While the 2023 NFL season hasn't kicked off just yet, fantasy football season is well underway. Many drafts have already taken place, and there will be quite a few more on the slate before Week 1 of the season kicks off. Even if you have already drafted your teams, it's important to have a full understanding of the players in the league, which is why identifying sleepers or breakout candidates is an important task.
At the tight end position, breakout players are going to be crucial. The top-tier of tight ends is very limited this year, meaning that many fantasy owners are going to have to rely on streaming options for production at the position. Of course, identifying a breakout candidate who ends up exceeding expectations could be another avenue of success too.
Getting production from tight ends throughout the course of the 2023 season could be the key to winning your leagues, so identifying guys who could breakout this year is a very important task. With that in mind, let's pick out the top five breakout candidates at the position and see what they could end up doing on the year.
5. Cade Otton, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The vibe surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense is overwhelmingly negative, but somebody has to get the football thrown to them. While Mike Evans and Chris Godwin still loom at the team's top two options on offense, Cade Otton could be set to take a step forward as the team's third option behind them, especially given that Baker Mayfield, who loves to throw to tight ends, now finds himself under center.
Otton had a decent rookie season catching passes from Tom Brady (42 REC, 391 YDS, 2 TD), but unless you played in 14 of 16 team leagues, he was never going to be starting for you. Otton is a good option to stash on your bench early on in case he breaks out, and after a strong start in 2022, he could find a way to be productive, even with the Bucs potentially struggling to find any sort of quarterback production.
4. Sam LaPorta, Detroit Lions
While Jahmyr Gibbs is the Detroit Lions rookie that many fantasy football owners are keeping a close eye on, you cannot ignore Sam LaPorta either. LaPorta was scooped up with the 34th overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, and he will immediately slot in as the starting tight end on Detroit's high-powered offense.
LaPorta had a strong 2022 season at Iowa (58 REC, 657 YDS, 1 TD) and he has a lot of upside playing in the Lions offense. Detroit obviously feels strongly about LaPorta after having used a high draft pick on him, and with T.J. Hockenson getting shipped to the Minnesota Vikings last year, it looks like LaPorta could be the perfect option to replace him.
3. Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears
For our discussion on the best fantasy football breakout and sleeper candidates, listen below:
It feels like we are still waiting for a true breakout season from Cole Kmet, despite the fact he is coming off of a strong 2022 campaign (50 REC, 544 YDS, 7 TD). A season after scoring no touchdowns, though, Kmet relied heavily on scoring the ball for fantasy points, as his target share dropped pretty significantly, and that could happen again in 2023.
What also could happen, though, is that the addition of a true number one wide receiver in D.J. Moore could open up the offense for Kmet, and create more opportunities for him. Kmet has already proven to be a great red zone threat for Justin Fields, and if he can get open elsewhere on the field in 2023, he should be able to establish himself as a top ten tight end.
2. Chigoziem Okonkwo, Tennessee Titans
Chigoziem Okonkwo got caught up in the Tennessee Titans' desolate offense last season, but with the team returning to full health for the 2023 season, it looks like he should be able to assume a bigger role for them this year. Okonkwo came on strong towards the end of the 2022 campaign (32 REC, 450 YDS, 3 TD) and showed signs of being a valuable tight end option for fantasy football owners this year.
Ryan Tannehill will be a consistent option for him under center, and with Derrick Henry in the backfield and DeAndre Hopkins drawing attention on the outside, Okonkwo should have a lot more room to operate moving forward. We've seen what the Titans offense is capable of when they are firing on all cylinders, and that could set up Okonkwo for an explosive campaign.
1. Isaiah Likely, Baltimore Ravens
Yes, Mark Andrews still exists at tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, and Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers were brought in to help out Lamar Jackson, but Likely lurks as the team's biggest breakout candidate on their roster. Likely played pretty sparingly behind Andrews last year, but still managed to put together a strong statline anyways (36 REC, 373 YDS, 3 TD).
Likely should not be a pick-and-plug play at tight end, but if Andrews goes down with an injury, he can step in and immediately produce like a starting tight end in his absence. And even then, Likely has the ability to split out wide in addition to playing on the line, so there's a chance he could be on the field alongside Andrews this season anyway. His path to receptions isn't as clear as others, but if things work out for him, Likely could be in store for a monster sophomore campaign for fantasy football owners.