There are a handful of tight ends hitting the market in 2023 that can certainly improve a team in need of good options at the position. The list consists of a mix of explosive pass catchers to viable veterans that can provide a spark next season. With the reports of the Jacksonville Jaguars expecting to place the franchise tag on Evan Engram, he will not be on this list but certainly would’ve been at or near the top. As we did with the quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers, it’s time to take a look at another skilled position on offense heading into NFL free agency.
2023 NFL Free Agency: Top Five Tight Ends
After coming off an 808-yard and eight-touchdown season in 2021 that saw him catch a career-high 75% of passes thrown his way, the Dallas Cowboys used their franchise tag on Dalton Schultz, who was none too pleased about it. Due to a PCL injury early on in the 2022 season and maybe a little frustration with the team, Schultz’s numbers were down across the board but when the ball started to get rolling, he reminded everyone why he is first on this list among tight ends.
In 15 games, Schultz mustered 577 yards and five touchdowns, gaining just over ten yards per reception. He is one of the few above-average run-blocking tight ends in the league and along with being a reliable pass catcher, Schultz will find his way to a good payday with a team in need at the position.
With the speed duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle at wide receiver, Mike Gesicki was more of an afterthought in this Miami Dolphins offense in 2022. For the first time since his rookie season in 2018, the 27-year-old tight end failed to record at least 500 receiving yards (700 yards in his last two seasons) and recorded only 32 catches on 52 targets, both also his lowest since his rookie season.
Despite the limited targets and catches, Gesicki still showed why he is one of the big-name tight ends heading into NFL free agency. He gathered 362 yards with five touchdowns, tied for second most in his career, and had 11.3 yards per reception, which was also the second most in his career. Gesicki should thrive on a new team that will utilize his big style of play in the slot more often than Miami did in 2022.
The Cincinnati Bengals lost C.J. Uzomah at the tight end position last offseason and that got a mixed reaction. The team pivoted to signing Hayden Hurst to a one-year deal, which proved to be a nice replacement after all. In 13 games, Hurst had 414 yards, second most in his career, with two touchdowns while catching over 75% of his passes (52 catches on 68 targets).
Hurst also proved to be valuable in the playoffs, having 141 yards and a touchdown in three games. With his sure hands, the five-year veteran has proved that he’s one of the most reliable pass-catching tight ends in the league and should have no trouble finding a team this offseason.
Robert Tonyan is one of the most interesting tight ends on the market in 2023. He had a breakout year in 2020 with 586 yards and a whopping 11 touchdowns while catching nearly 90% of his targets in 16 games. Then he suffered a torn ACL mid-way through the 2021 season and hasn’t quite been able to recapture that magic.
He had a solid 2022 with 470 yards but only totaled two touchdowns on the year with the lowest yards per reception of his career (8.9). He did however accumulate a career-high in targets and caught nearly 80% of passes thrown his way, the second-highest of his career. Tonyan is still a reliable pass catcher, something the Green Bay Packers need heading into 2023 whether it’s with Aaron Rodgers or not.
Off to a slow start to begin the season with the Tennessee Titans in 2022, Austin Hooper became one of the top tight ends through the second half of the year. While he had 444 yards and two touchdowns, it’s what he did to get those numbers that were impressive.
Hooper was able to find holes in coverage, racked up yards after the catch, converted first downs at a high rate along with a high contested catch rate, had multiple explosive receptions throughout the season, and kept his drops to a minimum as the season went on. To go along with those impressive numbers, Hooper’s blocking ability makes him a fascinating target heading into NFL free agency.
Other Notable Free Agent Tight Ends
Main Image: Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK