2022 NFL season’s top 10 tight ends: Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews and David Njoku headline position

Each week of the 2022 NFL season, the Next Gen Stats analytics team will present a different Position Power Ranking meant to spotlight the top performances among a specific group of players. This week, we’ve assembled a list of the top 10 tight ends heading into Week 6.

Before we dive in, though, a note on our methodology: To help create quantifiable rankings, we have devised a formula that yields a Next Gen Stats percentile score, which measures how a player is performing relative to his peers. The formula uses each player’s percentile score across a series of key metrics to create one composite score, indicating which players at that position performed best. We will lean on this formula to inform our rankings when applicable.

NOTE: Player percentiles are based on components such as each player’s pass-catching and blocking abilities. The metric and overall scores are based on each player’s performance in Weeks 1-5.

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  • Play-time percentage: 79
  • Receiving score: 97
  • Blocking score: 78
  • OVERALL SCORE: 94

The future Hall of Famer is still dominating at the age of 33, serving as the alpha dog of a top-five aerial attack in the league. Kelce operates as the safety blanket for Patrick Mahomes, as the gunslinger looks Kelce’s way any time the defense sends a blitz. For good reason: The tight end has hauled in 14 of 16 targets for 106 yards and a league-high four touchdowns in 2022 when defenses send extra pass rushers.

While Kelce aligns in-line enough to earn his official roster designation as a tight end, the seven-time Pro Bowler can operate as the “X” receiver in the Chiefs’ offense when they need him to. When aligned wide, Kelce has gained 3.3 yards per route this season, trailing only former teammate Tyreek Hill (4.7) and A.J. Brown (3.6) among players with 40 routes aligned wide in 2022. Kelce stands head and shoulders above his positional peers in this respect, gaining twice as many yards (1,685) aligned wide as any other TE since 2018.

  • Play-time percentage: 90
  • Receiving score: 91
  • Blocking score: 81
  • OVERALL SCORE: 91

It’s hard to understate how important Andrews is to Baltimore’s passing game. The fifth-year pro has accounted for 35.5 percent of his team’s air yards in 2022, the most by any tight end in a season in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016). The only previous tight end to account for at least 30 percent of his team’s air yards in a season was … none other than Andrews himself, in 2021. Andrews is on a TE tier of his own when it comes to being a one-man show downfield, as he has accounted for a majority of his team’s air yards in six games since being drafted in 2018. The rest of the tight ends in the NFL have combined for eight such games total over that time span.

The bread and butter of Lamar Jackson’s connection with Andrews? Crossers. The tight end leads all pass catchers with 1,158 yards on crossing routes over the span of his career, and he runs the deepest crossers on average (12.7 yards) in that time frame.

  • Play-time percentage: 90
  • Receiving score: 91
  • Blocking score: 79
  • OVERALL SCORE: 90

After missing a combined 16 games across three seasons from 2019 through 2021, Njoku appears to be experiencing his long-awaited breakout season. The 2017 first-round pick has been elite at the catch point so far this year, hauling in +10.4 percent of his targets over expected, which ranks first among tight ends (min. 20 targets). Njoku has gained +76 receiving yards over expected in 2022, trailing only Dallas Goedert (+112) and Travis Kelce (+78) among tight ends.

Njoku has established a connection with Jacoby Brissett right off the bat. He is a key factor in the Browns fielding the No. 6 scoring offense through five weeks of this season. If the former Miami Hurricane is able to remain both this healthy and this consistent throughout the season, Cleveland might be a sleeper to contend in the incredibly competitive AFC playoff hunt.

Bill Belichick just said this of David Njoku:

"After Ozzie [Newsome], probably the best tight end the Browns have ever had."

  • Play-time percentage: 85
  • Receiving score: 85
  • Blocking score: 59
  • OVERALL SCORE: 83

In his first full season playing without Zach Ertz, Goedert has demonstrated every trait necessary to be an elite tight end. Ability to get open? Check: Goedert averages 4.3 yards of target separation, and his 2.4 receiving yards per route is a figure that leads all tight ends who have run at least 50 routes. Success at the catch point? Check: Goedert has caught 85.7 percent of passes intended for him, the highest rate among all tight ends with at least 20 targets. Creating with the ball in his hands? Check: Goedert has +76 yards after catch over expected, tied for first among all tight ends with T.J. Hockenson.

The fifth-year pro has served as the ideal complement to wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith for an offense that is firing on all cylinders. And while Goedert might not get as much national attention as Philadelphia’s starry receiving tandem, he’s played a tremendous role in the team’s first 5-0 start since 2004.

  • Play-time percentage: 87
  • Receiving score: 78
  • Blocking score: 62
  • OVERALL SCORE: 79

For an offense that has been depleted by suspension (DeAndre Hopkins) and injury (Rondale Moore, A.J. Green), a bit of stability in the pass-catching group can go a long way. And that’s exactly what Ertz has provided to Arizona, as he remains extremely reliable even in his 10th NFL season.

Ertz’s modus operandi throughout his career has been producing from the slot, and he has continued that success in 2022, ranking in the top three among tight ends in receptions (17, tied for second) and yards (151, third). With Kyler Murray averaging a career-low 6.2 air yards per attempt, Ertz’s value as a valve for underneath plays has been tremendous, as he ranks fourth among tight ends with 22 receptions of fewer than 10 air yards.

Even as Arizona gets healthier on the outside, expect Ertz to continue to have a large offensive role as the Cardinals scrap to compete in the wildly balanced NFC West.

  • Play-time percentage: 64
  • Receiving score: 79
  • Blocking score: 80
  • OVERALL SCORE: 78

Sharing snaps with Noah Fant — who came over to Seattle in the Russell Wilson trade — Dissly is the only player on this top-10 list to have played fewer than 70 percent of his team’s snaps. But it’s Dissly’s quality over quantity that has propelled him to the No. 6 spot, as he has been ruthlessly efficient when given a chance to make plays. Dissly boasts a staggering 144.3 passer rating when targeted this season, which leads all players who have been targeted at least 15 times. Only one target intended for Dissly has fallen to the ground all season, as Dissly’s 20.0 percent catch rate over expected leads all tight ends and trails only Ravens WR Devin Duvernay (23.3 percent) among players with at least 15 targets.

The success of the Geno Smith-led Seahawks offense has been among the NFL’s biggest surprises so far. While longtime star receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf have certainly done their part, Dissly’s breakout season has played a major role in a Seattle offense that has continued to cook just fine without Russell Wilson.

  • Play-time percentage: 72
  • Receiving score: 77
  • Blocking score: 60
  • OVERALL SCORE: 76

For the first time in what feels like 40 years (OK, 18, to be exact), the Steelers have new faces at quarterback, with both Kenny Pickett (first-round pick) and Mitchell Trubisky (free-agent signing) joining the team following Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement. There are few things that help a new QB quite like a reliable safety valve, and that’s exactly what Freiermuth has been. Freiermuth has been targeted on 26 percent of his routes this season, the fourth-highest rate among all tight ends who have run at least 50 routes. And Freiermuth has succeeded downfield in an offense that has otherwise struggled to push the ball too far beyond the line of scrimmage. The second-year product out of Penn State has gained 136 receiving yards on targets of at least 10 air yards, trailing only Travis Kelce (189) among tight ends.

Though the Steelers are 1-4, their top six scrimmage-yardage leaders are all 26 years old or younger. Freiermuth (who is 23) is part of a core that could be together for a long time.

  • Play-time percentage: 87
  • Receiving score: 75
  • Blocking score: 37
  • OVERALL SCORE: 73

Through Week 5, the three NFL teams averaging at least 28 points per game are the Chiefs, Bills … and Lions. Detroit’s presence on that list is quite surprising — and the Lions won’t be there much longer with more performances like this past Sunday’s. But all in all, Detroit has enjoyed a tremendous offensive breakout in the second year of the Jared Goff-Dan Campbell era, vaulting from 25th in scoring offense in 2021 to third this season, and Hockenson has helped fuel the rise. Hockenson’s athleticism has been on full display, with the former top-10 pick gaining +76 yards after catch over expected, which is tied for first among tight ends with Dallas Goedert. Hockenson has averaged 7.9 receiving yards per target in 2022, fourth among TEs with at least 20 targets.

With RB D’Andre Swift and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown in the fold — along with 2022 first-round WR Jameson Williams, who hasn’t played yet — Hockenson is part of a young core of skill-position players who might finally help Detroit “restore the roar.”

  • Play-time percentage: 95
  • Receiving score: 70
  • Blocking score: 51
  • OVERALL SCORE: 72

It’s no secret that things haven’t gone as planned offensively for the defending champs, as their current scoring average (16.0 points per game) would set a record for the lowest figure by a reigning Super Bowl winner in NFL history. But Higbee has been a consistent bright spot for an offense that has otherwise been struggling out of the gate. The short game has been where Higbee has specialized, as his 32 receptions and 273 yards on targets of fewer than 10 air yards both lead all tight ends. As a matter of fact, both numbers rank second overall in the NFL, only behind teammate Cooper Kupp. Despite sharing an offense with the first-team all-everything Kupp, Higbee has still been targeted on 28 percent of his routes, second among tight ends who have run at least 50 routes (behind only Mark Andrews).

If the 2-3 Rams are to get back on track this season, Higbee’s productivity will likely be a major facilitator.

  • Play-time percentage: 84
  • Receiving score: 72
  • Blocking score: 44
  • OVERALL SCORE: 71

The Jets have a winning record through five games for the first time since 2017, and the free-agent acquisition of Conklin has been one of several key ingredients to their early success. Most of Conklin’s production has come when he’s aligned tight, as he ranks in the top three in the NFL in both receptions (11) and yards (126) on such snaps. Conklin has also demonstrated an ability to make the difficult catches, as his four tight-window receptions (fewer than 1 yard from the nearest defender) trail only Mark Andrews’ five such catches among tight ends.

Whether it’s been Joe Flacco or Zach Wilson under center, Conklin has been consistently reliable, helping New York jump from 28th in scoring offense a year ago to 11th in his first year with the team.

HONORABLE MENTION: Evan Engram, Jacksonville Jaguars; Hayden Hurst, Cincinnati Bengals; Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts.

— Keegan Abdoo, Mike Band and Cole Jacobson contributed to this piece.

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