The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by Chad Parsons
Coby Fleener left the friendly confines by playing with Andrew Luck (at least before Luck missed significant time in 205) and landed with Drew Brees in New Orleans this offseason. The Saints as a team have the second-most receptions, yards, and touchdowns from tight ends in the NFL (Patriots No.1) over the past five seasons. The margin to No.3 (Dallas) is not even close, especially for touchdowns. Even looking at solely 2015 with Jimmy Graham out of the picture and mid-30s veteran Ben Watson as the starter, the Saints fed tight ends 101 receptions and 11 touchdowns, both top-5 marks across the NFL. Sean Payton and Drew Brees are tight end fantasy producers.
Fleener has far less competition for tight end targets from career backup Josh Hill than Dwayne Allen. While the pair siphoned production away from each other in Indianapolis, Fleener was a quality producer with Allen out of the lineup (more than 50 yards per game and 0.43 touchdowns). The last two seasons, Fleener was even better without Allen on the field, averaging more than 80 yards and 0.8 touchdowns in those seven contests. Departed players in the Saints passing game (Marques Colston, Ben Watson) accounted for 177 targets in 2015. Michael Thomas is an incoming rookie, Brandin Cooks saw a hearty 129 targets last year and Willie Snead 102. There is ample opportunity for Coby Fleener to see at least 100 targets in 2016.
Raw opportunity and volume of quality targets is a key qualifier at tight end. In 2015, nine tight ends saw at least 100 targets with eight of them logging top-10 PPR seasons (Jason Witten's anemic yards-per-catch and three touchdowns the lone exception). In 2014, six tight ends hit the 100-target mark and all but placeholder and pedestrian talent Mychal Rivera finished in the top-7 of PPG. Fleener at TE7 ADP is close to his expected floor considering the open opportunity for targets in the Saints passing game. Since Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans (2006 season), Saints tight ends have the second-most receptions, fourth-most yards, and third-most touchdowns in the NFL. Betting on the New Orleans starting tight end is a strong historical wager.
Low Side by Stephen Holloway
Coby Fleener signed a five-year $36-million contract, but the guaranteed amount of $18 million is set up so that only Fleener's base salaries of $800,000 this year and $5.8 million next year are guaranteed. The team could have an exit strategy as soon as the end of next season if Fleener does not work out as expected.
Fleener has a reputation of being a talented move tight end that is not that good at blocking. The Saints don't always require blocking by their tight ends, so Fleener seems to be a great fit. A review of Fleener's career stats however reveals only a 57.9% catch rate and he also averages only 11.8 yards per catch. Some will focus on the fact that Ben Watson finished as TE7 last year and he hadn't yet produced to that level over his career. Watson did have two TE 13 finishes and one TE10 year along with a career catch rate of 60.9%. He also averages 11.4 ypc and that covers a 12-year career. In Watson's first four seasons, he averaged a slightly higher catch rate than Fleener and 12.8 YPC.
The Saints added Michael Thomas in the second round of this year's draft and should have an even stronger wide receiver trio than a year ago. Willie Snead, an undrafted rookie last year came on strong down the stretch and Brandin Cooks drafted at 20th overall in 2014 has averaged 5.3 receptions a game over his first two seasons. Snead and Cooks should both be even more reliable targets with the field being stretched effectively by Thomas and Fleener.
Drew Brees also effectively uses his running backs in the passing game. A year ago, they caught 122 passes as a unit and C. J. Spiller only managed 44 targets. Expect Ingram and Spiller both to be used significantly in the passing game.
Fleener is a capable receiver, but with the many targets available to Brees, it is certainly not a given that he reaches the level of production achieved by Watson a year ago. Fleener could set career highs in receptions and receiving yardage, yet fall short of his current ADP of TE6.