This article is part of our ADP Analysis series.
In the majority of drafts, there's a clear pecking order among the top-3 TEs. Travis Kelce goes first, Mark Andrews goes slightly after Kelce, and then some time will pass before Kyle Pitts is selected. Is that the optimal order? We'll find out in this week's ADP Battle.
It's easy to see why Kelce is TE1 by most standards. He's had between 134 and 150 targets with 92 to 105 receptions the last four years. Also during that time, he averaged 1,276 yards and almost nine TDs. When we factor in the departure of Tyreek Hill and his 159 targets, fantasy managers are excited over the concept of Kelce flirting with 160 or more targets, obviously raising his floor and ceiling. So why would there be any downside case? Less than a month into the season, he'll turn 33. And even though he was on fire in the NFL playoffs, there was some decline in his play last season. In 2019 and 2020, he had just two games with fewer than 50 yards. He fell below that threshold six times last year, so his floor isn't as stable as it was. Also, after averaging 1,323 yards in 2018-2020, his yardage fell to 1,125. Now with Hill gone, it's unlikely that opposing defenses will be terrified of any receiver on the team aside from Kelce. Hill had great influence in opening the middle of the field for Kelce. Expect Kelce to frequently be bracketed while defenders try to jam him at the line of scrimmage. Defenses will dare Patrick Mahomes to beat them with anyone else but Kelce. Sure, Kelce will have his share of wins, but he could have more floor games than he did last year.
Beware not to pay for the career year. After averaging 93 targets the prior two seasons, Andrews had 153 targets last year, ninth in the NFL. And with Marquise Brown (and his 146 targets) now in Arizona, many fantasy gamers are expecting the target share to at least repeat itself for Andrews. And for a player who's averaged at least 12.1 yards per reception in his career, another massive season could be on the horizon. However, there are a couple trends working against him. First, it was a tale of two seasons. In the 12 games Lamar Jackson played, Andrews averaged eight targets, 72 yards and 0.5 TDs. But in the five games Tyler Huntley played, Andrews' averages increased to 11 targets, 100 yards and 0.6 TDs. Since Huntley had little time to throw — and limited downfield passing ability — targets were forced to Andrews in the short area of the field. Fantasy managers who are looking for a repeat of the 1,300-yard season based on last year's full-season numbers may be deceived. Andrews is still an excellent producer with Jackson, but 1,100 yards might be a more reasonable expectation. Finally, the Ravens were unusually pass heavy last year. Due to injuries at running back, the offensive line and on their defense, they had to abandon their identity. With most of those issues solved going into this season, look for the Ravens to return to their roots as one of the run-heaviest teams in the league. That might be the biggest drag on Andrews' potential target volume.
Few rookies have ever had the type of season Pitts had last year. He eclipsed 1,000 yards and drew 110 targets. He lined up all over the formation while still learning his way in the NFL, and many of the greatest TEs ever to play the game have struggled as rookies. He was in the 94th percentile in average depth of target and yards run per route, and after an uneven start to the season, he surpassed 60 yards in eight of his last 13 games. That said, his upside is mostly speculative. As arguably the most physically talented player ever at his position, we have to project that he'll make a second-year leap to reach his ceiling this year. He hasn't had the type of high-end season that Kelce and Andrews have had. It's also concerning that he'll have a potentially significant drop in QB play from Matt Ryan to Marcus Mariota (and possibly Desmond Ridder). However, he should be the best receiver on a team that is expected to trail in most of its games. It's not unreasonable for Pitts to get nearly 140 targets. In addition, he had an offseason to prepare to adjust to the ways that defenses dealt with him last year. Those scenarios make it unlikely that he has potential to bust. In addition, his exceptional talent plus the expected opportunity could easily translate into ridiculous production.
The Bottom Line
Each of these players has great floors with potential for incredible ceiling. However, I am concerned about the amount of defensive attention that Kelce will see while being another year older. With Andrews, I think his upside is overstated because of the run he had with Tyler Huntley and the likelihood the Ravens are among the lowest-volume passing attacks in the league. I also understand that Pitts didn't compete with Kelce and Andrews last year. But the fact that getting Pitts about a round later in drafts allows fantasy players to add another high-end RB or WR. And along with Pitts being a generational talent make me lean toward drafting the player who should be next year's first TE drafted based on this year's production.