The best way to fill the tight end spot on your fantasy roster is with someone who is only barely, technically — by the loosest possible definition — a tight end.
That is to say, you want to find a player who is essentially just a very large wide receiver, running routes on every snap, only occasionally engaged in blocking. Last year's highest-scoring fantasy tight end, Mark Andrews, led his position in slot snaps by a mile. He ran a route on 93.0 percent of all pass snaps according to PFF. Travis Kelce wasn't far behind (90.4%). Kyle Pitts was at 92.4 percent and rarely found himself in-line.
But these guys have all been licensed and certified by Tight End University, so we can't argue with their position designation.
Honestly, we might want to consider scrapping this positional requirement from fantasy leagues entirely. Andrews, Kelce, Pitts and various others would still be started as flexes, of course. If you didn't have to fill this sham of a spot in your weekly lineup, then you wouldn't have to mess around with end-of-draft fliers like these guys ...
Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears
It hasn't been a clinic at all times with Kmet in his first two seasons, but this is a notoriously slow-developing roster spot. Last year, Kmet was targeted 14 times in the red zone yet never scored a touchdown. But he's made a few highlight catches for the Bears, despite a mostly dreadful offensive environment:
After Chicago spent its offseason collecting various unwanted and undistinguished receivers discarded by other teams, Kmet finds himself well-positioned to see 100-plus targets in 2022. He saw the eighth-most slot snaps among tight ends last season on pass plays and finished eighth at his position in targets as well (93). Jimmy Graham had been a minor nuisance, but he's now out of the team picture. Bears OC Luke Getsy has consistently and aggressively talked up Kmet throughout camp, for those who care about such things.
Evan Engram, Jacksonville Jaguars
It's not unusual to see a tight end's breakout occur with his second team, so let's please keep an open mind with Engram. The reporter drumbeat on Engram has been steady and positive this summer—here's one example, here's another and here's yet another. It should go without saying that he's made more than his share of regrettable plays in recent seasons, but that's why he's available at such a deep discount.
Almost 70 percent of his snaps on passing plays came from the slot last season, so he's one of those dudes who's a tight end on the depth chart, but exclusively a receiving threat. Jacksonville's offense isn't burdened with too many elite receivers, so there's a huge opportunity ahead for Engram. He's clearly been a camp favorite for Trevor Lawrence.
Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Here's another tight end who basically never spends a moment pass-blocking. We don't need Brate to claim all or even most of the re-retired Rob Gronkowski's targets from last season (7.4 per game). If he can simply find an additional 25-30, he can make plenty of fantasy noise. Brate has seen 75 or more targets in just two seasons (2016-17) and he scored 14 total touchdowns in those years. Nineteen of his 57 targets last season were in the red zone, which tied him with Dawson Knox for the fourth most among all tight ends. Brate and Kyle Rudolph can certainly coexist. No one's going to fight you for him, either. His quarterback led the NFL in pass attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns last season, so the team context is pretty decent too.
Hayden Hurst, Cincinnati Bengals
So many underneath layups should be available to Hurst in Cincinnati's loaded offense. He's made plenty of noise in camp to this point:
2. Another day, another TD catch for TE Hayden Hurst who is off to a good start in his 1st Bengals camp.
“I was shocked with how smooth he was in and out of his breaks,” said Tyler Boyd. “Once he gets fundamentally sound in the offense, I think that’s when we’ll see him explode.” pic.twitter.com/evD0fAYZJB
— Dan Hoard (@Dan_Hoard) August 1, 2022
Let's remember that C.J. Uzomah emerged as a threat for the Bengals last season, catching 49 balls for 493 yards and five spikes. Hurst is fully capable of exceeding those totals. He's a former first-rounder stepping into an upper-tier offense, now connected to a quarterback with 5,000-yard upside. It would be mildly surprising if he doesn't finish with at least 600 yards and a six-pack of touchdowns.
Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts
After re-signing to a three-year deal in the offseason, Alie-Cox finds himself at the top of the depth chart on a team that doesn't have a well-established No. 2 receiving option. His snaps and targets have risen steadily over the past four seasons and they might very well spike in 2022. The Colts have upgraded their quarterback situation and Alie-Cox definitely seems to be a fan of the move. It's not difficult to see a path to 75 or more targets for the fifth-year tight end, which would be a substantial jump from any prior season.