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It wasn’t a banner week for the sleeper tight ends of the NFL, but we sure made the most of our picks in Week 12. Pat Freiermuth, Jake Ferguson, David Njoku and Michael Mayer averaged 10.5 fantasy points this week. Freiermuth finished as the TE1 of the week, scoring 22 fantasy points as the Pittsburgh Steelers finally skated past the 400 total yards marker for the first time in a lifetime.
As long as we thank the tight end Gods, things will be fruitful in Week 13. However, let’s remain pragmatic and see who’s worth a start this week. With T.J. Hockenson on a bye week and Mark Andrews officially on injured reserve (IR), we’ll use every option we have.
Opponent: Detroit Lions
Juwan Johnson hasn’t been featured in this column as often as we expected in the preseason. He was supposed to be the sleeper tight end heading into the 2023 season. That hasn’t materialized for a multitude of reasons, but there’s still hope that Johnson can be startable moving forward.
As the current TE38 while averaging just 5.45 fantasy points per game, it’s hard to justify. Johnson has just one top-12 tight end finish this season when he caught five passes for 29 yards and a touchdown against the Chicago Bears back in Week 9. However, Johnson is coming off a season-high in targets (seven) and receiving yards (49) against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12. His increased production came down to injuries to Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed, so there is a caveat heading into Week 13.
Michael Thomas is already on IR, and Shaheed is projected to be sidelined for the game against the Detroit Lions. If Olave misses the game due to the concussion suffered last week, then Johnson likely becomes the top passing option outside of Alvin Kamara. His 18% matchup advantage against Jack Campbell, his likely primary defender, certainly helps make us feel a little better about Johnson’s chances this week too.
Opponent: Carolina Panthers
Cade Otton has been one of the steadiest tight end performers since Week 7, averaging 10 fantasy points per game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For those of you who keep track, we picked Otton after his breakout game against the Houston Texans in Week 9 when he scored a career-high 22 fantasy points. Hopefully, this isn’t a jinx.
In the last three games, Otton has been targeted just 12 times – 14th-most among all tight ends – but he’s also played more passing downs (128) and averaged 10.4 yards per reception during that stretch. Baker Mayfield isn’t just using Otton as an underneath route, he’s able to work the intermediate and deeper parts of the field a little more. His 6.5 yards after the catch per reception is also solid too.
The Buccaneers take on the Panthers this week, and it’s a defense that’s allowing the third-most points in the NFL this season (26.5), which always bodes well. Per our matchup tool, Otton also has a slight 9% matchup advantage this week. There’s a good chance he remains consistent in the Buccaneers offense.
Opponent: Indianapolis Colts
An interesting choice here. Chigoziem Okonkwo was another popular preseason sleeper choice for many. The second-year tight end had a pretty impressive late-season run with the Titans last season, and many expected him to continue that form into 2023, especially for a passing attack that was crying out for playmakers.
Like many preseason darlings, Okonkwo hasn’t translated that offseason hype into tangible production, but he had his best fantasy performance of the season in Week 12 against the Carolina Panthers, so we’re banking on a bit more linear growth. Is it concerning that he only played 53% of the Titans' offensive snaps? Absolutely, but he earned five targets in that time, catching four passes for 45 yards and finishing as the TE16 with 8.5 fantasy points.
Parlaying that into a productive performance in Week 13 against the Colts isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The Colts are allowing the seventh-most fantasy points per game to tight ends in 2023, and even though Okonkwo has a 10% matchup disadvantage this week, we’re confident he can come up trumps.
Opponent: Arizona Cardinals
Is picking the TE1 from a week ago cheating? Who cares? There’s a chance people still don’t believe in the Steelers' offense sans Matt Canada, and that’s completely fair. They still only scored 16 points despite racking up 400-plus yards of total offense, and that’s a little concerning. This is just a team that struggles to put the ball in the end zone.
However, Freiermuth exploded back onto the scene with a nine-catch, 120-yard performance in Week 13. Freiermuth, and the running game, were the most impressive aspects of the Steelers' win. And with a favorable matchup against a struggling Cardinals defense in Week 13, expect to see Freiermuth feature heavily again.
Per our matchup tool, Freiermuth also has the second-most favorable matchup advantage this week — a massive 43% advantage over his primary defender Josh Woods. Those sorts of advantages don’t come around often – and one more game of solid production means Freiermuth likely won’t be a tight end sleeper for too much longer. Take what you can get, even if it’s a cop-out pick.