With three playoff rounds to play and as defences become more focused on covering X recievers the emphasis on short, crossing routes, bubble screens and intermediate routes increases exponentially. Which of the best pass catching tight ends can step up and take pressure off their quarterback? There will be no Mark Andrews in the Divisional round or Gerald Everett (who racked up 109 receiving yards last week) so who will be an important safety net for their quarterback and who will dominate opposing defences? Dawson Knox is usually one guy who comes up big when the pressure is on but he had quite a low-key season, only catching 48 passes despite a career best 73.8% catch rate as Josh Allen threw at Stef Diggs 28% of the time. Last week Knox averaged just four yards per target as the Bills stuttered to the win.
Hurst only caught 52 passes in the regular season but was only targeted by Joe Burrow 68 times so his catch rate was 76.5%. He missed games in December with a calf injury but since his return he’s caught 8 of 11 targets. 2022 was the first time Hurst has started more than nine games in a season and his 68 targets accounted for 11% of the Bengals total passes. Hurst only caught two touchdown passes in the regular season but was responsible for 12% of Cincinatti’s first downs so he’s an important safety net for Burrow. He played 78% of the Bengals snaps during Super Wildcard Weekend, his most since week 2. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he plays even more in Buffalo as he recovers from injury.
Hurst has only started two playoff games and his only playoff touchdown came as a Raven in 2019. The Bills defence were ranked number one against tight ends in 2022 and Hurst has only played against them once before. Back in 2019 he caught all three of his targets for 73 yards and a touchdown.
12 months ago there was considerable chatter from Giants fans about how disappointing Engram had been in the Big Apple but his move to Jacksonville has revived his career. In New York he averaged 10.8 yards per reception so he has always been one of the best pass catching tight ends, but his dropped passes stood out.
28 year old Engram settled into one of the better passing attacks in the AFC as Doug Pederson has taken Trevor Lawrence under his wing. They combined to navigate Jacksonville through a turbulent AFC South and Engram has thrived. He caught 74.5% of his targets in 2022, the highest catch rate of his career. His 45.1 yards per game was his most since 2019 and his four touchdowns was his best total since his rookie year in 2017.
Kansas City’s defence ranked 20th against tight ends during the regular season so Engram could play an important role in keeping the Jaguars in the game this week. Last weekend was his first playoff appearance and he lead the Jaguars receiving options as he recorded 13.3 yards per reception.
The 29 year old Wisconsin native had a mixed season with 60 receptions but 26 drops. His 2022 catch percentage of 69.8 is his lowest since 2018 but 11 touchdowns is a career high and proves he’s one of the most important and best pass catching tight ends. In the last four games of the regular season Kittle caught 18 passes and seven of them were touchdowns. Since Brock Purdy became the 49ers starter in week 13 Kittle has caught 14% of all the passes he has thrown and he’s been on the end of 54% of Purdy’s scoring passes.
Kittle didn’t catch a touchdown pass in the wildcard weekend but he did haul in a 2 point conversion. He caught both of the passes Purdy threw him. The Cowboys defence were the second best at defending tight ends during the regular season so Kittle may not catch many passes this week but he will still be key when it comes to opening up space for McCaffrey and Samuel.
Two tight ends recorded more receiving yards than Schultz during Super Wildcard Weekend but neither T.J Hockenson or Gerald Everett could drag their teams to the Divisional round. Schultz had 95 receiving yards against the Buccaneers on seven catches and only dropped one target. D.K Metcalf was the other only player to catch two touchdown passes last week and he won’t be playing this week either. The 26 year old Stanford product missed two games earlier in the season and the Cowboys passing attack has been slightly inconsistent in 2022 so he hasn’t had a banner year. He averaged 10.1 yards per reception though and was the recipient of 22% of Dak Prescott’s touchdown passes in the regular season.
Schultz has played four playoff games so far in his short career and his two touchdown receptions were his first in the postseason. The five first downs he recorded last week matched the total he’d amassed in his first three playoff games. The Buccaneers defence struggled to contain him with zone looks and had no answer to his athleticism. San Francisco aren’t short of speedy linebackers though so even if the Cowboys go no huddle they should have the personnel to cover tight ends. Schultz was Dallas’ leading receiver last week but with two fewer days to rest compared to the 49ers and a four hour flight ahead of them this week is a tough matchup.
Of all the best pass catching tight ends currently playing Kelce stands out, he is challenging Gronk for the title of best ever. Only two players caught more passes than “Zeus” as Chiefs fans call him in 2022. They are both first team all Pro wide receivers, Justin Jefferson and Tyreek Hill. So he’s not just one of the best tight ends in the playoffs he’s the most important pass catcher by that measure. Davante Adams is the only player to catch more touchdown passes than Kelce this season, Kelce even rushed twice this season in that odd adapted QB sneak the Chiefs run. Kelce’s 6.5 receptions per game is a career high and hints at how he’s become the key component of Kansas City’s pass game with no Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman’s injury problems.
This will be Kelce’s eighth playoff appearance and his he has a very impressive record so far. His overall catch percentage is 79.1 (it’s 71% in regular season games) and in his last three playoff campaigns he’s caught 10 touchdowns in nine games. In his last two playoff runs he’s average 110 receiving yards per game! Only four teams were worse at defending against tight ends in 2022 than the Jaguars so Kelce seems set for a big game on Saturday.