Tight end can be a tricky position in fantasy football. Unless you have one of the top five players at the position, TEs can be somewhat interchangeable on a week-to-week basis, with TE6-10 often dictated by fluky touchdowns.
With that said, picking up a hot tight end off the waiver wire could add a spark to your team during the season, especially when bye weeks and injuries start to hit. Or, if you choose to prioritize other positions in the draft, the top candidates on this breakout lists could even serve as a TE1 in 2022.
Here’s a look at five tight end breakout candidates who have potential to outperform their average draft positions this season.
Isaiah Likely, Baltimore Ravens
Likely (TE34 ADP) probably isn’t worth selecting in redraft leagues right now because he’s behind one of the top TEs in the NFL, but he’ll be a key player to watch on the waiver wire during the season, especially if anything happens to Mark Andrews. Likely has impressed during preseason, so much so that Baltimore will presumably find ways to have both him and Andrews on the field as receiving options at the same time. Likely is a waiver-wire sleeper for redraft leagues and a promising TE prospect in dynasty leagues.
Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings
Some fantasy owners seem to have forgotten about Smith (TE18 ADP) after he missed the 2021 season with a torn meniscus. Smith had four-plus targets in six of his final eight games before suffering that injury in 2020. Now healthy again with a fantasy-relevant QB in Kirk Cousins, Smith is poised to serve as Minnesota’s top tight end in 2022 following the departure of Tyler Conklin.
Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos
Okwuegbunam (TE21 ADP) could see his stock could rise quickly if Russell Wilson ignites Denver’s offense. As part of the Wilson trade, the Broncos shipped Noah Fant to Seattle, leaving “Albert O” as Denver’s top receiving tight end. The Broncos did just use a third-round draft pick to select Greg Dulcich in April, but the rookie has been nursing a hamstring injury all preseason, and he seems unlikely to quickly win a big role on offense. Okwuegbunam will have an opportunity to emerge as the team’s third-choice receiving option behind Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, making him an intriguing breakout candidate.
Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears
Kmet ranked 20th among tight ends in scoring last year, and he’s now going off the board as TE13 in fantasy drafts. The former second-round pick has struggled to score as a pro, with just two touchdowns in his first two seasons. There’s reason for optimism entering Year 3, though.
Kmet’s targets jumped from 44 in 2020 to 93 in 2021, and he’s now more familiar with QB Justin Fields, who enters 2022 as the uncontested starter. Fields could take a step forward in his second season and that will benefit all of Chicago’s skill players, including Kmet.
Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers
Depending on the size of your league, Freiermuth (TE11 ADP) isn’t being counted on to start across the board in fantasy this year. Freiermuth ranked 13th among tight ends in scoring as a rookie last season, and he’ll be aiming to take a step forward in Year 2. Granted, the Steelers have an uncertain QB situation, but Freiermuth should prove to be a valuable red-zone target for whomever lines up under center in Pittsburgh.