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NFL Offseason Fixer-Uppers: How Dolphins Must Improve to Contend in 2023
In an ongoing offseason series, experts from The 33rd Team offer three things each team can do to improve in 2023.
AFC: BAL | CIN | CLE | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LAC | LV | NE | NYJ | PIT | TEN
NFC: ATL | CAR | DAL | DET | GB | LAR | MIN | NYG | PHI | SEA | SF | TB
The Miami Dolphins had a good year in 2022 that ended when they lost to the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the playoffs. The score (34-31) in that one was closer than the game was, in my opinion.
The Dolphins entered the offseason with limited draft capital and salary-cap space, but there are three things they should do to solidify their roster for the 2023 season.
3 Ways to Improve Dolphins
1. Add Backup Quarterback
The starting point for the Dolphins next year is quarterback. I’ve always been a fan of Tua Tagovailoa, going back to his high school days even, but unfortunately, he’s always been hurt. This year especially, he wasn’t even able to finish the season because of the concussions he suffered.
So, the No. 1 thing for Miami is finding a reliable backup quarterback for 2023. Last season, they had Teddy Bridgewater as a backup, and if they still like Bridgewater, they should pay him. But if they don’t like Bridgewater and don’t sign him, the Dolphins have to go out and get a quality backup that can step in and run this thing because you just don’t know how long Tagovailoa can sustain success in a season.
2. Improve Offensive Line
On the offensive line, the Dolphins have a few players set to become free agents they should consider bringing back. If they like Eric Fisher, if they like Greg Little, those are players they should try to bring back.
They made a change at offensive line coach. Will that really make the difference they need? I don’t know. But it sure sounds good in a press conference. Let’s see if it does make a difference.
In any case, the Dolphins should add quality, veteran offensive linemen — not rookies — to make sure any offensive line changes they make this offseason have a chance to work out.
>> READ: Full List of Every Free Agent
3. Adapt Defense to Vic Fangio’s Scheme
I coached against Vic Fangio, and I know him well going back to his time with the San Francisco 49ers and the Chicago Bears. He’s not a guy that likes to bring a lot of pressure. He is really a rush four and cover with seven kind of coordinator.
So for this defense to work and take advantage of Fangio’s skillset, the Dolphins need to get the right personnel in place. Most importantly, some young, aggressive defensive linemen. Because without four talented linemen, Fangio can’t do what he wants to schematically.
Dave Wannstedt is a former college and NFL Head Coach for the Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Panthers. He now works for Fox Sports as a studio analyst.
Way-Too-Early NFL Quarterback Rankings for 2023
Former NFL quarterback Matt Cassel provides his way-too-early 2023 QB rankings. All stats are from the 2022 regular season.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
QB Record: 14-3 | QBR: 77.6 | Passing TDs: 41 | Passing Yards: 5,250
Comment: MVP, check. Super Bowl MVP, check. One of the gutsiest Super Bowl performances ever, check. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes remains on top of the mountain until someone can knock him off next season.
>> READ: Mahomes Is Already an All-Time Great
2. Jalen Hurts, Eagles
QB Record: 14-1 | QBR: 66.4 | Passing TDs: 22 | Passing Yards: 3,701
Comment: Jalen Hurts made a big jump up my rankings with his consistent, dynamic playoff performances culminating with a historic Super Bowl showing for the Philadelphia Eagles. Hurts heads into next season with one of the best chances to become No. 1 on this list.
>> READ: How Hurts Improved from 2021 to 2022
3. Joe Burrow, Bengals
QB Record: 12-4 | QBR: 58.7 | Passing TDs: 35 | Passing Yards: 4,475
Comment: During the past two seasons, Joe Burrow has been as cool and consistent as any quarterback in the league, including the two guys above him on this list. Burrow led the Cincinnati Bengals to the AFC Championship Game one season after making the Super Bowl. There’s an argument right now these three guys are 1A, 1B, and 1C rather than one through three.
4. Josh Allen, Bills
QB Record: 13-3 | QBR: 71.4 | Passing TDs: 35 | Passing Yards: 4,283
Comment: Josh Allen peaked at No. 1 on our list mid-season, but the turnovers late in the year dropped him down a bit. That said, don’t count this guy and the Buffalo Bills out. He is huge, athletic, and has a cannon. Now, more than ever, he might have the biggest chip on his shoulder of any quarterback on this list.
5. Justin Herbert, Chargers
QB Record: 10-7 | QBR: 58.3 | Passing TDs: 25 | Passing Yards: 4,739
Comment: You might have forgotten by now how Justin Herbert‘s Los Angeles Chargers blew a 27-point lead against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round of the playoffs, but I’m certain Herbert hasn’t. I’m looking forward to seeing if a new offensive coordinator — Kellen Moore — can help Herbert crack into the elite tier of NFL quarterbacks.
6. Lamar Jackson, Ravens
QB Record: 8-4 | QBR: 59.1 | Passing TDs: 17 | Passing Yards: 2,242
Comment: If you forgot about the Chargers’ loss in the playoffs, then you also could have forgotten how dynamic a healthy Lamar Jackson can be in the Baltimore Ravens’ lineup. I expect Jackson to be healthy next season after not playing much in the back half of 2022. I’m looking forward to seeing what type of weapons he’ll have at his disposal — and where he’ll be using them.
>> READ: Jackson Among Top Franchise Tag Candidates
7. Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars
QB Record: 9-8 | QBR: 54.5 | Passing TDs: 25 | Passing Yards: 4,113
Comment: Only three quarterbacks last year threw for at least 25 touchdowns and ran for at least five more: Allen, Burrow … and this guy. Trevor Lawrence‘s amazing comeback win against the Chargers showed me he’s on pace to be yet another young, talented, superstar quarterback. The future of the position is bright when this guy is only ranked seventh on my list.
8. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
QB Record: 8-9 | QBR: 39.3 | Passing TDs: 26 | Passing Yards: 3,695
Comment: It’s like Groundhog Day right now. When will Aaron Rodgers reveal himself from his cave, and what will the news be when he comes out? But seriously folks, without knowing if he’ll end up with the Green Bay Packers or another team, it’s tough to quantify his ranking. We do know the New York Jets have reached out already. If he winds up in the right spot, expect to see one of the greatest ever challenge the guys above him on this list for the top spot.
>> READ: Packers Reportedly “Disgusted” with Rodgers
9. Dak Prescott, Cowboys
QB Record: 8-4 | QBR: 57.9 | Passing TDs: 23 | Passing Yards: 2,860
Comment: What a roller-coaster season for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys. Prescott played well when he returned from his Week 1 injury, but obviously, they fell short of the NFC Championship again. I’m intrigued to see what happens when Mike McCarthy replaces Moore as the primary play-caller. It could mean big things for Prescott and the entire offense in Dallas.
10. Geno Smith, Seahawks
QB Record: 9-8 | QBR: 60.8 | Passing TDs: 30 | Passing Yards: 4,282
Comment: Geno Smith and the Seattle Seahawks had a strong first half of the season followed by a bit of a dip in the second half of the season. But overall, Smith proved he absolutely can be a starting NFL quarterback. Perhaps having that pressure off heading into this year’s camp will allow even more growth for one of the feel-good quarterback stories of the year.
11. Kirk Cousins, Vikings
QB Record: 13-4 | QBR: 49.9 | Passing TDs: 29 | Passing Yards: 4,547
Comment: It’s that time of year again when Minnesota Vikings fans ask if Kirk Cousins is their quarterback or if it’s time to move on. I argue the Vikings would not have had nearly as much success as they did last season without the veteran slinging it all over the field. Clearly, he knows how to get his wide receivers the ball, including one of the best in the game — Offensive Player of the Year Justin Jefferson.
12. Jared Goff, Lions
QB Record: 9-8 | QBR: 61.1 | Passing TDs: 29 | Passing Yards: 4,438
Comment: Give me a rival team hoping to see the Detroit Lions sneak into the playoffs last year, and I’ll give you a firm handshake. All Jared Goff did in the second half of the season was lead one of the most dynamic teams in the league just short of the playoffs. They clearly found their groove and with the sixth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Goff and the Lions may be one of the scariest opponents on any team’s schedule in 2023.
13. Justin Fields, Bears
QB Record: 3-12 | QBR: 54 | Passing TDs: 17 | Passing Yards: 2,242
Comment: Will Justin Fields be the Chicago Bears‘ franchise quarterback? Or will he be looking for that title in another uniform? Either way, no quarterback was more dynamic with his feet in 2022. Fields finished with 1,143 yards rushing and eight rushing touchdowns in 2023.
>> READ: Should Bears Replace Fields?
14. Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins
QB Record: 8-5 | QBR: 68.8 | Passing TDs: 25 | Passing Yards: 3,548
Comment: We saw flashes of the greatness Tua Tagovailoa has inside him early in the season. His injuries, especially the concussions, are concerning. I’m hoping to see a healthy Tagovailoa show us his full potential next year for the Miami Dolphins.
15. Derek Carr, Free Agent
QB Record: 6-9 | QBR: 55.6 | Passing TDs: 24 | Passing Yards: 3,522
Comment: If Rodgers is the most prized potential addition for teams in need of a new quarterback, then Derek Carr is probably the second. Arguably one of the most durable signal-callers on our list, Carr is a veteran who can still sling it. He may end up being the most important signing all offseason.
>> READ: Carr Visits New York Jets
16. Daniel Jones, Giants
QB Record: 9-6-1 | QBR: 60.8 | Passing TDs: 15 | Passing Yards: 3,205
Comment: Daniel Jones proved he can play. Now the New York Giants may have to prove they can pay. Jones is one of the more underrated arms in the league. He is accurate, and he has arm strength that doesn’t get talked about enough. He’s also become a hybrid pocket-running passer like we’re seeing more and more in the league right now. The future is bright for Jones.
>> READ: Jones Wants $45 Million Contract
17. Brock Purdy, 49ers
QB Record: 5-0 | QBR: 65.6 | Passing TDs: 13 | Passing Yards: 1,374
Comment: I absolutely hated seeing him get hurt in the playoffs. But as much of a disappointment as the end of the season was for Brock Purdy, he went from third string to third in the Rookie of the Year voting, helping the San Francisco 49ers remain a legit Super Bowl contender. There are no more questions he needs to answer. He can play in the NFL. Now, we’ll see if he can get healthy and add more chapters to that Cinderella story.
18. Kyler Murray, Cardinals
QB Record: 3-8 | QBR: 51.7 | Passing TDs: 14 | Passing Yards: 2,368
Comment: The 2022 season was a nightmare for the dynamic talent, who threw just 14 touchdown passes vs. seven interceptions. Kyler Murray also suffered a torn ACL in Week 14, forcing his season to end early. But the Arizona Cardinals wouldn’t have given him that long-contract extension last offseason if they felt like he couldn’t return from adversity. We’ll see soon enough if that decision pays off.
19. Matthew Stafford, Rams
QB Record: 3-6 | QBR: 50.3 | Passing TDs: 10 | Passing Yards: 2,087
Comment: This was a down year for both Matthew Stafford and his squad. However, coach Sean McVay decided to come back and right the ship in 2023. There’s no doubt Stafford has the skillset and the pedigree to captain it. Stafford has been doubted in the past and has always shut down the haters. He’s a Super Bowl champion, and you can’t bet against that.
20. Ryan Tannehill, Titans
QB Record: 6-6 | QBR: 49.1 | Passing TDs: 13 | Passing Yards: 2,536
Comment: Losing A.J. Brown hurt. I can only imagine having to watch my former best receiver help his new team to a Super Bowl as Brown did for the Eagles. That said, Ryan Tannehill has gotten himself off the ground throughout his college and NFL careers, and I wouldn’t doubt he has something to prove heading into next season.
21. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
QB Record: 7-3 | QBR: 54.3 | Passing TDs: 16 | Passing Yards: 2,437
Comment: Jimmy Garoppolo is still technically on the 49ers, but they’ve already said he won’t be back next season. Last season was certainly an interesting one for Garoppolo. He was the backup, then the starter before eventually landing on IR. Then, he watched his backup become a star. Garoppolo may miss that dynamic 49ers offense, but he could use a fresh start somewhere else.
>> READ: 49ers Say They’re Moving on From Jimmy G
22. Andy Dalton, Saints
QB Record: 6-8 | QBR: 50.7 | Passing TDs: 18 | Passing Yards: 2,871
Comment: To a degree, Andy Dalton righted the ship in New Orleans during a funky year for the Saints. He’s a veteran who has been on both sides of the mountain and is battle-tested. His story isn’t fully written yet, especially if he ends up on a different team this offseason.
23. Russell Wilson, Broncos
QB Record: 4-11 | QBR: 37.0 | Passing TDs: 16 | Passing Yards: 3,524
Comment: No need to sugarcoat it. It was an awful, nightmare, horrible season for Russell Wilson. I’m sure he’d be the first one to admit that. But now, with Sean Peyton at the helm, there are reasons for optimism in Denver for the first time since about Week 4 of last year. Wilson is low on this list because he has a lot to prove next season.
>> READ: Payton’s Offense Can Revitalize Wilson’s Career
24. Deshaun Watson, Browns
QB Record: 3-3 | QBR: 38.3 | Passing TDs: 7 | Passing Yards: 1,102
Comment: Speaking strictly about on-field play, Deshaun Watson still has a lot to prove to the city of Cleveland on whether or not that guaranteed contract was worth the money and the years. He played in six games and threw seven touchdowns and five interceptions. That means Watson will need to boom next season to avoid a historic bust tag.
25. Mac Jones, Patriots
QB Record: 6-8 | QBR: 36.2 | Passing TDs: 14 | Passing Yards: 2,997
Comment: There were a lot of ups and downs for Mac Jones this past season. I’m still unsure of what type of quarterback he can be. But we will certainly find out with new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien returning to the New England Patriots this season.
26. Jacoby Brissett, Browns
QB Record: 4-7 | QBR: 60 | Passing TDs: 12 | Passing Yards: 2,608
Comment: Jacoby Brissett was thrust into a tough situation in Cleveland and showed a little fear early with some big turnovers. But in his final five starts, he threw just one pick. Brissett proved he can play quarterback elsewhere in the NFL next season.
27. Kenny Pickett, Steelers
QB Record: 7-5 | QBR: 51.5 | Passing TDs: 7 | Passing Yards: 2,404
Comment: Kenny Pickett needs to limit mistakes, stay on the field and show some consistency. Throwing game-winning touchdowns with less than a minute left in consecutive games might be a glimpse into Pickett’s moxie. He’s going to need it to carry the weight of one of the league’s most historic franchises on his back.
28. Baker Mayfield, Rams
QB Record: 2-8 | QBR: 24.5 | Passing TDs: 10 | Passing Yards: 2,163
Comment: Do you know how hard it is to join a team, learn a new playbook a few hours later, and then lead a team to a comeback win against the Raiders on Thursday Night Football? I’ll tell you … it’s hard. Baker Mayfield did that. He also proved what he needed to prove in 2022 – that he can be an NFL QB. Given the Rams’ cap situation, it’ll just likely happen with a different team in 2023.
29. Davis Mills, Texans
QB Record: 3-10-1 | QBR: 33.1 | Passing TDs: 17 | Passing Yards: 3,118
Comment: It’s hard to quantify what Davis Mills can accomplish as a quarterback. Can he be a starter? I need to see more reps before I make that claim. Mills might not get that chance with the Houston Texans this season because they’re likely to use the second-overall pick on a new quarterback.
>> READ: The 33rd Team’s Latest Mock Draft
30. Sam Darnold, Panthers
QB Record: 4-2 | QBR: 48.3 | Passing TDs: 7 | Passing Yards: 1,143
Comment: The jury is still out on this one-time top prospect. However, 2023 may be the year we reach a verdict on whether Sam Darnold is a starter. Will it be in Carolina? That remains to be seen. The Panthers seem poised to select a quarterback in the first round, but Darnold could stick around as a bridge option.
>> READ: 2023 Draft QBs with Best Arm Strength
31. Mike White, Jets
QB Record: 1-3 | QBR: 37 | Passing TDs: 3 | Passing Yards: 1,192
Comment: At one point in the season, Jets fans were rocking “White Knight” T-shirts. Players seem to love playing with Mike White, but he needs to show some more consistent results to move up these rankings.
32. Desmond Ridder, Falcons
QB Record: 2-2 | QBR: 49.8 | Passing TDs: 2 | Passing Yards: 708
Comment: The jury is still out, but Desmond Ridder gets the nod as my 32nd-best quarterback over guys like Trey Lance and Jordan Love because, of the three, he at least started the final three games of the season. All three walk into 2023 with huge question marks surrounding their games and futures.
Matt Cassel is a former NFL quarterback who played with seven teams in his NFL career, most notably the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, and Dallas Cowboys. Follow him on Twitter at @M_Cassel16.
Top 5 Show-Stopping Quarterback Performances From 2022 NFL Season
Now that Super Bowl LVII is over, I’ve taken the time to go back and look at some really good individual-game quarterback performances from the 2022 NFL season. My top five are all set, but before we get to those, there were other performances that merited strong consideration.
Jacoby Brissett, Cleveland Browns
Cooper Rush, Dallas Cowboys
These two aren’t really for single-game performances but for a stretch of games by quarterbacks who subbed for their team’s starter under difficult circumstances.
Jacoby Brissett started the first 11 games of the season in place of Deshaun Watson, who was suspended. Even though the Cleveland Browns went 4-7 in that time, Brissett did some good things. He put his team in a position to have a chance to win each week. He completed 64 percent of his passes and threw twice as many touchdowns as interceptions (12-6).
In fact, the Browns scored 23 points per game with Brissett under center, compared to 16 points per game with Watson.
Dak Prescott went down in Week 1, and Cooper Rush came in for five weeks and played solid football for the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, they went 4-1, and the only loss was to the Philadelphia Eagles, 26-17.
Rush really handled a difficult situation well and kept the Cowboys very competitive in Prescott’s absence.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Wild-Card Round vs. L.A. Chargers
The first year in Jacksonville for Trevor Lawrence was a train wreck, thanks to Urban Meyer with all that nonsense. Doug Pederson came in this year as the coach. The results initially weren’t good as the team struggled to a 2-6 start, but the Jacksonville Jaguars played their best football in the second half of the season, going 7-2 to win the AFC South.
Lawrence really turned the corner at the midpoint of the season. But I was so impressed with what I saw in that wild-card game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The first half was a disaster; four interceptions, and the Jaguars trailed, 27-0, at one point. In the second half, a different Lawrence came out. It was just terrific — three touchdowns in the 31-30 win to advance to the divisional round.
I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen from Lawrence in Year 2. I think great things are in store for Pederson, Lawrence and the Jaguars in 2023.
Chad Henne, Kansas City Chiefs
Divisional Round vs. Jacksonville
I’ve got to tip my hat to Chad Henne. How many quarterbacks win a Super Bowl, have a Bud Light and then announce they’re going to retire? I’ve always had great respect for Henne and his body of work. He was always able to come in at a moment’s notice, despite not getting practice reps, and play at a high level.
Look what he did in the playoffs. He came off the bench vs. Jacksonville (in a 27-20 divisional-round victory). The Kansas City Chiefs put together a 98-yard drive. They finished it with a touchdown pass in the red zone. Coach Andy Reid called a pass on the very first play of that drive at their 2-yard line. That speaks volumes about the confidence he had in Henne. It’s always good to have a veteran quarterback who can step in at a moment’s notice and keep things running smoothly. That’s Henne.
Mike White, New York Jets
Week 12 vs. Chicago
The New York Jets were winning games despite the struggles of Zach Wilson at quarterback. Specifically, they were winning a lot of close games. When Mike White entered in Week 12 against the Chicago Bears, he elevated the Jets’ offense and made it look completely different.
Even in the first half, you could see they were clicking offensively in the passing game in the rain. Despite the rain and some messy conditions, he went 22-of-29 for 315 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He got hurt a few weeks later, but White did some really good things for the Jets.
Best of the Best
5. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Week 7 vs. Atlanta
When you think about how the Cincinnati Bengals season started the first two games, I didn’t think Joe Burrow would make it to Week 7. The first two games were bad for Burrow and bad for the Bengals. He was sacked 13 times. They lost Week 1 to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they lost Week 2 to the Los Angeles Rams, but they got the protections straightened out.
Burrow wound up having an All-Pro season, but in Week 7 vs. the Atlanta Falcons, he put on a show. He completed 81 percent of his passes for 481 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Burrow is the real deal. The past two seasons, the Bengals made it to the AFC Championship Game, and Burrow is a big reason why.
4. Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Week 17 vs. Indianapolis
One of the most improved players in the NFL this season was the New York Giants‘ Daniel Jones. We saw steady progress from him under coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka.
Week 17 was a monumental game for Jones vs. the Indianapolis Colts. He did it all. He made a lot of big plays in the passing game, and he made plays with his feet. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for two touchdowns to lead the Giants to the playoffs.
He played well two weeks later against the Minnesota Vikings in a 31-24 wild-card victory, passing for 301 yards and two touchdowns and running for 78 yards.
3. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Week 2 at Baltimore
The Miami Dolphins got off to a good start, but in Week 2, on the road against the Baltimore Ravens, they were trailing 21-0 at the half. Tua Tagovailoa‘s first-half numbers were ugly. He had two interceptions.
The Dolphins came out of the locker room in the second half and there was a different Tagovailoa. He completed 80 percent of his passes and had 319 passing yards, along with five second-half touchdown passes and no turnovers.
Tagovailoa just has to stay healthy in 2023.
2. Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers
Week 13 vs. Miami
The moment I saw Brock Purdy in that Week 13 game against Miami after Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt, I thought, there’s a guy that comes in at a moment’s notice, a rookie, and looked poised, played good football, took care of the football, and it didn’t seem like the moment was too big for him.
He went a perfect 7-0 before getting injured in the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Look at his numbers: he completed 67 percent of his passes, threw for 16 touchdowns and had just four interceptions. Purdy got it done every week for the San Francisco 49ers. It was an impressive season for Mr. Irrelevant.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
(tie) Week 1 at Arizona, Week 7 at San Francisco
If you’re the league MVP and the Super Bowl MVP, it’s hard to pick just one week with a guy like Patrick Mahomes. He did it all for the Kansas City Chiefs. I’m going to pick two games from the regular season.
How about Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals? Mahomes put on what I would refer to as a freak show. I mean, a real freak show. He went out and threw for 360 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in a 44-21 victory. I loved everything about Mahomes in this game.
How about Week 7, going up against the best defense in football, the San Francisco 49ers? He completed 74 percent of his passes and had 423 passing yards against DeMeco Ryans’ defense in a 44-23 victory. Nobody else did that this season. The 49ers had the No. 1 defense in football, the No. 1 scoring defense in football, and Nick Bosa led the league in sacks with 18.5. And yet Mahomes went out and threw for 423 yards and three touchdowns. It was an amazing season once again from the game’s best.
Rich Gannon played 18 seasons in the NFL and won the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2002 when he led the Oakland Raiders to Super Bowl XXXVII. Follow him on Twitter at @RichGannon12.
2023 NFL Free Agency: Top Free Agent Tight Ends
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