2023 NFL Draft: Which team will draft a TE first?

Huge Need

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals added Irv Smith Jr. in free agency. While they successfully completed a career rehabilitation project with Hayden Hurst last season, Smith has had more of a mercurial NFL career. It would be a stretch to rely on him as the clear-cut, no-doubt starter. The Bengals don’t need a ton out of the tight end position given how strong their receivers room is but a rookie with upside would be a nice addition, even if that guy comes on stronger only toward the end of the year.

Detroit Lions

The Lions got good value from the midseason T.J. Hockenson trade but it left them with one of the weakest tight ends rooms in football. Tight end is one of their few glaring holes on offense right now. Given that this team wants to remain a physical operation and the tight end class is supposed to be a good crop, don’t rule out the Lions from adding a big two-way TE early in the draft. They could use the help in the receiving and run-blocking game.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers have seemingly had a hole at tight for the past decade. They have not used a premium pick on the position in quite some time. Josiah Deguara sits at the top of the depth chart and the receiver position isn’t much better. It will be hilarious if they finally start adding pass catchers in the first round after trading Aaron Rodgers but they need to make sure the Jordan Love era gets off to a good start. Getting the tight ends room a better starter would be a necessary early step.

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers look like they’re going to run back their tight ends room from last season. Gerald Everett is a fine pass catcher but can be upgraded upon as a receiver. He’s not a useful blocker either. The entire Chargers TEs room offered next to nothing in the run game last year.

Los Angeles needs more juice in the pass-catching department by any means necessary in 2023. While we’re all focused on speed at receiver, perhaps that comes in the form of a true mismatch tight end.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins with Mike McDaniel were just no longer a good fit for Mike Gesicki and he predictably walked in free agency with no resistance. His departure leaves the Miami tight ends room with zero proven target-earners or guys you want playing 70% or more of the snaps. This offense is going to flow through their receivers room but the Dolphins should still look to add a solid pass catcher at TE who is a willing and able blocker.

Moderate Need

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys seemed to have little to no desire to bring Dalton Schultz back this year after using the franchise tag on him last offseason. He was a bit of a compiler who didn’t move the needle down the field or bring juice after the catch.

[NFL Draft Team Needs: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs]

The Cowboys have cycled through a ton of Day 2 or 3 sleeper types they groomed since Jason Witten started to decline and they have some guys like that on the roster in Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot. Both players are under 25 years old and have the right size. Perhaps Dallas lets the young guys try and pick up the pieces with Schultz gone or they could look to add a high-upside prospect in the draft.

Indianapolis Colts

As always, the Colts have a bevy of intriguing tight ends I would love to see more of but they seem to have no interest in playing more often. In my view, Jelani Woods and Mo Alie-Cox would make for a fun, athletic and massive two-tight-end attack. The Colts can run those two out there and have reasonable hope a raw prospect like Woods takes the next step. But since neither is a proven starter yet, they have to be mentioned as a team that could add more to the position.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Evan Engram finished last season strong and was a successful add overall by the Jaguars last year. He was brought back but only on the one-year franchise tag. With Engram no lock to stick around long-term and Doug Pederson’s history of using multiple tight ends, I could see the Jaguars adding a tight end of note in the draft.

They could use both a more traditional in-line player to complement Engram and a big-body pass catcher to add heft with their receivers room on the small size. A tight end could check both those boxes.

Las Vegas Raiders

Las Vegas shipped off Darren Waller but added O.J. Howard and Austin Hooper in free agency. That’s probably an acceptable tight ends room for this season but they should still consider adding a young player with upside to groom. Overall, this team will play its fullback over its No. 2 tight end on more snaps this season.

Washington Commanders

Logan Thomas gave the team some excellent moments a few years back as a converted quarterback but the past couple of seasons have seen him mired by injuries. Thomas is 31 and it might be time for the Commanders to think about the next era at the position. This isn’t a drastic need, especially considering the strength of the receivers room, but they’re a team to monitor ahead of a strong tight end draft.

Fine, but could add a body or 2

Buffalo Bills

The Bills gave Dawson Knox a nice contract last offseason and he has turned into a solid starter. They could use more guys behind him as they don’t have much depth or another needle-mover at the position. The Bills overall need more juice out of their non-Stefon Diggs pass catchers and especially an option to work the middle of the field. It’s unlikely that player straight-up replaces Knox but could help supplement Buffalo’s two-tight-end package.

Denver Broncos

Sean Payton’s opinion of Greg Dulcich and Albert Okwuegbunam will go a long way in this equation. The last coaching staff seemed to love the former and quickly soured on the latter. It would seem wild for Payton to move on from one or certainly both of these guys since they’re young and have shown promise. However, if he handpicks a guy in the draft, he likely has the authority to override any other feelings. Chris Manhertz was added to essentially serve as an extra tackle and could out-snap a guy like Albert O this year.

Houston Texans

The Texans added Dalton Schultz in free agency on a one-year deal. He gives them a solid, reliable starter to roll out for whoever is their new starting quarterback. This team needed warm bodies in the WR and TE rooms. Schultz probably takes them out of the draft mix for an early tight end but they could still take a guy to round out the rotation later on.

Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City has the best active tight end on planet Earth in Travis Kelce. So I am sure it looks weird to have the Chiefs in this “mildly interested” category. However, not only do the Chiefs use a good bit of multi-tight end sets, but at some point they’ll have to start thinking about the next era of the position.

Kelce has shown zero signs of slowing down in his mid-30s but given how central he is in the Chiefs’ passing game, a successor might not be a bad early grab, especially because they could get that guy on the field early. Tight ends take a few years to peak and this is supposed to be a strong draft class.

Los Angeles Rams

LA’s roster is in rough shape as the Rams are seemingly about to take their medicine and pay for their credit card bills after going all in the past few years. With that in mind, Tyler Higbee as the starting tight end may not be the worst situation in the world even if he’s not a big-time needle-mover. The Rams also added Hunter Long to the room in the Jalen Ramsey trade.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints brought back Juwan Johnson as a restricted free agent after a pseudo-breakout campaign. He scored seven times despite catching just 42 passes. Johnson has the size and athleticism we want to chase for breakthrough seasons at tight end. The only other players on the roster at this position of note are Adam Trautman and (sort of) Taysom Hill. So the Saints may add another body in a strong class to hedge their bets on Johnson as the starter.

New York Jets

The Jets signed Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah in free agency last season. Conklin turned in a solid receiving season and the duo formed a nice rotation overall. The Jets also drafted Jeremy Rucker in the third round of last year’s draft. It’s hard to see them making a significant move at this position.

Philadelphia Eagles

Dallas Goedert was a critical cog in the NFC champions’ run last season. He is a vertical target who also thrives on screens. You should absolutely consider him one of the top talents at the position. The Eagles have five other players on the roster at tight end but no one who would be considered a high-end replacement if Goedert misses time again with injuries. It’s a light request but someone else could be in the mix here.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers got a sneakily strong second season out of Pat Freiermuth last year. He accounted for 732 yards on 98 targets, both top-six marks at the position. Don’t be surprised if he takes another leap in 2023. Pittsburgh could explore adding one other guy to the room here but it’s not a big need. Zach Gentry is a massive body at tight end and has given them some flashes.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have George Kittle coming off one of his best seasons, scoring 11 touchdowns in 15 games. He has yet to officially enter his 30s and remains one of the top, if not the very best two-way tight end in the NFL today.

The only other player on the roster at this position is Charlie Woerner. So, for a team that loves to use heavy personnel and multiple tight ends, they may look to add an intriguing prospect either through the draft or post-April free agency.

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle got some decent moments out of Noah Fant, who came from Denver in the Russell Wilson trade but rarely made him a featured piece of the offense. Despite his draft pedigree, he still often rotated with Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson. Seattle may add someone in the draft but that could easily be the setup again this season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs certainly have bigger fish to fry but they might want an alternative to Cade Otton. Given that he was a rookie last year and had some moments, I’d be shocked if Tampa Bay used a premium draft pick at this position when they have bigger needs elsewhere.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans have a ton of tight ends on their roster right now but the most intriguing player by far is 2022 rookie Chigoziem Okonkwo. He ended last year on a heater and was the most explosive pass-catcher the team featured at any point. Okonkwo is a classic move tight end who can be deployed at a variety of spots to create mismatches. He is destined to be a popular breakout pick next year. I can see the Titans adding a more traditional in-line player to the mix as well but not with a premium draft pick.

Little to no need

Arizona Cardinals

The tight end cancel-culture mob often forgets how consistently productive Zach Ertz was to start last season. He caught at least five passes in six of 10 games before getting hurt last year. Even if he’s on a slight decline, the Cardinals drafted Trey McBride last April to be the future of the position. Tight ends don’t often do much as rookies and McBride certainly took his lumps. Either way, with so many needs on this roster, don’t expect another big addition at tight end.

Atlanta Falcons

Fantasy managers are still licking their wounds after over-drafting Kyle Pitts last season. But with his health hopefully intact and the quarterback play more stable this year, he’s a nice bounceback candidate.

Desmond Ridder may not be a top-level solution but he was certainly better than Marcus Mariota down the stretch last season. The Falcons traded for Jonnu Smith to take some of the in-line reps and reunite him with former Titans assistant coach Arthur Smith. That may allow Pitts to move around the formation more as he did in his rookie season.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens have one of the best players at the position in Mark Andrews. He could end up leading the team in targets again although Baltimore will hope to get fully healthy seasons out of Rashod Bateman and Odell Beckham Jr. to compete for that honor. Either way, Andrews is a great player for this team and a comfortable fit with Lamar Jackson. Isaiah Likely shined as a rookie in last year’s preseason and carried some of that promise over to the real games. They’re pretty set at this position.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers gave Hayden Hurst a decent chunk of change to come and be a reliable target for the quarterback they’re drafting first overall. He was a strong but not priority option in the Bengals’ passing game but will get a real chance to shine on his fourth NFL team. Tommy Tremble might turn out to be a solid move tight end but we’ve seen only flashes from him so far. Ian Thomas is still on the books for a big contract but is primarily a blocker.

Chicago Bears

Chicago signed Robert Tonyan in free agency but he’ll likely run behind Cole Kmet at the position. Kmet was the TE7 in fantasy last season during a messy year for the position but the Bears will hope for a more consistent campaign from him in 2023. It’s not the worst wager in the world, as tight ends typically take a few seasons of marinating before they’re ready to truly break out.

Cleveland Browns

Some corners of the NFL world raised their eyebrows at the Browns when they signed David Njoku to a multi-year contract last offseason but it ended up being a shrewd bet. Tight ends are typically better on their second contracts, even if they aren’t super productive to start their career, and Njoku was no different. The Browns also have a ton of familiar names at this position behind Njoku such as Harrison Bryant, Jesse James and Jordan Akins.

Minnesota Vikings

T.J. Hockenson emerged as a key piece for the Vikings after coming over in a midseason trade. At times during the 2022 campaign, he was their clear answer to beat one-on-one coverage when teams dedicated extra resources to slowing down Justin Jefferson. With Adam Thielen off the roster, Hockenson will reprise that role this year — at least, that’s the expectation.

The Vikings also handed out one of the more curious contracts of free agency by adding former Jaguar and Raven Josh Oliver on a $7-million-per-year deal. Oliver is still young but has played for two teams already and caught only 26 passes for 230 yards throughout his career. He was likely added to serve as a blocker and may signal more of an offensive philosophy shift going forward than anything else.

New England Patriots

Only one other team (the 49ers) is scheduled to pay more money to the tight end position this season than the Patriots. Hunter Henry outlasted and way outproduced Jonnu Smith from the 2021 free agency spending spree and will now be joined by newcomer Mike Gesicki. My guess is that Henry takes the majority of in-line reps while Gesicki splits out as a slot or outside receiver. If anyone has been “more receiver than tight end” in the NFL the past few years, it’s him.

New York Giants

The Giants swung a big trade for Darren Waller this offseason in the hopes of reclaiming some of the former Raider’s glory years. Waller stands out as a hulking pass-catcher on a roster filled with slot options. Right now, he’d be the favorite to lead the team in targets and could even take some reps as the X-receiver. Daniel Bellinger had some moments as a rookie and could still see the field in multiple tight-end sets or as the in-line player with Waller split out.

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