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Fantasy Football: Sleeper tight ends for 2022

Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions strong safety Duron Harmon (26) tackles Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith (84) during the second quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Only six tight ends in the NFL have consistently been elite fantasy football options since becoming starters. In 2022, the players going 7-10 at the position come with some risk: each scored plenty of touchdowns last year but will likely see regression this season.

Fantasy drafters who miss out on the first six tight ends in 2022 will be best suited to wait. For those who wait until after the first 10 or so tight ends are off the board, here are three sleeper tight ends who can add some much needed upside to your roster. 

Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings (Bestball10s ADP: 12.04)

Smith was the 50th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and spent the majority of his first two seasons as the Vikings' second tight end behind Kyle Rudolph, primarily playing in two- or three-tight-end sets.

Smith had a breakout game in Week 9 of 2020, scoring two touchdowns on just 22 snaps but left the game early with an injury. He missed three of the next four games. When he returned, Rudolph was out. Smith was the fourth-highest-scoring tight end over that four-week stretch.

He was poised to be the starter in 2021 with Rudolph in New York, but a meniscus injury in the last week of the preseason cost Smith the entire 2021 season. He was a full participant in the team’s minicamp, so he’s already good to go for the 2022 season.

The Vikings added head coach Kevin O’Connell this offseason from the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams targeted their tight ends more often than the Vikings over the last two seasons. O’Connell spent time as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in Washington (2017-2019) and Cleveland (2015), and both teams were top-10 in targeting tight ends during his tenure.

Smith also lacks competition for targets. His backups have a combined 11 career receptions over eight seasons. The Vikings have strong starters at wide receiver but lack depth. Smith should have no problem finding targets and would see a nice increase in the case of an injury to a starting wide receiver.

The 23-year-old can be a TE1 this season from volume alone. If he can more fully live up to his draft status and see the improvement you expect from someone his age, he could be the steal of the draft.

Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos (ADP: 13.02)

Okwuegbunam was selected with the 118th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Missouri. He didn't see playing time until Week 6 and then played 86 total offensive snaps over four games. In that time, he earned an 83.2 overall PFF grade. He was a solid blocker and dominated with a 28.3% target share, leading to three explosive catches. He tore his ACL during the fourth game, ending his season.

Okwuegbunam returned as the Broncos' No. 2 tight end in 2021. He outperformed starter Noah Fant on a per-play basis, allowing Denver to trade Fant away in the Russell Wilson trade.

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