Welcome to the final day of “Sleeper Week.” We’ve offered you a handful of sleeper picks for quarterback, running back and receiver so far. Today we tackle the tight ends.
The term “sleeper” has different meanings for different people in the world of fantasy football. Some folks believe it’s simply a player who will outperform his draft position. Others think it’s a relatively unknown or once forgotten player who unexpectedly emerges or re-emerges into a useful fantasy option.
In my opinion, both definitions are true but with a caveat. I don’t see a player as a sleeper if he’s already been a valuable fantasy asset during his career. For example, Aaron Rodgers or D’Andre Swift aren’t “sleepers” to me. Is Rodgers coming off a down year? Yes, but that doesn’t make him a sleeper. The same goes for Swift, who has been considered a top-30 overall pick in the past.
Could these players be labeled as bargains in upcoming fantasy drafts? Absolutely. But they’re certainly not “sleepers” based on my definition. I also consider some rookies to be sleepers, as these players could outperform their draft position and have obviously never yet produced in the pros.
With that in mind, here’s five sleeper tight ends to target in the late rounds who could be better than we’re expecting in 2023.
Irv Smith Jr., Bengals
Smith has been a fantasy sleeper in the past, but he’s never met expectations mostly due to injuries. Now in Cincinnati, the veteran has landed in a good spot in an explosive offense that will score a ton of points. Smith won’t be the most reliable tight end because of the sheer number of weapons, but he could turn into a nice late round, matchup-based No. 2 tight end in drafts.
Sam LaPorta, Lions
LaPorta is the latest in a very long line of solid, pass-catching tight ends to come out of Iowa. In fact, he’ll replace another Hawkeye, T.J. Hockenson, who was traded last season, as Detroit’s projected starter. He might not be a consistent point producer, but the Lions like to use their tight ends in the offense and LaPorta certainly has the most upside on the roster. He's worth a late-round selection.
Michael Mayer, Raiders
Mayer, considered the best all-around tight end in the entire 2023 draft class, was surprisingly the third player picked at his position. He still landed in a great spot with the Raiders, who traded Darren Waller to the Giants and have a need at tight end. While veterans Austin Hooper and O.J. Howard are on the depth chart, Mayer has the highest ceiling of this tight end trio.
Jelani Woods, Colts
Woods popped a few times as a rookie, including a huge game against the Steelers where he caught eight passes and scored 17.8 fantasy points. A huge target at 6’7” and 253 pounds, Woods could become a nice option in the short, intermediate and red-zone areas for rookie Anthony Richardson. He’ll be worth a late-round look as a low-end No. 2 fantasy option with some upside.
Trey McBride, Cardinals
McBride didn’t do much as a rookie from a statistical perspective, but he did have a huge game in fantasy championship week against the Falcons. In that contest, he put up seven catches, a touchdown and scored nearly 21 fantasy points. While much of his value will depend on the return of Zach Ertz from an injured knee, McBride could hold some early-season value in 2023.