more of a traditional in-line role, there’s significant upside for Kincaid to beat out receivers Khalil Shakir and Deonte Harty for slot work. Kincaid will be tied to a Josh Allen offense and is a strong upside pick in the early double-digit rounds of fantasy drafts.

Sam LaPorta - Pick 34, Detroit Lions

Sam LaPorta crested 650 receiving yards in each of his final two seasons at Iowa and then blazed at the NFL Combine (4.59 40-time, faster than Travis Kelce). Amon-Ra St. Brown is the primary slot option, and rookie RB Jahmyr Gibbs, WR Jameson Williams and reliable veteran WR Marvin Jones should all be ahead of LaPorta for Year 1 targets. Despite playing on the fifth-best scoring offense of 2022, it’s difficult to see how LaPorta can buck the trend of rookie tight ends.

Michael Mayer - Pick 35, Las Vegas Raiders

Michael Mayer was an early declaration with more than 800 receiving yards in his sophomore and junior seasons. Many expected him to be the first tight end drafted, so his fall on draft day was surprising.

Unfortunately for Mayer, he joins a Raiders team that features three receivers who will be getting some slot work — Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Renfrow — along with veteran TE Austin Hooper. Mayer has an uphill battle to fantasy relevance in Year 1.

Luke Musgrave - Pick 42, Green Bay Packers

Luke Musgrave struggled with injuries throughout his college career but scored a 9.77 out of 10 on his Relative Athletic Score (RAS), demonstrating that despite the injuries, he’s still a freak athlete. The 2023 Packers offense projects to be low-scoring under Jordan Love, and receivers Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Jayden Reed are likely ahead of Musgrave for slot snaps. It’s difficult to envision how Musgrave becomes fantasy-relevant as a rookie.

Luke Schoonmaker - Pick 58, Dallas Cowboys

Luke Schoonmaker was largely off everyone’s radar until running a 4.61 40-time at the combine, which surely boosted his draft stock. CeeDee Lamb will always take priority in the slot, and the newly-acquired WR Brandin Cooks should remain ahead of the rookie, too.

There isn’t much competition for slot work beyond those two, so there’s at least some possibility Schoonmaker can wrestle away the No. 1 tight end role from Jake Ferguson. Still, he’s nothing more than a final-round dart throw, as you’re mainly considering him because he plays for Dallas. Schoonmaker does not profile as a player who will have a quick transition to the NFL game.

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