Injuries happen. It’s just the nature of the NFL, and the fallout has ruined many a fantasy season over the years. After all, there’s nothing quite like the sting of losing your first-round pick a month into the season. That’s the game, however, and it’s why finding good depth at the end of drafts is so vital. With that in mind, here are five tight ends to consider in the later rounds.
Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos (ADP: 13th round)
With Noah Fant gone to the Seattle Seahawks in the Russell Wilson trade, Okwuegbunam is set to function as the starter in 2022. Physically, there’s a lot to like, with an ideal combination of size and speed at the position. His production has never impressed, however, even going back to his days at Missouri, and last year he finished with 33 catches for 330 yards and two TDs. Fant had 68 receptions in the TE1 role a season ago — albeit in a different offense — so it’s easy to see why Okwuegbunam boasts some sleeper potential.
Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: n/a)
A year ago, Brate was viewed as the No. 3 tight end behind Rob Gronkowski (retired) and O.J. Howard (now with the Buffalo Bills). Now, the Harvard product should function as the starter ahead of offseason addition Kyle Rudolph. Brate had some decent years during the Jameis Winston era before the former No. 1 pick left for the New Orleans Saints, and he has always done good work in the red zone with 33 career touchdowns. No, he’s not Gronk, but Tom Brady has a long history of featuring tight ends, and Brate could see a lot of opportunities based on how much attention the receivers demand.
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David Njoku, Cleveland Browns (ADP: 14th round)
Njoku, a first-round selection back in 2017, signed a four-year, $56.75 million deal during the offseason, which is big-time money for a player who averaged a 36-428-3.5 line per year in his four full seasons (he missed most of 2019 with a wrist injury). Clearly, the team believes the best is yet to come from the 26-year-old, and with quarterback Jacoby Brissett set to start much of the 2022 campaign he could make an enticing checkdown target — and as a potential bonus, Deshaun Watson returns just in time for the fantasy playoffs, which could provide a late-season boost.
Irv Smith, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: 12th round)
Smith (finger) was penciled in to be the starter last season before suffering a torn meniscus that kept him out of action for the entirety of 2021. In his stead, Tyler Conklin logged 61 receptions, 593 yards, and three TDs — production he parlayed into a free-agent deal with the New York Jets. Although Smith is once again banged up, having undergone thumb surgery earlier this month, the team remains hopeful he’ll be good to go for Week 1. While he’s never filled a top role, the Vikings have a lot of talent on the outside that should draw attention away from Smith, making him a nice short and intermediate option from a typically risk adverse Kirk Cousins.
Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers (ADP: 12th round)
You might have heard that the Packers traded All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders during the offseason, leaving Green Bay without a clear primary threat. While the likes of Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb figure to be popular targets, a returning Tonyan (knee) could see a lot of work once he’s back on the field. Tonyan, who tore his ACL last year, has already been removed from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, and though his Week 1 status is unknown, it’s clear the team thinks he’ll be back sometime in the first four games. Despite a quiet start to last year, Tonyan is just one season removed from an 11-touchdown effort, making him perhaps Aaron Rodgers’ most trusted red-zone weapon, and giving the tight end some real upside.