As we move toward the 2023 NFL Season, I’m turning my focus to a series of sleeper candidates. I’ll be offering four players at each of the positions—QB, RB, WR, and TE—that I think can make a positive impact for you in fantasy. This will be a list of veteran players, as we already have our expectations set for the class of 2023. Today I move to one of the most mercurial of positions, tight end.
First up on the list is a player that made a splash to end his rookie season—Chig Okonkwo. While he caught some by surprise in 2022, that won’t be the case this season. He’s already going as TE15. Can he live up to the hype? Let’s consider the evidence.
The Case For Chig Okonkwo
It starts with his emergence. As a rookie, he saw 46 targets as a rookie, catching 32 for 450 yards and three touchdowns. That made him a pleasant surprise, as he finished as TE25, just behind teammate Austin Hooper, who saw 60 targets. Hooper is gone now, and Okonkwo figures to fill the void.
But it’s not just a lack of competition, it’s the fact Okonkwo came on when it mattered late in the season. From Week 11 on, Okonkwo had 24 receptions and two of his three touchdowns. That late-season surge is likely a big part of the reason the team was comfortable letting Hooper leave this off-season. He is one of the more appealing targets on a team that doesn’t have many passing game weapons. That, in addition to the low barrier for usefulness for a tight end, is one of the reasons he’s an appealing sleeper heading into the 2023 season.
The Case Against Chig Okonkwo
First, it was a small sample size and one that came without much competition. By late in the season, the Titans’ passing game was a mess. But heading into 2023, it’s possible he has more competition. Second-year receiver Treylon Burks is expected to take a step forward. But the biggest competition will likely come from veteran DeAndre Hopkins, who signed as a free agent.
The 2022 Titans’ top two targeted players were Robert Woods (91) and Hooper (60), both of whom are now with other teams. They combined for 151 targets. In a vacuum, that bodes well for Okonkwo to build on his 46 targets. But Burks saw 54 targets a season ago, and figures to see more. Then there’s Hopkins, who has routinely seen between 100 and 150 targets in his career. In fact, he could well absorb the vacated targets himself.
That pushes it to a question of how much more robust the Titans’ passing game will be. The team only threw it 456 times in 2022. Part of that stems from starter Ryan Tannehill being limited to 12 games and Malik Willis not throwing as much. But even in 2021, the Titans only threw 535 times. If they have 80 or so more targets, how much will be available for Okonkwo? And if the team struggles and turns things over to rookie Will Levis, what happens then?
The Bottom Line
I liked what I saw from Okonkwo in 2022. I like his potential in 2023, but there are questions. Had the team not added Hopkins, I’d be more confident in him getting 75-80 targets. With Hopkins and a run-first offense, he could be more around the 60-target range. If so, he’s more likely to finish as a low-end TE2. Touchdowns can swing that value, so he’s worth a bench stash at the least, but I’m not yet ready to buy him as my set it and forget it TE1.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.