One use for early projections is to try to establish some tiers and then compare those to how the market tiers, or values, players. While I wouldn't want to rank or tier players exclusively based on projections, it's not a bad starting point.
At tight end, you don't need projections or anything else to tell you that Travis Kelce, even at 33 years of age, is in a tier of his own. Kelce has produced at least 90 catches and 1,100 yards in each of the last five seasons. He's topped 80 catches and 1,000 yards every year since 2016. Kelce is worth a first round pick and arguably the only tight end who should be drafted in the first two rounds.
Mark Andrews is in everyone's second tier as well, but the question is whether he should be alone. Last year people tried to put Kyle Pitts in that tier and two years ago it was T.J. Hockenson. The projections do not provide much clarity and you could make the argument for either Hockenson in Tier 2 or three one-man tiers. Either way, it's after Hockenson where things get interesting.
There are four more tight ends I project to score more than 10.5 FPPG in 2023. Three of them, George Kittle, Pitts, and Dallas Goedert are consensus picks. David Njoku is the exception. Consensus would drop Njoku a tier and bump Waller a tier.
The argument for Njoku is that he's four years younger than Waller and outscored Waller per game in 2022. Also, Njoku plays for a team that has a proven history of a high tight end target share. While Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka have both been adjacent to great tight ends, neither has called plays for an offense that had even a league-average number of tight end targets. Also, Deshaun Watson was terrible last year, but I would rather bet on him regaining form than Daniel Jones becoming a good passer after four years and 1,740 attempts in the NFL.
The case for Waller is that he was a star in his prime and he has an excellent chance to be the No. 1 target for Jones and the Giants. Waller has three different seasons with more than 60 receiving yards per game while Njoku set a career-high at 44.9 last year. The ceiling appears much higher for Waller.
The reason I said 'appears' in the last sentence is because we have little reason to feel confident in the number of pass attempts for either of these teams. The Browns are behaving as if they are going to throw more than they have in the Kevin Stefanski era, adding multiple receivers and letting Kareem Hunt without replacing him yet. Daniel Jones averaged 36 attempts per game in losses and 25 in wins, so game script may determine their volume. If Watson returns to form and the Browns throw a lot more than the Giants, I would not agree that Waller has more upside this year. Kevin Stefanski's quarterbacks have thrown at least 24.6% of their passes to tight ends the last three years. I don't believe Elijah Moore or Cedric Tillman will change that.
Here are my early tight projections for 2023: