2023 NFL Free Agent Rankings: Tight ends

Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz (86) brings in a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports

With the new league year just around the corner, it's time for all 32 NFL teams to turn their attention to NFL free agency in a bid to improve their rosters for a new campaign.

Here are the top free agents at tight end, taken from PFF's free agency rankings

Editor's note: For up-to-the-minute updates based on everything we’re hearing around the NFL, go to PFF's free agency rankings, where you can sort by position, team needs, and more all offseason long.

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QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | iOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S

1. TE Dalton Schultz

Contract projection: Available in PFF's free agency rankings

Schultz had a very slow start to the year, in part due to the absence of quarterback Dak Prescott, but came on strong in the middle of the season. From Week 7 to Week 12, his 83.5 grade ranked third among tight ends, including a 76.8 receiving grade and an 82.5 run-blocking grade to go along with 2.11 yards per route run (fourth), 230 receiving yards (fifth), three contested catches (tied fourth) and three touchdowns (fifth).

Schultz’s ceiling may not be the highest, but he’s a reliable pass catcher who can find soft spots in zone coverage and a plus run blocker in a league that has very few of them at the tight end position. He could turn into a good value as a second-tier signing a bit below the top of the market. 

2. TE Evan Engram

Contract projection: Available in PFF's free agency rankings


Engram landed in Jacksonville on a one-year, $9 million flier for the 2022 season after a rocky tenure with the New York Giants marred by some inopportune drops. The Giants were asking Engram to block as an inline tight end and do a lot of things that didn’t match his skill set very well, but Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson had a much better plan for him in Jacksonville, and he put up a career year in the process. 

Engram’s 73 receptions were tied for the third most among tight ends, his 766 receiving yards ranked fourth and his 481 yards after the catch placed second. Even with an uptick in targets, Engram had a career-low 3.9% dropped pass percentage, good for a top-15 mark among tight ends with at least 25 targets on the season. 

3. TE Mike Gesicki

Contract projection: Available in PFF's free agency rankings

The Dolphins’ decision to place the franchise tag on Gesicki last year made very little sense given the implementation of new head coach Mike McDaniel’s offense that represented a terrible fit for his skill set, and those exact fears played out. As frustrating as it probably was for Gesicki to get tagged — as it is for any player — in hindsight it wasn’t the worst thing for him to earn $10.931 million and stay healthy heading into free agency once again.

4. TE Hayden Hurst

Contract projection: Available in PFF's free agency rankings

Hurst was undoubtedly over-drafted as a first-round selection in 2018, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad player — far from it. There’s a reason the Atlanta Falcons traded a second-round pick for Hurst just two years later, and while his tenure there didn’t go as planned — which led to him signing a one-year, $3.5 million flier with the Cincinnati Bengals — he finally had a complete season with the Bengals in 2022.

Hurst has just five drops in his career on 190 regular-season targets deemed catchable, with his 2.6% drop rate the third lowest among tight ends over the span. He was an important piece of the Bengals’ passing attack in the postseason, securing at least four receptions and 35 yards in all three contests.

5. TE Austin Hooper

Contract projection: Available in PFF's free agency rankings

The Cleveland Browns released Hooper before the final year of his first multi-year contract, but he landed on his feet in Tennessee and progressively got better as the year went on. From Week 7 through the end of the season, Hooper's 80.1 receiving grade ranked sixth among qualifying tight ends, while his 24 first-down conversions and 11 explosive receptions were top-10 marks at the position over the second half of the campaign.

The seven-year veteran also had the lowest drop rate of his career at 2.4%, with just one drop on 56 targets. He wasn’t just finding soft spots in zone coverage and racking up yards after the catch, either, as he hauled in nine of his 14 contested targets. His 64.3% contested catch rate finished fifth-best among tight ends with at least five contested targets on the season.

Despite entering his eighth NFL season, Hooper will be just 28 years old for the first month of the year, younger than the likes of Evan Engram and Hayden Hurst. He should be in line for another solid multi-year payday.

6. TE Foster Moreau

Contract projection: Available in PFF's free agency rankings

Moreau didn't quite take advantage of the extended absence of fellow Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller in 2022, a seemingly golden opportunity in a contract year with other pass catchers commanding attention. That said, he still set career highs with 33 receptions and 420 receiving yards, with his 7.3 yards after the catch per reception tied for the seventh-highest mark among tight ends on the year.

Moreau isn't going to create much separation or consistently win on contested balls, but he can rack up yards after the catch as a physical open-field rumbler and is an OK blocker.

7. TE Irv Smith Jr.

Contract projection: Available in PFF's free agency rankings

Smith once again missed significant time with injury last season, which pushed the Minnesota Vikings to trade for T.J. Hockenson. Unfortunately, this has become a theme in his young career. However, he is not that far removed from a standout college career that saw him earn an 86.9 receiving grade in 2018, eighth among college tight ends. In that same year, his 360 yards after the catch ranked sixth, his seven touchdowns tied for fourth and his 16 explosive receptions of 15 or more yards tied for eighth.

Smith has become one of those players who generates buzz in training camp and is then unable to put his talent on display on Sundays. But if he can, he could be a pleasant surprise for a number of teams in 2023.

8. TE Robert Tonyan

Contract projection: Available in PFF's free agency rankings

9. TE Marcedes Lewis

Contract projection: Available in PFF's free agency rankings

10. TE Josh Oliver

Contract projection: Available in PFF's free agency rankings


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