In the NFL, there are only a handful of tight ends who are primary or secondary receiving options on their respective teams, and those guys (Mark Andrews, Kyle Pitts, Travis Kelce) are too high in the rankings to be considered fantasy TE sleepers heading into 2022. Instead, fantasy football owners have to dig through a bunch of potential tertiary options who are just as likely to bust as they are to have breakout campaigns.
Heading into last season, Dalton Schultz was considered a fringe sleeper by many, as he was not one of the top receiving options for a Cowboys’ offense that had Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, and Michael Gallup. However, Schultz carved out a role for himself and was Dak Prescott’s primary target inside the red zone, leading to a No. 3 PPR finish among all TEs.
2022 STANDARD RANKINGS:
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The question that now remains is who will be this season’s Schultz? It could be Irv Smith Jr., who scored five touchdowns in 13 games in 2020 for Minnesota but missed all of last year because of a knee injury. Tyler Conklin had 61 receptions (87 targets) for 593 yards and three touchdowns while filling in last season, but he’s now in New York, which opens the door for Smith Jr. to reclaim his TE1 status.
2022 PPR RANKINGS:
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We also need to consider Cole Kmet, who will be the Bears’ second-best receiving threat outside of wide receiver Darnell Mooney. Kmet made a massive improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, posting 60 receptions (93 targets) for 612 yards. However, he did not score a touchdown, thus limiting his fantasy production. It’s likely he won’t be shut out this year, giving him a high ceiling.
2022 FANTASY SLEEPERS:
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More familiar names, including Cameron Brate and C.J. Uzomah, highlight our TE sleeper list, but there are several more under-the-radar players that casual fans might not recognize. Denver’s Albert Okwuegbunam, Indy’s Mo Alie-Cox, and Houston’s Brevin Jordan can potentially provide some tremendous value. The common denominator of all these players is that they’ve had their situations and opportunities change, be it because of being on a new team or because they’re moving up the depth chart after offseason departures.
The reality is any TE in a similar situation is worth watching in the preseason, as there’s still a lot we don’t know about usage and schemes. At this position, breakout seasons can come out of nowhere, so be vigilant.
Fantasy TE Sleepers 2022: Potential tight end breakouts, draft steals
Irv Smith Jr., Vikings. If there’s a tight end who could skyrocket up the tight end rankings this season, it’s Smith Jr. He missed all of last season due to a knee injury after having a solid 2020. During that season, he had 30 receptions (43 targets) for 365 yards and five touchdowns as the TE2 for Minnesota. Last year, Tyler Conklin surprisingly caught 61 passes (87 targets) for 593 yards and three touchdowns. Those 87 targets were 12th among all TEs, which is notable because Conklin wasn’t even the unquestioned TE1 early in the season. Minnesota’s receiver situation hasn’t changed, so there’s no reason why Smith can’t better those stats this season with his athleticism. He’s going to get the opportunities.
Brevin Jordan, Texans. The Texans need someone to step up and be that second receiver next to veteran Brandin Cooks. Jordan could be that guy after showing some glimpses last season as a rookie. The former Miami Hurricane did not make his debut until Week 8, as he was a healthy scratch for the first part of the season. Jordan posted 20 receptions (28 targets) for 178 yards and three touchdowns in just eight games. If you project his number for a full season, the athletic TE would post 40 receptions (56 targets) for 356 yards and six touchdowns. If he comes close to those numbers this season, then Jordan will have some appeal on the waiver wire. If he further improves (along with second-year QB Davis Mills), Jordan could be a true breakout.
Cameron Brate, Buccaneers. Brate will not be Rob Gronkowski for this Buccaneers’ offense, but he can once again be a constant threat in the red zone. Brate was tied for first among tight ends in red-zone targets with 20 last season. Just as notable is Gronk had 88 total targets in 12 games, and Brate should get a decent chunk of those this year. He will likely not be the Bucs’ full-time starter, as we could see rookie Cade Otton play in two TE sets, but if you’re looking for a high-upside TE2 in a pass-heavy offense, Brate is not a bad option, especially with Tom Brady at quarterback.
Cole Kmet, Bears. Kmet will likely be one of the top-two receivers on the Bears, as they did not do much to upgrade the receiver unit in the offseason. Last season, Kmet was Chicago’s starting tight end and played well with 60 receptions (93 targets) for 612 yards. If you had the young tight end in a PPR league, he was decent. However, he wasn’t great in standard leagues, as he had zero touchdowns. It’s pretty incredible to not score a single touchdown in a 17-game season as a starter, but that was Matt Nagy’s offense in a nutshell. That being said, Kmet should score at least a few times this year in a new system with Justin Fields likely improving.
Albert Okwuegbunam, Broncos. Okwuegbunam is another one of those sleepers that owners think will improve with Russell Wilson at quarterback. The former Mizzou star will be the starter, as the Broncos traded away Noah Fant and his 90 targets in the deal for Wilson. Last season, Okwuegbunam had 33 receptions (40 targets) for 330 yards and two touchdowns, which isn’t earth-shattering but solid for a backup tight end. He won’t be one of the top-three receiving options for Wilson, but with his ultra-athletic, 6-5 frame, he can be a beast in the red zone.
Mo Alie-Cox, Colts. Alie-Cox will be the Colts’ starting tight end this season after Jack Doyle retired. He’s been a favorite on the waiver wire over the past two seasons due to his knack for finding the end zone. Last season as a backup, Alie-Cox had 24 receptions (45 targets) for 316 yards and four touchdowns; Doyle had 29 catches (43 targets) for 302 yards and three TDs. Three out of Alie-Cox’s four touchdowns came inside the red zone, which should only improve with Matt Ryan at quarterback this season. Ryan always found a way to get the tight end involved in Atlanta and that won’t change in Indianapolis where the wide receiver corps is in flux.
C.J. Uzomah, Jets. Uzomah is looking to build off of his excellent 2021 season in Cincinnati. Uzomah did a great job of finding his niche within a loaded Bengals’ wide receiver unit, recording 49 receptions (63 targets) for 493 yards and five touchdowns. However, Uzomah will be sharing snaps with Tyler Conklin, but he could still see similar targets. The Jets have a nice young wide receiver unit that could do a little bit of everything on the field, but Uzomah might still be a key contributor in the red zone.