I’m not sure what, exactly, we expected from Coby Fleener last year. He was a rookie at a position where first-year players can certainly produce, but only the truly elite go boom immediately. That’s because, you know, they’re elite.
Fleener didn’t fall into that category right away, though he could quickly develop into something pretty awesome soon. There was a reason for hoping high, though, because of the ready-made connection he had with Andrew Luck, his quarterback at Stanford. Those who believed firmly in that connection and saw fun late-round fantasy value in Fleener were rewarded when that rosy relationship led to 10 targets in Week 1 that Fleener turned into six catches for 82 yards. Included among those grabs was one of Fleener’s five +20 yard catches on the season.
But alas, that quick breakout hope was fleeting. Such is the life of the rookie in an offense filled with rookies, with targets inconsistent. Missing a quarter of the season with an injury didn’t help matters, and Fleener finished with an average of just 23.4 receiving yards per game. Over his last five games after returning from that shoulder injury he recorded just 59 total yards on only one catch per game.
Now Chuck Pagano thinks Fleener’s production is about to spike quickly in 2013. That’s pretty important, because Pagano has a say in such matters.
After a particularly successful OTA session in which Fleener looked every bit like the guy who caught 34 passes from Luck in his senior year at Stanford that he turned into 667 yards and 10 touchdowns, Pagano had a fun yet vague estimate for how much his tight end’s final tally will grow in season two.
“You saw today, he made some outstanding catches. So he’s making progress every day. What did he have 20-, 30-some catches last year? That should double.
“There’s only one football. We’ve got some playmakers on this team so he’s doing a great job. He’s right where we think he should be.”
To be exact, Chuck, Fleener had 26 catches in 2012. If we pretend to live in a world where he didn’t miss a sizable chunk of the season and that pace is projected over 16 games, then he would have finished with a still mediocre 34 catches.
With new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s west coast thinking, there should be far more quick-strike targets for both Fleener and Dwayne Allen, the Colts’ other promising young tight end who was selected one round after Fleener last spring. But while Allen thrived in Fleener’s absence (he averaged 65.3 receiving yards per game, compared to 32.6 per game overall on the season), he lacks vertical ability up the seam for when Hamilton decides to stretch the field. As Pro Football Focus observed, Allen was rarely open down the field in 2012, as he was targeted only four times on throws of 20 yards or more, catching just one of those passes.
Fleener will be the ideal target for two groups of brave souls: those who intend to stream tight ends weekly, and those who take the plunge on Rob Gronkowski, and seek good value and a high ceiling option for their late-round insurance.