Last year the Colts weren't expected to do much, but the franchise and its fans had embraced the idea of rebuilding around a new core of young players and building toward greatness in a few years. At the center of that plan was Andrew Luck, the 1st overall pick and one of the few college quarterbacks in recent years who wouldn't be intimidated by following in Peyton Manning's enormous footsteps. But the Colts weren't simply hanging their hopes on Luck, they added bargain priced free agents and loaded up in the draft:
- Round 1, Pick 1 -- QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
- Round 2, Pick 2 -- TE Coby Fleener, Stanford
- Round 3, Pick 1 -- TE Dwayne Allen, Clemson
- Round 3, Pick 29 -- WR T.Y. Hilton, Florida International
- Round 5, Pick 1 -- DT Josh Chapman, Alabama
- Round 5, Pick 35 -- RB Vick Ballard, Mississippi State
- Round 6, Pick 36 -- WR LaVon Brazill, Ohio
- Round 7, Pick 1 -- OT Justin Anderson, Georgia
- Round 7, Pick 7 -- DE Tim Fugger, Vanderbilt
- Round 7, Pick 46 -- QB Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois
Although Chuck Pagano was the new head coach, a battle with cancer effectively removed him from the equation for most of the season and instead the franchise's fates were tied to new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Acting in Pagano's place, Arians and the Colts far exceeded all expectations as the team finished 11-5 and earned a playoff berth. The future had become the present.
What's more impressive is that young GM Ryan Grigson's draft had been the centerpiece of the turnaround. Luck looked every bit the future All Pro. Vick Ballard led the team in rushing. T.Y. Hilton led the team in receiving touchdowns and was 2nd to Reggie Wayne in yards. And the two young tight ends combined for 71 receptions for 802 yards and 5 touchdowns.
FANTASY OWNERS BACKED THE WRONG HORSE
If you told most fantasy owners that the pair of rookie tight ends would combine for 802 yards and 5 touchdowns, most would've been unsurprised by the outcome but VERY surprised by the distribution between Fleener and Allen.
- Coby Fleener -- 26 receptions for 281 yards and 2 touchdowns (TE39 fantasy ranking)
- Dwayne Allen -- 45 receptions for 521 yards and 3 touchdowns (TE23 fantasy ranking)
While neither were relevant in terms of every week fantasy options, Allen was significantly more productive. In fact, his tally as a rookie ranks up there with the best in recent NFL memory. Yet, fantasy owners had very different expectations last summer while conducting their drafts.
- Coby Fleener -- Average draft position of TE17, 140th overall
- Dwayne Allen -- Average draft position of TE31, 213th overall
So what went wrong? On the surface, Fleener's numbers weren't particularly low given the typical career trajectory of NFL tight ends. But Allen's success out of the gates combined with Fleener's unique circumstance had fantasy owners disappointed. Fleener was not only the higher draft choice, but he was considered a more NFL-ready receiver (Allen was viewed by scouts as more of a two-way TE that could dominate as a blocker in-line and catch passes). Fleener also had a built in rapport with Andrew Luck, having played together at Stanford and by many accounts been best friends and roommates. Yet, that's not how things turned out.
FANTASY OWNERS STILL DON'T BELIEVE
This year, based on last year's outcome, fantasy owners don't view either tight end as particularly valuable draft assets.
- Coby Fleener -- Average draft position of TE22, 166th overall
- Dwayne Allen -- Average draft position of TE20, 164th overall
Part of the disdain may have to do with balancing the scales. Conventional wisdom holds that if Fleener's numbers increase, they'll come at the expense of Allen. Since neither were a top 20 fantasy TE last year, it's hard to get excited about either unless an injury to the other creates a clear cut opportunity.
Yet that may be flawed logic. Today's NFL is not the NFL most of us grew up with. It's a copycat league and coordinators around the league have seen what two dynamic tight ends can do, most notably in New England when Rob Gronkowski and the now-disgraced Aaron Hernandez were on the field together. Allen and Fleener could arguably be the Colts 2nd and 3rd best receivers (behind Wayne), and that should mean plenty of targets. Particularly when you consider the Colts don't look to be built to run the ball well (a poor run blocking line combined with a lack of healthy, elite talent at the RB position).
THE PEP HAMILTON FACTOR
- Hamilton was the play-caller at Stanford for both Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener
- Hamilton runs a traditional West Coast offense, in stark contrast to Arians' offensive stylings
Hamilton's offense is a perfect fit for Fleener, and both Hamilton and Pagano have consistently gushed about Fleener this preseason. Pagano suggested he would be surprised if Fleener didn't AT LEAST double last year's totals. Now what cures Fleener does not necessarily mean bad news for Allen, although Allen's superior pass blocking may end up hurting him in this system. According to ProFootballFocus, Allen had an elite 97% blocking efficiency ranking last year, among the league's best. Fleener -- who was asked to block only a handful of times -- failed to rank among the top 30 at his position. Pep Hamilton will prioritize protecting his franchise quarterback and that could mean fewer routes run for Allen. We'll have to see.
- Allen is a dynamic two-way tight end who should be on the field the majority of the team's snaps
- Andrew Luck should thrive in Pep Hamilton's offense
- Coby Fleener was a fish out of water last year but is perfectly suited for the new system
- The offensive line remains a work in progress, which could keep Allen in-line as a blocker more than fantasy owners hoped
- Fleener dropped more than 10% of the passes thrown to him as a rookie
- If both Allen and Fleener are healthy (and Allen should be by the time the regular season begins), it may be hard for either to amass enough targets to rank as a fantasy starter in standard 10- and 12-team leagues
Whether you care about Fleener and Allen probably comes down to the size and depth of your fantasy league. In a traditional 10- or 12-team league with 18 roster spots, many fantasy owners will eschew drafting a backup tight end entirely. If you're in that camp, neither Allen nor Fleener are worth targeting. However, if you're in a league that routinely values having a TE2 on the roster, I think both are worth thinking about. You almost certainly should be taking your TE2 toward the tail end of your draft, and I would argue that the 20th TE drafted has as much breakout potential as the 13th TE drafted in most seasons. My personal preference is for Fleener, even though Allen has the more impressive year. That's really because fantasy productivity is about receiving numbers and not the overall talent of a given player. Allen appears to be the better NFL player. He's stronger and a MUCH better blocker. Yet under a new OC (who knows and valued Fleener from their college days), I see Allen at risk of falling short of last year's totals -- and very little chance of exceeding them. Yet I could credibly see an outcome where Fleener catches 60-70 receptions. I'm not projecting that, but I wouldn't be surprised by it. Your TE2 should be 100% about upside, and that makes Fleener the choice of this dynamic duo. Draft accordingly.
Dwayne Allen Projections
Coby Fleener Projections
THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE WEB
Keith Hernandez of KFFL cites Coby Fleener as one of three bargain tight ends he is targeting this season:
Fleener failed to live up to expectations in his rookie season, which will likely make him an afterthought in this year's drafts. He missed four games due to a shoulder injury, though, and it nagged him the rest of the season. He should surpass Dwayne Allen in the pecking order if he's healthy. After all, he has plenty of familiarity with Andrew Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who both worked with him at Stanford.
Thomas Casale of FFToday discusses Coby Fleener benefitting from the hiring of OC Pep Hamilton:
Expect Hamilton to use Fleener and Dwayne Allen more as receivers instead of blockers in 2013, giving both players much more fantasy value than last season. Pagano even predicted that Fleener would double his reception total this year. That could just be coach talk, but 50 receptions seems like a reachable goal for Fleener with Hamilton calling plays.
Fleener enters 2013 as a TE2 but he is a candidate to see a big increase in production. He was over-drafted as a rookie but he’ll be under-drafted this year. He makes for a great value pick later in the draft.
Footballguys.com's own Sigmund Bloom views Allen as a TE2 with upside and portrays Fleener as a sleeper:
Any of the names on this list could assert themselves as low TE1’s this year. Allen’s arrow is pointing that way. Finley could return to past form (he better with what the Pack is paying him). Myers was a good pass-catcher last year and he inherits a good role in a good pass offense. Davis was a top receiver in the budding Washington offense before going down last year. Cameron has good hands and a tight end-friendly head coach, plus he’s on the potentially steep former basketball player growth curve. I’m not a Housler believer, but if Arizona has a lot of game scripts like Oakland last year, Housler will be a beneficiary. They are all great players to pair with a low TE1 in a PPR league. Allen is going the latest of any of these guys, and presents the best value. Finley is the priciest, but he also has the highest ceiling.
More from Jason Wood:
Player Spotlight: Andre Ellington - July 21
Preseason Watch List: AFC West - July 21
Preseason Watch List: NFC West - July 21
Preseason Watch List: AFC East - July 21
Preseason Watch List: NFC East - July 21
Player Spotlight: Andrew Luck - July 14
Player Spotlight: Keenan Allen - July 11
Player Spotlight: Toby Gerhart - July 9
Player Spotlight: Rashad Jennings - July 9
Player Spotlight: Nick Foles - July 2