Athleticism is awesome, and I am one of the biggest proponents of great athleticism. However, great athleticism only guarantees one thing. If you guessed that the only thing guaranteed from it is great athleticism, then you are absolutely correct. While, I wish it could guarantee a successful NFL career, it does not guarantee that.
One such great athlete currently in the NFL is tight end, Coby Fleener. As I previously mentioned, great athleticism does not guarantee great NFL success, and Fleener is a prime example of this. To date, Fleener is a bust, based on his production from where he was drafted; however, a change of scenery might just be what he needs to resurrect his NFL career. So should you hop aboard the Fleener Express this year?
Rudy Like Beginnings
Coby Fleener hails from Joliet, Illinois, home of Rudy Ruttiger. Like Ruttiger, he attended Joliet Catholic High School, and was overlooked by colleges for his football talent. On his blog, he admits to initially fudging his way with schools in order to help bolster his recruiting interest.
Unlike when Rudy made it to Notre Dame, Coby Fleener ended up going to Stanford out of high school, before it was a football powerhouse. Fleener also was far from undersized as he was 6 foot 6 inches and 220 pounds the moment he walked on campus as a freshman. Before leaving for the NFL, Fleener grew to over 250 pounds as he is a big man.
During his time at Stanford, Fleener helped grow the program while playing with fellow future NFL tight end, Zach Ertz, along with future number 1 overall pick quarterback, Andrew Luck. Fleener’s production steadily climbed yearly and he topped out his senior year with 667 yards and 10 touchdowns on 34 catches. He was a bona fide deep threat for Stanford his senior year, as he averaged nearly 20 yards per reception. For his career there, he caught 96 passes for 1,543 yards with 18 touchdowns.
Ultimately, Fleener’s best year came at the expense of Zach Ertz, who posted 346 yards and 4 touchdowns on 27 receptions, when he was a senior. The following year, Ertz improved to 898 yards and 6 touchdowns on 68 receptions, showing that Fleener may not have reached all potential production in his time at Stanford.
While Fleener may not have hit his full potential at Stanford, he was taken as the second player in round two (34th overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft. Again, he was teaming with his college teammate, Andrew Luck, so the expectations were high from the start as playing with Luck meant his success should come quickly. However, this was not the case. Although, his third professional year was not a complete disappointment, but he certainly didn’t ascend to the levels we all may have expected.
For his career, Fleener has compiled 183 receptions for 2,154 yards and 17 touchdowns. The tight end has nearly doubled his collegiate reception total, while barely increasing his overall production in just as many years. In his third year, Fleener accounted for 774 yards and 8 touchdowns on 51 receptions. Alone, that year amounts to about one third of his total NFL statistical return.
However, last year, Fleener regressed as he posted 491 yards and 3 touchdowns on 54 receptions. It is fair to call Fleener a mild disappointment at this point in his career, but is it possible he turns it around at all and becomes a late blooming tight end?
Landscape Altering Change of Scenery
During this off-season, plenty of tight ends have moved to new teams. For example, Ladarius Green continues to receive an insane amount of hopeful hype (especially after landing in Pittsburgh and Martavis Bryant getting suspended), he did not land in the ripest spot for a tight end. Instead, Coby Fleener landed in the friendliest tight end spot in New Orleans with Drew Brees at quarterback. When the Saints traded Jimmy Graham before the 2015 season, the question was how they would replace him. I was on the Josh Hill Truther Bandwagon that flamed out when Ben Watson clearly took the starting tight end role and ran with it. Today, the Josh Hill Truther Bandwagon has officially fizzled out with the Coby Fleener signing. So, why should we believe the certified “not proven good”, tight end can produce?
First, Fleener looks just like the two most recent productive New Orleans tight ends. While athleticism does not predict success, fitting in the same athletic archetype as those with success should boost confidence in potential success occurring. Furthermore, Coby Fleener has never seen more than 92 targets in any of his years as a professional. Just last year, Ben Watson had 110 targets and Jimmy Graham never saw less than 125 targets, as the featured tight end in New Orleans. Fleener appears guaranteed to see an increase in targets, which should boost his potential for production, as targets are the lifeblood of fantasy success for almost all fantasy receiving options.
While Coby Fleener may never be a truly good NFL tight end, his opportunity in New Orleans with Drew Brees is undeniably very favorable for fantasy success. Ben Watson ended last year comfortably inside the top-10 for tight ends and it is very reasonable to believe Fleener can do the same, or even finish in the top 5. As it stands right now, go buy Fleener at a reasonable price, as tight ends outside of Rob Gronkowski should not be priced too highly. He may not be elite, but he can certainly be good for fantasy production.
Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @ThaDudeFeldman.