Tight ends have taken over the modern-day NFL offenses, and many from the position have become the league’s biggest stars. But there are still plenty of tight ends who don’t get the recognition they deserve.
There are the headliners, of course. Players like Mark Andrews, Travis Kelce, Kyle Pitts, George Kittle, and Darren Waller are top-tier. Their talent speaks for itself. They’re dynamic aerial threats that cause headaches for opposing defenses. But what about the other guys? Tight ends who rank lower on the position’s totem pole?
Here are a few tight ends on the verge of a breakout season in 2022, assuming they reach their potential.
Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
A former second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Gesicki has been a steady contributor for the Dolphins. He can split out wide against smaller safeties or take advantage of slower linebackers in coverage. Gesicki provides a unique wrinkle to the Dolphins’ offense that will remain paramount as Tua Tagovailoa enters a do-or-die campaign in South Beach.
Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears
Although 2020 was a bit of an anomaly, Kmet’s 2021 season provided a glimpse of the weapon he could be for quarterback Justin Fields. Kmet started all 17 games last season and has yet to reach his ceiling. Similar to Pittsburgh’s Pat Freiermuth – who I’ll get to in a little bit – Kmet is a physically imposing target at 6-foot-6 with the necessary athleticism and suddenness to dominate smaller defenders both in the red area and between the 20s. He’s much more than If newly minted offensive coordinator Luke Getsy looks to utilize the TE spot similarly to how Green Bay did during his time there, Kmet could be in store for a big year.
Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys
One of the most underrated players in football, Schultz deserves more respect. He should benefit from Amari Cooper’s departure – Cooper is leaving 104 targets behind. After a breakout 2020 season with 615 yards, he backed up his play by totaling 808 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2021. His touchdowns tied for second-most among all tight ends. The sky’s the limit for him playing on the franchise tag this season.
Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers
With quarterback Kenny Pickett expected to start for the Steelers this year, Freiermuth will remain paramount to the rookie quarterback’s success. Freiermuth has a chance to become Pickett’s primary target in 2022. He has massive hands and is a crafty route-runner. Although the former Penn State standout totaled just 497 yards in his rookie campaign, I expect his yardage to increase significantly as he learns the ins and outs of the pro game.
Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings
I don’t know what to do with Irv Smith or how to project him. After missing the entirety of last season due to a torn meniscus, he returns as the only legitimate target at tight end for quarterback Kirk Cousins. I’d take his health with a grain of salt. Smith has failed to live up to his early Day-2 selection as a dynamic weapon out of the University of Alabama, but for Minnesota to compete with Green Bay in the NFC North this year, they’ll need all hands on deck. It starts with Smith emerging as a legitimate weapon on offense.
Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos
A big 6-foot-5 target, Okwuegbunam played well in the middle of the season last year. Russell Wilson doesn’t have much of a history targeting tight ends, but Okuegbunam should get his chance to be a weapon on Denver’s well-rounded offense. A fourth-rounder out of Missouri in 2020, Okwuegbunam’s ceiling remains high. He’ll offer the Broncos another quality target for Wilson to take advantage of.