When it comes to the AFC North and the depth at certain positions, quietly the tight end position remains rather deep overall. Though some big names like Austin Hooper, CJ Uzomah and Eric Ebron have departed, star-caliber players in Mark Andrews, Pat Freiermuth and David Njoku remain.
Last season, the Baltimore Ravens ascended to the top spot in my Ranking The Rooms: AFC North TEs piece, in large part due to the star power of Andrews, and the impressive depth featuring names like Nick Boyle and Tony Poljan. The Ravens added significant pieces to the roster in the 2022 NFL Draft as well, giving star quarterback Lamar Jackson serious firepower to work with at the position.
In Pittsburgh, Freiermuth emerged as the next star tight end for the Steelers, hauling in 60 passes and seven touchdowns as a rookie, taking over as the true No. 1 tight end in the Steel City. Njoku finally found his game in the NFL last year for the Browns as well, turning in a 36/475/4 season, leading to a huge extension from the Browns after receiving the franchise tag.
Cincinnati aims to rebuild at the position after losing CJ Uzomah to the New York Jets in free agency. Still, the Bengals have some decent talent at the position, which should help lead to success over the middle of the field as teams key in on the best receiving group in the AFC North, in my opinion.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the AFC North TEs rankings.
1. BALTIMORE RAVENS
For the second straight year, the Baltimore Ravens remain on top at the tight end position in the AFC North.
Andrews, who hauled in a career-high 107 passes for 1,361 yards and nine touchdowns, really emerged into one of the top 5 tight ends in the entire NFL. He’s an absolute monster over the middle of the field, one that stretches the seam and consistently wins down the field. He brings some wiggle after the catch as well. He’s quickly become the top target in Baltimore.
Behind Andrews, Boyle returns for his ninth season. He’s much more blocker than pass catcher, but he fits the Ravens’ offense perfectly as an extra offensive lineman. He’s been a real key to the Ravens’ success on the ground while in 12 personnel. Veteran Josh Oliver also returns as a big move tight end for the Ravens, though his roster spot is in serious jeopardy.
That’s due to the Ravens landing tight ends Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar in the 2022 NFL Draft as the Ravens truly loaded up at the position after losing Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins in free agency at the receiver position. Likely was arguably the best tight end in the class, one that is a true move tight end that can stretch the field and make plays after the catch. Kolar is more of an in-line option that fits the Ravens’ system very well.
Across the league, you’d be hard-pressed to find a deeper, more talented tight end room than the Ravens.
2. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
After sitting in third last summer, the Steelers move up into the No. 2 hole thanks to the emergence of Freiermuth, who looked like the next great young tight end as a rookie in 2021. We all know the numbers: 60 catches, 497 yards, seven touchdowns. He made some spectacular catches as a sure-handed weapon, though he did have some game-changing mistakes as well.
With a new quarterback and an offense that will reportedly be opened up, in terms of routes run and shots taken over the middle of the field, Freiermuth could have an even bigger second season for the Steelers. Behind Freiermuth, Zach Gentry really emerged into his own as a No. 2 tight end last season, developing well as an in-line blocker while hauling in a career-high 19 catches for 197 yards.
Kevin Rader, rookie sixth-round draft pick Connor Heyward, and veteran Jace Sternberger round out the depth chart at tight end, making for a tight competition in training camp for the third tight end role. Rader is a solid special teams player and overall blocker, while Sternberger has 12 career catches and one score in his three-year career. Heyward will be the name to watch though, due to his overall versatility that he brings to the position, where he’ll slot in as more of an H-back.
3. CLEVELAND BROWNS
Cleveland underwent some significant change at the tight end position this offseason, cutting former starting tight end Austin Hooper in a cap casualty move, before then turning around and handing a massive extension to Njoku, whom the Browns placed the franchise tag on after the 2021 season.
Njoku seemed to find his game last season, becoming that big-play threat the Browns expected him to be after drafting him in the first round in the 2017 NFL Draft. We’ll see how he handles the true No. 1 TE role now, especially with the changes at quarterback the Browns made in the offseason.
Behind Njoku, third-year pro Harrison Bryant returns in an increased role with Hooper off the team. Bryant had a quiet second season though his numbers were very similar to the numbers he put up as a rookie in 2020. He should see an increase in numbers as the No. 2 in Cleveland, though it remains a run-heavy system overall.
The No. 3 job in Cleveland remains up in the air as Miller Forristall, Nakia Griffin-Stewart, Zaire Mitchell-Paden, and Marco Santos-Silva will battle it out for the third and final spot on the roster at the position.
4. CINCINNATI BENGALS
Losing Uzomah to the Jets will really hurt this position group overall in Cincinnati. He was a tough, durable leader on the Bengals’ young offense, one that consistently made plays for the Bengals under quarterback Joe Burrow. Even while dealing with a knee injury in the run to the Super Bowl, Uzomah was a key component over the middle of the field.
Cincinnati hopes that free agent signee Hayden Hurst back be that guy in the Bengals’ offense. Hurst had a down year in 2021 in just 13 games with the Atlanta Falcons, hauling in 26 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns one year after hauling in more than 50 passes and six touchdowns in a career resurgence. He should see a lot of single coverage from safeties and linebackers in Cincinnati, which should help him find his 2020 level once again.
Behind Hurst, the Bengals will feature Drew Sample, Thaddeus Moss, Nick Ewbanks, Mitchell Wilcox, Justin Rigg, and Scotty Washington. Sample is a solid blocker, one that can handle the No. 2 TE role well. Wilcox is the veteran of the group, which could push Moss to the practice squad once again, though Moss had great production with Burrow in college at LSU.
2021 AFC North TE rankings:
No. 1 – Baltimore Ravens
No. 2 – Cleveland Browns
No. 3 – Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 4 – Cincinnati Bengals