Travis Kelce showed us in Super Bowl LVII and all season long that a tight end can become the focal point of an offense if they have enough talent. Versatile, productive tight ends will always be coveted, and a few will probably get paid big money this offseason.
Here are my top six free-agent tight ends for 2023.
6. Jordan Akins
2022 Stats: 37 Receptions | 495 Yards Receiving | 5 TDs
Jordan Akins is an under-the-radar guy, but every year he produces. Last season’s stats weren’t great, but he was playing on the Houston Texans. I played with the Jacksonville Jaguars for four years, and I know how hard it is to produce stats when you’re on the worst offense in the league. The Texans were an awful offense last season. There were no stats to go around. In an offense such as that, you’re not getting trips to the red zone, you’re not getting yards, and you’re not extending drives. It’s hard to get catches, yards and, especially, touchdowns.
Akins has quite a story. He played four years of minor-league baseball. He batted .218 and decided he was going to play football. So he went and played football. He ended up getting drafted in the third round in 2018, and now he has 151 career receptions and 1,755 yards.
5. Robert Tonyan
2022 Stats: 53 Receptions | 470 Yards Receiving | 2 TDs
Robert Tonyan is not the explosive guy, but I love his story. He was an undrafted free agent. He’s been cut, he’s been put on the practice squad, but he worked his way up, worked his way back from a torn ACL suffered in 2021, and he has played five seasons for the Green Bay Packers. This guy was a quarterback who moved to wide receiver. Then, when he was signed, he moved to tight end. He can run and catch. He’s got that wide receiver DNA as a 6-foot-5 tight end, and that makes him a mismatch problem.
I think a team could sign him for a good deal – a value deal – and he can pick up a playbook quickly. He’s a smart player. I like Robert Tonyan a lot. What I don’t like about him is that he broke a lot of my records at Indiana State, but I’ll let him slide on that.
4. Hayden Hurst
2022 Stats: 52 Receptions | 414 Yards Receiving | 2 TDs
Next is Hayden Hurst, who pitched in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system for two years before getting a case of the yips and moving back to football.
He walked on at South Carolina and was drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. I think Hurst can play. He’s nothing crazy, nothing exciting, but at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, he will get the job done. He’s going to run routes well, catch the ball well and block well.
3. Mike Gesicki
2022 Stats: 32 Receptions | 362 Yards Receiving | 5 TDs
Mike Gesicki is one of my favorites, and I think this is a sexy pick. He’s had three seasons with 50 or more catches, but two with 32 or fewer. There is no question this guy can make plays. The Miami Dolphins realized that last offseason and placed the franchise tag on him for 2022. His production was down this year, but it’s tough to put up big numbers when you’ve got receivers Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill on the roster with you.
This guy is an explosive athlete, as his numbers attest: an 11-foot broad jump, a 41-inch vertical, and a 4.50-second 40-yard dash time. Gesicki is not the best blocker, but he’s quick. He can make some big plays down the seams, and he can run. He’s going to get a big payday because he’s big (6-foot-6), athletic and versatile.
2. Dalton Schultz
2022 Stats: 57 Receptions | 577 Yards Receiving | 5 TDs
Dalton Schultz was a fourth-round pick from Stanford in 2018, and, like Gesicki, he played under a franchise tag in 2022. He’s not going to do anything crazy or anything too exciting, but he’s built how the Dallas Cowboys like their tight ends. He’s a Jason Witten-type. He can run, he can catch, he can block, and he’s big — 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds. If a team needs a full-service, do-it-all tight end, I think Schultz is the guy.
1. Evan Engram
2022 Stats: 73 Receptions | 766 Yards Receiving | 4 TDs
Evan Engram was the No. 23 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He struggled a little bit with drops in New York, but he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2022 and showed he could catch the ball (his receptions and receiving yards were career-highs). It was especially clear during the Jaguars’ wild-card win against the Los Angeles Chargers. He made seven catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, showing he could play under pressure.
This guy did everything he was asked to and, at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, blocked better than expected. He could block on the backside of runs — cutting off defensive ends, and he blocked in the passing game downfield. Engram played hard, did everything he was asked to do, and he’s getting love from just about everyone.
Clay Harbor played tight end for seven seasons in the NFL with teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @clayharbs82