2022 Free Agency Preview: Tight Ends


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2022 Free Agency Preview: Tight Ends

The official start to the 2022 NFL season is quickly approaching with the league year and free agency opening at 4 p.m. on March 16. Teams will be able to begin signing free agents and any trades agreed to prior to the new league year will become official starting on that date.

There are a couple of other key dates to remember before the league year officially kicks off. Teams had to designate franchise players by March 8. The NFL also has a legal negotiating window from March 14-16 when teams can start contacting and negotiating with the agents of unrestricted free agents. We’ll hear of some deals breaking throughout that window, even though they can’t become official until 4 p.m. on March 16.

With that said, it’s time to start breaking down the 2022 free agency class, which includes top tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz, and Evan Engram. Be sure to follow Fantasy Points throughout free agency for in-depth breakdowns of every major (and minor) move. We’ll be tracking every off-season transaction from a fantasy perspective through our “Off-season Tracker” articles and Graham Barfield’s “Fantasy Fallout” pieces. We’ll also be constantly updating our Best Ball rankings if you’re looking to get an early start to draft season.

NOTE: Players are loosely ranked based on talent, age, plus previous and expected future fantasy relevance.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Free Agency information courtesy of OverTheCap.com

Potentially Fantasy Relevant

Rob Gronkowski (TB, 33) — Gronk already cemented his spot among the greatest TEs in NFL history during his run with Tom Brady in New England, and he’s only added to his legacy with his performance the last two seasons in Tampa Bay. He’s still among the league’s best TEs entering his age-33 season and he’ll decide this off-season if he wants to add to his legacy even more, potentially without Brady for the first time in his career. Gronk posted 55/802/6 receiving (14.6 YPR) on 89 targets (17.6% share) to finish as the TE3 with 14.3 FPG. He also played 76% of the snaps in his 12 contests, missing five contests because of rib and back injuries. He tied for the second-highest aDOT (10.9) among TEs who saw 40+ targets last season, ranking behind only 21-year-old Kyle Pitts at 11.2 yards. Gronk has already “retired” once in 2019 and he hasn’t indicated if he’ll even play in 2022, but just about every Super Bowl contender would take Gronk on their roster in a heartbeat if he decides to play another season.

Potential landing spot: Gronk will be the most sought-after tight end who is looking for a short-term contract. That’s if Gronk is even looking to play in 2022 after his boy Brady retired this off-season. It wouldn’t be surprising if Gronk waits to sign with a contender later in the off-season to keep his options open and to see if Brady changes his mind about retirement. Gronk would be welcome on just about any contender like the Bills (hometown team), Bengals (loves Burrow), or Raiders (McDaniels new HC), but the Titans are the most intriguing landing spot. The Titans would get the most out of his blocking skills and they lacked passing-game weapons last season. It doesn’t hurt that the Titans have the Patriots’ connection with Mike Vrabel, and it’s easy to envision Gronk should have some good times living in Nashville.

Eric Ebron (Pit, 29) — The Steelers drafted Pat Freiermuth in the second round last year, which effectively started the timer on Ebron’s brief run as Pittsburgh’s top TE. The end came a little quicker than expected with the Penn State product excelling relatively quickly for a rookie TE. Ebron posted just 12/84/1 receiving (7.0 YPR) on 18 targets (5.6% share) while playing just 45% of the snaps in eight contests. Ebron missed a pair of games with a hamstring injury before he underwent season-ending knee surgery later in the year, which knocked him out for the final seven games and the postseason. He tweeted in mid-February that he’s been medically cleared, but the Steelers started moving on from him last season. It’s difficult to see him getting a major role/contract in free agency but, with a little help, he’s still a player who could be heard from in fantasy at some point in the future.

Jared Cook (LAC, 35) — Cook could join his sixth team in eight years this off-season after he replaced Hunter Henry as the Chargers’ top TE in 2021. He’s the rare player who has posted by far his best fantasy seasons since turning 30 years old in 2017, and he’s benefitted from playing with the likes of Justin Herbert, Drew Brees, Derek Carr, and Aaron Rodgers in that span. He posted 48/564/4 receiving (11.8 YPR) on 83 targets (13.6% share) to finish as the TE18 with 8.3 FPG last season. Cook played on just 57% of the snaps in 16 games but he ran the 11th-most routes (477) among TEs last season. He also had the eighth-highest aDOT (8.9) among TEs who saw 40+ targets last season thanks to playing with Herbert, but he averaged fewer than 12 YPR for the first time since his final season with the Titans in 2012. Cook still moves well for his age but he showed some signs of slowing down last season. He’s hardly a priority free agent since the Chargers have the toolsy Donald Parham and 2021 third-round pick Tre’ McKitty waiting in the wings in Los Angeles, but they could bring him back on a reasonable one-year deal if they aren’t quite ready to hand the keys to their younger TEs.

Jimmy Graham (Chi, 36) — Graham was among the elite fantasy TE options when he played with Drew Brees, recording 85+ catches and 9 + touchdowns in four straight seasons from 2011-14. Graham is no longer a mismatch nightmare all over the field, and he’s developed into a goal-line-only threat in his mid-30s. He played just 27% of the snaps in 15 games behind Cole Kmet last season, and he managed only 14 catches but three of them went for touchdowns for an anemic Bears’ passing game. Graham saw just 5% of Chicago’s targets and 4.8% of their air yards in 2021, but he scored 19% of their passing touchdowns (3 of 16), which came a year after he scored 31% of their passing touchdowns (8 of 26). Graham is nothing more than a fantasy nightmare at this stage of his career, and his presence will be a slight downgrade for the fantasy TE he plays behind this season.

Anthony Firkser (Ten, 27) — Firkser is more of a big slot receiver than he is a true in-line TE, running 69.4% of his routes from the slot the last two seasons. He finished with career-highs in routes (279) and snap share (39%), but it didn’t translate into fantasy success with just 34/291/2 receiving on 43 targets. He had just three games with 10+ FP in 15 tries in Tennessee’s run-heavy offense. Firkser saw both his YPR (14.6>9.9>8.6) and his aDOT (12.0>7.1>6.2) plummet over the course of the last three seasons. Firkser is a slot-only TE whose efficiency has declined the last three seasons so it’s hard to imagine he’ll have much of a market this off-season.

Chris Herndon (Min, 26) — Herndon has vanished since once being a trendy late-round fantasy sleeper after a strong finish to his rookie campaign in 2018. He posted 39/502/4 receiving in 16 games as a rookie compared to just 36/334/4 receiving in 33 games over the last three years. The Vikings acquired Herndon and a sixth-round pick in exchange for a fourth-round pick from the Jets just before the start of last season after Irv Smith needed season-ending meniscus surgery. He managed just 4/40/1 receiving while playing just 17% of the snaps in 16 games as Tyler Conklin’s top backup. It’s looking likely that Herndon was a half-year fantasy option, but he’s still young enough that we can’t completely close the book on his fantasy relevance.

Jordan Akins (Hou, 30) — Akins is entering just his fifth season but he’ll turn 30 years old in April. He spent four seasons in the Texas Rangers minor league system in 2010-13 before playing college football at UCF, and the Texans eventually drafted him in the third round of the 2018 draft. Akins flirted with fantasy relevance at times when Deshaun Watson directed the offense in 2020, but he found himself glued to the bench at the end of 2021 with Houston taking a longer look at rookie Brevin Jordan. Akins finished with a three-year low in receiving production, posting 24/214/0 receiving on 33 targets. He also saw his snap share plummet to 39% in 13 games with the Texans making him a healthy scratch in four games. Akins will look to latch on as a depth receiving TE in free agency.

Kyle Rudolph (NYG, 33) — The new Giants’ regime cut Rudolph in early March in one of their first moves to shed salary. He managed just 26/275/1 receiving on 39 targets in his first and only season with the Giants. Rudolph became a part-time player for the first time in his career, posting a 48% snap share in 16 games. He maxed out at 9.2 FP against the Chiefs in Week 8 and he averaged fewer than 10 YPR for the fourth time in his last five seasons. Rudolph is in the twilight of his career heading into his 12th season, and he’ll be relegated to a blocking role as a #2 TE wherever he lands.

Other UFAs

James O’Shaughnessy (Jax, 30)

Tyler Kroft (NYJ, 30)

Ross Dwelley (SF, 27)

Stephen Anderson (LAC, 29)

Jesse James (Chi, 28)

MyCole Pruitt (Ten, 30)

Demetrius Harris (Ari, 31)

Lee Smith (Atl, 35)

Derek Carrier (LV, 32)

Darrell Daniel (Ari, 28)

Levine Toilolo (NYG, 31)

Troy Fumagalli (NE, 27)

Luke Stocker (Min, 34)

Eric Saubert (Den, 28)

Jason Croom (Phi, 28)

Restricted Free Agents

Free Agency information courtesy of OverTheCap.com

Potentially Fantasy Relevant

Other RFAs

Kahale Warring (Jax, 25)

Dominique Dafney (GB, 25) — Dafney is an exclusive rights free agent.

Jaeden GrahamTE (Atl, 27)

J.P. Holtz (Chi, 29)

Stephen Carlson (Cle, 26)

Dylan Cantrell (Was, 28) — Cantrell is an exclusive rights free agent.

Rashod Berry (Det, 26) — Berry is an exclusive rights free agent.

Mitchell Wilcox (Cin, 26) — Wilcox is an exclusive rights free agent.

Tom is a Senior Writer at Fantasy Points who specializes in fantasy and betting analysis. He’ll be helping you to navigate the waiver wire and manage your fantasy teams while also keeping our betting content robust all year long, especially during the season. Tom's Best Bets against the spread won at 64.3% clip last season and he owned the last undefeated team out of 3000 entries in Scott Fish Bowl 12.