2023 NFL Free Agency Preview: TEs
Our 2023 NFL free agency preview series ends with a glance at the upcoming TE class. This is a fickle position for fantasy football, as any longtime manager knows. That said, here are a handful of athletes who’ve been quality assets at least at some point.
The key question, of course: Can they be that again?
Dalton Schultz, Cowboys
- DLF December Startup ADP: TE9, 107.67 overall
- Draft Sharks Dynasty Rank: TE10
Schultz entered 2022 with back-to-back seasons as a TE1 in PPR scoring. Though a knee injury sustained in Week 2 vs. the Bengals slowed his efforts, the 26-year-old is currently on track to turn in a 3-peat as the TE9 overall with 9.7 points per game through Week 17.
Over the last 3 seasons, Schultz ranks 6th in targets (273), 7th in receiving yards (1,967), and 8th in PPR points per game (10.44) among all TEs in that span. For a player to command that much attention while sharing an offense with WRs such as CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper is impressive. The former Stanford product should garner a solid amount of interest from prospective employers this offseason on the strength of his production.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line: The difficult part of Schultz’s evaluation is determining how good he actually is. While he’s seen incremental progress in target share year-over-year (13.1% in 2020, 15.5% in 2021, 17.5% in 2022), Schultz only ranks in the top 25 of TEs in PFF’s receiving grading in 1 season to date (7th in 2020).
We mention this because Schultz would carry some risk moving onto a different situation. He spent 2022 playing under the franchise tag, and it seems fair to say that staying with the Cowboys would be the optimal outcome for his dynasty value. This is less of a “devil’s advocate” stance and more of a caution not to overvalue Schultz based on the raw counting stats outlined above. Our dynasty TE10 price tag feels appropriate. But we’d lean away from pursuing him on the market.
Evan Engram, Jaguars
- DLF December Startup ADP: TE19, 179.67 overall
- Draft Sharks Dynasty Rank: TE11
Engram exploded onto the scene as a rookie in 2017 with the Giants, finishing as the TE6 overall in PPR scoring. His 722 receiving yards that year rank as the 3rd-highest among rookie TEs since 2000, behind only Kyle Pitts in 2021 (1,026) and Jeremy Shockey in 2002 (894). Sadly, Engram’s career and productivity took a sharp downturn in the seasons that followed.
The former 1st-round NFL Draft pick finished outside of the top 12 in PPR in his 4 subsequent seasons. A key issue has been his inability to hold onto the ball. Engram’s 61.3% catch rate ranks 5th worst among TEs (min. 150 targets) in that span, behind only Eric Ebron, Dawson Knox, post-retirement/Buccaneers’ Rob Gronkowski and Mike Gesicki. A TE’s job isn’t solely focused on pass-catching, but it’s certainly a significant aspect of playing the position.
Engram’s done considerably better as a member of the Jaguars this season, to his credit. He currently boasts a career-high 73.4% catch rate on 94 targets. That ranks 12th-best among TEs (min. 30 targets) in 2022. The 1-year “prove it” deal he signed in the offseason has seemed to pay off.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line: Engram, 28, should still carry a few years of fantasy production in front of him. It also helps that he’s seen the 4th-most targets (523) among TEs since entering the league in 2017. Being entrusted with that much of a workload despite a case of the butterfingers is telling. Plus, we’ve seen the flashes of an elite fantasy ceiling.
He currently ranks as the TE5 overall in PPR with an average of 10.6 points per game. There’s risk involved with Engram in that 2022 could be a mirage, but a player that waltzes into a new situation and immediately commands an 18.2% target share commanders attention. At his current ADP, Engram feels like a pretty solid value. There’s a chance that his uncertain contract status mitigates the impact of Engram’s late-season production on his market price.
Hayden Hurst, Bengals
- DLF December Startup ADP: TE34, 233.67 overall
- Draft Sharks Dynasty Rank: TE20
This is a bit of a tough one. After being a 1st-round selection of the Ravens in 2018, Hurst was quickly outplayed by fellow rookie Mark Andrews and shipped off to the Falcons ahead of the 2020 NFL season. It’s also worth mentioning that Hurst entered the NFL at age 25, after playing 2 seasons of minor league baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Coming into the league on the older side and promptly being overshadowed isn’t an ideal situation for anyone.
Hurst did land a TE1 finish in PPR scoring in 2020, though. He’s also been a solid streaming option this year with the Bengals. But at this point, it’s tough to say a lot more.
It’s clear that he’s a talented athlete based on this information. Going pro in 2 sports is no small feat. But he also arrived in Cincinnati by having his 1st 2 NFL teams dump him.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line: Hurst is a curious case. He came into the league as an older prospect that underperformed early in his career. There are really only 2 years of modest production to point to for encouragement, and he carries a rather extensive injury history.
He’s worthy of fantasy consideration should he stay with QB Joe Burrow and the Bengals. The concern here is that he disappears by signing with his 4th team in 6 seasons this offseason. Don’t prioritize Hurst in startup drafts or on the trade market.
Mike Gesicki, Dolphins
- DLF December Startup ADP: TE20, 180.67 overall
- Draft Sharks Dynasty Rank: TE22
Gesicki broke out after a quiet rookie season in 2018. From 2019 through 2021, he finished as a TE1 in PPR each year. He tallied the 5th-most targets (286) and receiving yards (2,053) among TEs during that stretch.
Unfortunately, 2022 has been a massive disappointment. Gesicki’s 46 targets rank 28th among TEs through Week 17, and the former Penn State product has been largely irrelevant as a result.
A big part of that seems to be Gesicki’s fit in the offense. HC Mike McDaniel came from a 49ers system that runs TE George Kittle primarily from an inline position. He lines up in the slot less than half as often (28.9% career) as Gesicki did before McDaniel arrived (60.7%), according to Pro Football Focus. Gesicki’s slot rate ran even higher in the 2019-2021 window: 66.9%. He has also run 20.7% of his career routes from a wide position (Kittle, 10.1%).
McDaniel’s system kept those wide plays involved but cut Gesicki’s slot time to 50.9%. Gesicki also saw a significant boost in his inline snaps – a spot where he doesn’t belong – and played his smallest snap share overall since his rookie campaign.
Even though they franchised him last offseason, all of that sure seems to point to the Dolphins letting the 27-year-old walk this time around.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line: The fantasy future for the former NFL 2nd-round pick is entirely at the mercy of whatever franchise decides to sign him. Our official dynasty ranking of Gesicki and his current ADP price tag reflect a TE who simply doesn’t play the position in a traditional fashion.
Gesicki is essentially Schrödinger’s TE. We won’t know if his fantasy value is permanently dead or alive and well until he exits the Dolphins’ offense that doesn’t support his skill set. He’s worth a low-level buy, with 2022 lowering his perceived value and free agency offering a fresh start. Just don’t get too excited about the upside.
Irv Smith Jr., Vikings
Robert Tonyan, Packers
Foster Moreau, Raiders
Austin Hooper, Titans