The 2023 NFL Draft is two days away, so let's dive into the most exciting topic possible – deep-cut tight ends. Well, maybe it’s not that exciting at face value. But we also have to remember that George Kittle was a fifth-round pick and was drafted because the San Francisco 49ers took his college teammate/roommate in the third round. Mark Andrews wasn’t even the first tight end drafted by his own team. Darren Waller wasn’t even a tight end when he was initially drafted. There is gold in those later rounds of the NFL Draft, so sorting out the tight end sleepers and busts for our dynasty rookie rankings and 2023 fantasy football rankings is an important part of this process – and a potentially lucrative one. As you check out NFL mock drafts or prepare for fantasy football drafts, be sure to keep these incoming TE rookies in mind. Let's take a look at some under-the-radar 2023 NFL Draft tight end prospects who could be starring in your dynasty fantasy football lineups one day. 

If you missed it, check out more positional scouting reports for the 2023 NFL Draft:

 

As far as actual dynasty rookie rankings go, there are three pieces to the puzzle. There is college production, which can be evaluated via stats and film. We’re looking for gaudy numbers, success vs. man-to-man, chunk plays, broken tackles, etc. The second piece is workout metrics. Size, speed, relative athletic score (RAS), SPARQ-X score, etc. And the final piece, which we don’t have yet at the time of this article, is draft data. That includes draft capital, landing spot (with scheme), and draft narrative (trades, how many tight ends get drafted before, etc.).

We have two pieces of the puzzle and will get the third with the draft later this week. We just did a write-up on the five tight end prospects we like best. So what we are basically doing here is looking around at the early opinions of the community and separating the guys whose profile we like for fantasy football from those that we don’t like. “Sleepers” are guys we believe are undervalued and “busts” are the guys where we don’t really understand the hype. After the draft, we’ll recalibrate. 

2023 NFL Draft Tight End Prospect Sleepers

Elijah Higgins, Stanford

The most popular meme for the tight end position is “Did you know he played basketball?” We’re all tired of it but it’s a joke that resonates for a reason - athletic specimens that convert to tight end have succeeded time and time again. Antonio Gates DID play basketball. So did Jimmy Graham. Logan Thomas played quarterback. Darren Waller played wide receiver. It makes all the sense in the world that taking a big, athletic dude and teaching him to play tight end would often result in a guy that does more pass-catching than blocking. And does it well.

In comes draft prospect and former Stanford wide receiver Elijah Higgins. He said himself at the combine that teams have asked him to play tight end at the next level. And that he’s been preparing for that by watching Evan Engram. I mean, Higgins lined up at slot 497 times, in-line 24 times, and out wide only 100 times so he’s already played a role that is no different than we’ve seen from guys like Mike Gesicki. His yardage total last year would be third-best behind Dalton Kincaid and Michael Mayer. And, at 6’3” 235 with a 4.54 forty, he’s essentially a slightly faster version of Juwan Johnson (another WR converted to TE). Most tight ends aren’t fantasy relevant for a year or two anyway and taxi squad spots don’t have positions tied to them in most cases so I’m just throwing Higgins in there and hoping he gets the eligibility. Just imagine these workout metrics below (via PlayerProfiler.com) when you compare him to other tight ends. We love Sam LaPorta who is 6’3” 245 and ran a 4.59 (who is also expected to play primarily out the slot). The risk of course is that Higgins doesn’t get TE eligibility but most of these guys won’t be fantasy relevant at all anyway so who cares? The floor for all these guys is zero, might as well aim high.

Will Mallory, Miami

Since we are talking about athletic tight ends to gamble on, we might as well talk about Will Mallory next. Technically, Elijah Higgins is still classified as a wide receiver so Will Mallory ran the fastest combine forty time of any of the tight ends with a 4.54 (95th percentile, for his size at 6’5”, per PlayerProfiler). On tape it’s not only easy to see how he utilizes his athleticism to his advantage but I was also impressed by his spatial awareness and his ability to find “creases” amongst defenders with the ball in his hands. He has a sneaky ability to gain extra yards to end plays. That type of body control and cognitive ability is what separates playmakers from the guys who simply get the yards in front of them and go down.

The knocks on him are his age and “lack of production” but he was behind NFL player Brevin Jordan early on and was top 10 in yards for tight ends last season. The industry seems to really like Luke Musgrave despite his lack of production. And, if we are going to give Musgrave “pedigree” points for his famous uncle Bill Musgrave, maybe we should consider that Will Mallory’s father Mike coaches for the Denver Broncos, his uncle Doug coached for the Atlanta Falcons, and his other uncle Curt is the head coach of Indiana State. So maybe Will Mallory should get TRIPLE pedigree points for that.

 

Josh Whyle, Cincinnati 

It’s no secret that this tight-end class is blessed with athletic monsters. So why not continue to take stabs at the ones that skew the direction we like? Here is a look at the Relative Athletic Score chart for Josh Whyle, from RAS.football.