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Projecting All 32 Starting Tight Ends In Week 1 – 2024 NFL Outlook

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NFL tight ends must solidly provide two attributes: blocking and receiving. The team is in a favorable position if its TEs are excellent in both aspects.

While they might not be exceptional in one skill, much less both, they are expected to deliver when needed. They provide additional beef during running plays and catch short or intermediate passes to keep drives going.

The encompassing nature of tight end play has teams valuing the position differently. Their thought process will heavily influence who will start Week 1 of the 2024 NFL season. Based on last year’s performances or career projections, here are the ones who will line up for their team’s first offensive snap this year.

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Projected 2024 Week 1 Starting Tight Ends for AFC East Teams

 Buffalo Bills – Dalton Kincaid

While the Bills will dial up their two tight end sets at times, Kincaid has become the undisputed starter for Buffalo. He had the tenth-most receiving yards among tight ends last year (673) while scoring two touchdowns. However, his 9.2 yards per reception leaves room for improvement.

Miami Dolphins – Jonnu Smith

After setting career highs in receptions (50) and receiving yards (582) with the Atlanta Falcons last year, Smith signed a two-year contract with the Dolphins this offseason. His numbers are better than the combined output of Durham Smythe, Julian Hill, and Jody Fortson. He’s also an upper-tier athlete at the position.

New York Jets – Tyler Conklin

Conklin has been solid in his first two seasons with the Jets, collecting 119 catches for 1,173 yards and three touchdowns. While he had more receiving yards (621) last year than in 2022, he had zero touchdowns for the first time since 2019.

New England Patriots – Hunter Henry

Henry’s receiving yards have constantly decreased since 2020, his final year with the Los Angeles Chargers. However, he led the Patriots in receiving touchdowns last year (6). Despite Austin Hooper’s presence in New England, Henry remains their starter, especially after signing a three-year contract extension.

 

Projected 2024 Week 1 Starting Tight Ends for AFC West Teams

Denver Broncos – Adam Trautman

The Broncos have a young tight end rotation. However, with Greg Dulcich, Lucas Krull, and Nate Adkins not doing much to win the job, Trautman will be the likely starter. While his numbers are not flashy (22 catches, 204 yards, three touchdowns), he will be playing his fourth season under Sean Payton.

Los Angeles Chargers – Will Dissly

Jim Harbaugh has advocated physical football in every coaching stop he’s had. Why deviate from the system that brought him much success, especially a national championship at Michigan? Dissly is the heaviest among their tight ends, and he’s the best blocker within their rotation.

Kansas City Chiefs – Travis Kelce

Missing two regular season games last year ended Kelce’s streak of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. However, the Chiefs restructured what’s left of his current contract, making him the highest-paid NFL tight end. Expect a bounce-back year from him as they go for an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl title.

Las Vegas Raiders – Brock Bowers

The Raiders have an enviable tight end room with Bowers and Michael Mayer. However, the rookie from Georgia will beat the second-year player from Notre Dame for the starting job. The two-time John Mackey Award winner has the talent to become one of Las Vegas’ leading receivers.

 

Projected 2024 Week 1 Starting Tight Ends for AFC North Teams

Cincinnati Bengals – Mike Gesicki

Playing with Henry was probably one of the reasons Gesicki’s numbers took a hit (244 yards, two touchdowns) in 2023. With Cincinnati, he has a chance to become a legitimate factor in a good offense.

Cleveland Browns – David Njoku

Njoku finished sixth in receiving yards (882) among tight ends and second among Browns receivers last year. However, regardless of position, he was eighth in yards after the catch (599). He also led the Browns in receiving touchdowns (6) in 2023.

Baltimore Ravens – Mark Andrews

Isaiah Likely was impressive when he took over for the three-time Pro Bowler. However, Andrews is still among the league’s best tight ends when healthy.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Pat Freiermuth

A hamstring injury limited Freiermuth to 12 games last season. But when healthy, he does put up great numbers. He’s still the Steelers’ top option at tight end over Darnell Washington, Connor Heyward, and MyCole Pruitt.

 

Projected 2024 Week 1 Starting Tight Ends for AFC South Teams

Indianapolis Colts – Jelani Woods

Woods and Kylen Granson will be in tight competition. However, the third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft will win the starting role even after missing the 2023 season due to recurring hamstring issues. Woods had 25 receptions for 312 yards and three touchdowns in 2022.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Evan Engram

After signing a three-year, $41.25 million contract extension, Engram established career highs in receptions (114) and receiving yards (963). He remains integral to the Jaguars offense, especially with Calvin Ridley departing for Tennessee.

Tennessee Titans – Chigoziem Okonkwo

Okonkwo has been steady for the Titans, improving his receptions and receiving yards compared to his rookie season numbers. While Will Levis has Ridley, DeAndre Hopkins, and Tyler Boyd, Okonkwo could be an unheralded difference-maker in the passing game.

Houston Texans – Dalton Schultz

Schultz earned a three-year, $36 million contract extension after finishing the 2023 season with 59 catches for 635 yards and five touchdowns. The second act of his NFL career looks promising with C.J. Stroud in the pocket.

 

Projected 2024 Week 1 Starting Tight Ends for NFC East Teams

Washington Commanders – Ben Sinnott

While the Commanders added Zach Ertz to their tight end rotation, the veteran didn’t complete a season in three years with the Arizona Cardinals. That concern will help the rookie from Kansas State leapfrog the three-time Pro Bowler in the depth chart.

Dallas Cowboys – Jake Ferguson

Ferguson’s 2023 season proved that moving on from Schultz was wise. The tight end from Wisconsin had 71 catches for 761 yards and five touchdowns in his second season with the Cowboys, establishing himself as their tight end even after drafting Luke Schoonmaker in 2023.

Philadelphia Eagles – Dallas Goedert

Even though the Eagles signed C.J. Uzomah to a one-year contract, Goedert will be the rightful 2024 Week 1 starter. In his sixth season with Philadelphia, Goedert had 59 catches for 592 yards and three touchdowns.

New York Giants – Theo Johnson

With talks of Darren Waller contemplating retirement, the Giants will still have six tight ends on their roster heading into mini-camp. Yet, after signing Chris Manhertz and Jack Stoll, Johnson has the best odds of starting in New York. The rookie had seven touchdown catches in his final season at Penn State. He should overtake Daniel Bellinger at some point in his rookie year.

 

Projected 2024 Week 1 Starting Tight Ends for NFC West Teams

San Francisco 49ers – George Kittle

Kittle earned a First Team All-Pro selection after finishing the 2023 season with 65 receptions for 1,020 yards and six touchdowns. He has been healthy over the last three seasons, making him the undisputed starter for the 49ers.

Arizona Cardinals – Trey McBride

McBride had a breakout year, finishing with 81 receptions for 825 yards and three touchdowns last season. Those numbers are more than enough for the tight end from Colorado State to be the clear TE1.

Los Angeles Rams – Colby Parkinson

Tyler Higbee might not be ready by Week 1 due to his ACL and MCL injuries during their Wild Card Round game last year. Therefore, Sean McVay might go with the most experienced of the bunch. Parkinson signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract to join the Rams. With four years of NFL experience, he will likely start in Los Angeles’ season opener.

Seattle Seahawks – Noah Fant

Fant was part of the trade that brought Russell Wilson to the Broncos. While Wilson parted ways with Denver, Fant remains with the Seahawks and will likely start in Week 1. He had 900 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons with Seattle. More importantly, he’s missed only two games in five seasons.

 

Projected 2024 Week 1 Starting Tight Ends for NFC North Teams

Chicago Bears – Cole Kmet

The Bears beefed up their tight end rotation by acquiring Gerald Everett, who had 966 yards and seven touchdowns in two seasons with the Chargers. However, Kmet had 1,263 yards and 13 touchdowns over that stretch, making him the rightful starter for the Bears.

Detroit Lions – Sam LaPorta

The Lions found a gem in LaPorta, the former Iowa standout who earned Second Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in his rookie season. His 86 receptions, 889 yards, and 10 touchdowns last season are all franchise records for tight ends.

Green Bay Packers – Luke Musgrave

Musgrave (34 receptions, 352 yards, one touchdown) and Kraft (31 catches, 355 yards, two touchdowns) had comparable stats during their rookie season. However, Musgrave achieved those numbers in only 11 games. He gets the starting nod from his teammate, who went off the draft board 36 spots after him.

Minnesota Vikings – Josh Oliver

T.J. Hockenson established career highs in receptions (95) and receiving yards (960) last year. However, he might not be ready for Week 1 because of the torn ACL and MCL he suffered in Week 16 against the Lions last season. Oliver will likely take his place despite Robert Tonyan’s addition.

 

Projected 2024 Week 1 Starting Tight Ends for NFC South Teams

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Cade Otton

The third-year player from Washington does not need to do much in the passing game because of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. However, he did have a respectable 47 catches for 455 yards and four touchdowns last season. Conversely, Ko Kieft and Payne Durham combined for six receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown.

Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Pitts

Jonnu Smith’s presence reduced Pitts’ output last season (53 catches, 667 yards, three touchdowns). With Smith joining the Dolphins, Pitts will be Atlanta’s unrivaled starting tight end. Hopefully, he will get more out of Zac Robinson’s offense.

Carolina Panthers – Ja’Tavion Sanders

Sanders had 682 yards and two touchdowns in his final year with the Texas Longhorns, helping him earn his second First-Team All-Big-12 selection. He has the talent to overtake Tommy Tremble for the starting role under Dave Canales’ system.

New Orleans Saints – Juwan Johnson

Johnson will play the final season of his two-year, $12 million contract extension with the Saints. He had decent numbers last year (37 receptions, 368 yards, four touchdowns) and should be motivated to play better, given that it’s a contract year.

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