2023 NFL season will be here before you know it. Along with the quest for the Lombardi Trophy kicking off in earnest, debates over the best players in the NFL will begin anew.
As training camps open and the Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs‘ opening night matchup gets closer by the day, Heavy is taking a positional deep dive in an ongoing series ranking the top five NFL players by position for the upcoming 2023 campaign.
Next up: Tight ends.
1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce has the benefit of being on the receiving end of the most electrifying and clutch quarterback of this generation’s 150 targets, but the veteran matchup nightmare caught 110 of those passes for 1,338 yards with 12 touchdowns last season.
There’s a reason Mahomes turns to Kelce in the biggest moments of the Kansas City Chiefs‘ biggest games. Whether it’s the second half of the Super Bowl victory over the Eagles, the waning moments of the 2021 AFC Divisional Round Game against the Buffalo Bills, or countless other instances, Kelce simply finds ways to get open and turn routine catches into big plays.
2. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
There are few tight ends walking the planet as gifted, or as big of a mismatch creator as George Kittle.
At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Kittle is a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers and defensive backs, while being a dangerous playmaker every time the ball is in his hands. Not only did Kittle average 12.8 Yards per Reception last season, but he posted a 6.5 Yards After The Catch average.
Even though the 49ers spread the ball around with Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey and Brandon Aiyuk, in one of the more balanced passing attacks in the league, Kittle still caught 60 passes for 765 yards with 11 touchdowns in 2022.
Only Kelce produced a higher overall grade from Pro Football Focus last season than Kittle’s 84.7 mark.
The only thing potentially holding him back is the myriad quarterback uncertainty in San Francisco this season. Still, expect Kittle to remain one of the 49ers’ most productive weapons and one of the more prolific players at the position in 2023.
3. Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Goedert, much like Kelce, has married elite talent to a top quarterback situation.
Jalen Hurts played his way into the MVP conversation in 2022, as he led the Philadelphia Eagles to the fourth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Goedert remained one of his favorite targets, despite the arrival of playmaking wide receiver A.J. Brown.
Goedert‘s 58 targets accounted for 9.2% of Hurts’ passing attempts in 2022, leading to 55 receptions for 702 yards and 3 touchdowns in the veteran tight end’s 12 games last season.
Watching Goedert thrive over the middle of the field, in a lot of ways as Hurts’ security blanket with Brown and DeVonta Smith stretching the field on the perimeter, it’s easy to see why Hurts had a nearly-perfect 125.2 passer rating when targeting Goedert.
4. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
Consistency is the name of the game for Mark Andrews, even if the Baltimore Ravens‘ quarterback situation from week to week has been anything but over the past several seasons.
Andrews has caught at least five touchdowns each of the past four seasons and surpassed 700 receiving yards every year over that span. In 2022, despite Lamar Jackson missing five games due to injury, Andrews still pulled down 73 passes for 847 yards and 5 touchdowns.
If Jackson can stay healthy, there’s little reason to think Andrews won’t continue to be among the dynamic quarterback’s favorite targets, especially in the red zone, and a key figure in the Ravens’ offensive trajectory.
5. Darren Waller, New York Giants
A change of scenery has the chance to bring out the best in Darren Waller, as he enters a target-rich environment, where he just might quickly become quarterback Daniel Jones‘ top option in the passing game.
Waller arrives in the Big Apple as the most reliable pass-catcher, in what might be the most balanced receiving corps of Jones’ career, but one that lacks a true No. 1 wide receiver. Given Jones’ rapid improvement in his first season under head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, it’s reasonable to expect that trend to continue in year two, with Waller potentially the biggest beneficiary.
Last season, Waller only dropped two passes as Raiders quarterbacks posted a 100.1 passer rating on his 42 targets that produced 28 receptions for 388 yards with 3 touchdowns, in nine games. If Waller can stay healthy, and stay on the field, he might be the difference-maker the Giants desperately need in Jones’ supporting cast.