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 continue with my look at tight ends.

And for this installment, I’m heading to the literal and metaphorical desert in Arizona. The Cardinals didn’t have a great 2022 season, which dampened the effectiveness of some of the team’s fantasy assets, including rookie Trey McBride. The Cardinals aren’t projected to be very good in 2023, either. Can McBride still surprise in fantasy? Let’s consider.

The Case For Trey McBride

There’s a reason McBride was considered the top tight end in the class heading into the draft. While at Colorado State, he caught 90 passes for 1,121 yards in his final season in 2021. That’s what made his selection by the Cardinals—who already had veteran Zach Ertz—a head-scratching move. And, indeed, for the first part of his rookie year, McBride wasn’t a big factor. But when Ertz went down, and he’s spent time acclimating to the professional game, McBride stepped forward.

McBride caught 29 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown, seeing 35 of his 39 targets and catching 25 of his 29 passes from Week 11 on. His surge at the end of the season was encouraging and something to build on in 2022, especially since it came with Kyler Murray missing the end of the season due to injury. After tearing his ACL in December, Murray’s timeline for return is muddled at best. Ertz was recently cleared from his own injury, but he’s an older veteran on a team that appears to be on a youth movement. That, combined with the departure of DeAndre Hopkins, creates an opening in the passing game. As TE36 off the board, McBride is a low-risk investment that could pay off big.

The Case Against Trey McBride

Well, the flip side of every opportunity is a concern. Murray missing time leaves the offense in flux. And the return of Ertz potentially creates the same kind of competition concerns that hurt McBride early in 2022. The fact Ertz is going off the board at TE21 suggests that fantasy drafters share the concerns about McBride’s potential role.

Last season, Ertz saw 69 targets and caught 47 passes despite only playing in ten games. He was getting an average of more than six targets a game, which is more volume than McBride saw, even during his strong stretch at the close of the season. McBride might be the future, but that future doesn’t necessarily begin in 2023. The unsettled situation at quarterback and youth movement on the team could also leave the Cardinals relying on veterans like Ertz and James Conner to carry this season. That could leave McBride, again, playing second fiddle at his own position on an offense that isn’t robust.

The Bottom Line

If you want to snag McBride, it’s not a huge investment. The Cardinals don’t figure to be a great team, which limits the ceiling for all the team’s fantasy assets. He faces competition at his position as well. But there’s a reason many were bullish on McBride as a prospect, and his taking a step forward in 2023 makes sense, given the youth movement on the team. I suspect he outplays his ADP and could well be a strong play down the stretch of the fantasy season.

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.

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