As A Player
Coby Fleener joined the New Orleans Saints this offseason via free agency, and it appears to be a clear win-win situation for both sides. For Fleener, he becomes freed from the timeshare he was locked into with Dwayne Allen while he was a member of the Indianapolis Colts. On the Saints side of the ledger, they gain an athletic, pass-catching TE that’s entering his prime. Fleener joins an offense that values the TE position in the passing game, as well as a QB in Drew Brees that knows how to get the most out of them. Let’s take a look at Fleener’s production for the past few seasons and determine what that may mean for his fantasy prospects in 2016.
Fleener averaged a shade over 50 receptions per season over the past three years with the Colts, and saw a boon in overall productivity in 2014. Last year saw a substantial dip in yardage and red zone production, but the Colts as a whole slogged through a challenging season that would see Andrew Luck lose nine games to injury. As mentioned above, Dwayne Allen was also a cog in the offense during his time with the Colts, so let’s take a look at his output over the same time frame to determine how that may have impacted Fleener’s total output.
We’ll call 2013 a wash due to Allen only appearing in one game, but we can clearly see the timeshare impact in 2014. While Fleener nearly doubled Allen in receptions and yardage, TDs were split down the middle at eight apiece. Would all eight of those TDs wound up in the grasp of Fleener if Allen were out of the picture? That’s unlikely, but it’s pretty safe to pencil a few more in the Fleener column. The challenges that the Colts faced in 2015 rear their ugly head once more when glancing at Allen’s 2015 stats, and it’s fair to say that neither player made a noticeable difference on the other’s output.
Now let’s take a look at the team that Fleener is joining, and how they made use of the TE position in 2015.
Entering the 2015, many were expecting that Josh Hill would morph into the second coming of Jimmy Graham, and deliver the production that Saints fans had become accustomed to at the TE position. Things didn’t exactly fall into place for Hill last season, and veteran Ben Watson went out and had himself a Pro Bowl caliber season after developing some stellar rapport with Brees.
To fully grasp Fleener’s potential in this offense for 2016, we need to look no further than the bottom line of the above table. Hill and Hoomanawanui are still on board and will likely steal some targets but let’s be clear: this is Fleener’s show, and Watson’s 2015 output provides a pretty solid baseline for his 2016 potential.
Looking Ahead To 2016
Things are set up well for Fleener to be productive right out of the gate with the Saints, and it’s a safe assumption that he’ll be the clear third option in the passing game behind Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead IV, It all comes down to how quickly he can acclimate himself to his new surroundings, and reports out of minicamp point to a positive start. It’s no secret that the Saints employ a pass-happy offense, and there is no reason to believe that will be changing in 2016. In 2015, the Saints aired it out 667 times versus handing it off 397 times. In short, productive pass catchers can have a happy existence during their time in New Orleans.
On the schedule front, we can circle seven of the Saints 2016 opponents as ‘tough’ defensive opponents at this early juncture, including a tough stretch from Week 6 through 8 in which they face off with the Panthers, Chiefs and Seahawks in succession. An offense as potent as the Saints will not be completely shut down for long stretches at a time, but it’s worth noting that a lull in production is not out of the question for that tough stretch. We’ll also keep in mind the very real possibility that games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome can quickly turn into shootouts, and keep the Saints eight home games circled as potentially productive weeks.
Saints offense. Fleener enters a dream offense for pass catchers, and will see a healthy increase in targets in 2016.
Age. Fleener is 27 and entering the prime of his career. There’s arguably few better places in the NFL to spend the prime of your career if you happen to be a pass-catching TE.
New surroundings. Things are set up very well for Fleener to be productive in New Orleans, but we’ve seen plenty of highly-touted free agents fail to catch on with their new team.
Other offensive targets. We have Fleener penciled in as the number three option in the passing game. If he struggles out of the gate or fails to acclimate himself to the offense, he could take a small tumble in the pecking order.
Expectations. Plenty is expected from Fleener in 2016, and he no longer has a player of the caliber of Dwayne Allen to share time with. He’s clearly the man at TE in New Orleans. Will he handle the pressure with ease and thrive, or wilt under the spotlight and wish he was back in Indianapolis?
The book on Fleener calls for about 73 catches, 795 receiving yards and six trips to the end zone. That tells us that he’s a clear cut Top 10 TE, and he may have the upside of cracking the Top 5. TEs that have a huge role in the offense can be the equivalent of fantasy gold at times, and we’ll consider Fleener’s potential to achieve gold status for the full season to be pretty high.
Our cumulative rankings here at Footballguys place him at TE6. Quite simply, Fleener deserves serious consideration to fill the TE1 slot on your fantasy squad this season. He appears to be a strong breakout candidate in 2016, and could prove to be a steal at his current draft position when all is said and done.
Jeff Tefertiller in his player comments on Footballguys.com:
“The Saints offense made Ben Watson a superstar last season and could do the same for Fleener. The worries are his ability to get open and catch the ball consistently AND his ability to stay healthy.”
“He's let Fantasy owners down before, but it's hard not to value his upside given his role in the Saints offense. For the chance at landing a reliable starter at tight end, we'd take him around the swing picks in Round 7 and 8 in all leagues.”
Rotoworld’s Evan Silva, 2016 Saints fantasy preview
“While I have Fleener ranked as a top-five fantasy tight end this year, I'm not totally convinced there will be enough of difference between him and someone like Antonio Gates (tenth-round ADP) to make Fleener worthy of a top six- or seven-round pick.”