The Footballguys staff was asked to mention their most significant veteran tight end who changed teams over the offseason. Most significant can have a lot of meaning, so - in this case - it means we just asked our guys to pick the tight end they most wanted to write about. Here are the results.
Player Receiving 7 Votes
Coby Fleener, New Orleans
Haseley: The Saints have a multitude of receiving weapons this year, including highly touted rookie wide receiver Michael Thomas, so it's possible there may not be as much action for the tight end as last year, especially in the middle of the field. Having said that, the tight end position in the Saints offense has long been the queen of the chess board. We saw it last year with Ben Watson having a career year in the first season without Jimmy Graham. Watson left via free agency (Baltimore) and the Saints brought in Coby Fleener to fill the void. History suggests Fleener will at worst have a decent fantasy year, provided he's the primary receiving threat, which all indications suggest he will be. At best, he has a career year in another solid outing from the Saints tight end position.
Hicks: The New Orleans Saints have turned over their entire skilled offensive roster, with the exception of Drew Brees, in the last few years. The latest addition is former Colt Coby Fleener. Fleener was a starting fantasy receiver in 2014 and although lacking ability as a blocker, the Saints have proven with Jimmy Graham that this isn’t a problem in this offense. A big contract, a strong proven offense and limited experience on the roster all point to a big year for Fleener.
Howe: Had the Saints’ Josh Hill been successfully snatched up by Chicago’s offer sheet, I’d be discussing him. As it stands, Hill heads back to New Orleans to play situationally behind ex-Colt Coby Fleener. I’m still smitten with Hill’s potential, but it’s Fleener that deserves a semi-premium draft investment. The volume in New Orleans is monumental (667 passes in 2015, 140 to tight ends), as is the offense’s overall efficiency. Ben Watson was fantastic last year, and Fleener’s Colts production was pretty similar without Dwayne Allen on the field. I can’t lump him into the Greg Olsen/Travis Kelce tier, as some already have – Fleener is a mediocre real-life player who could easily lose big snaps and targets to Hill. But there’s real value in chasing Fleener at an appropriate ADP. The 8th round seems like the right time to jump in on his top-4 ceiling.
Magaw: Like Fleener, free agents Laderius Green and Jared Cook, as well as Martellus Bennett, acquired via trade including the Bears sixth for the Patriots fourth, also landed in extremely favorable destinations due to their quarterbacks. Green will compete for targets with wide receiver Antonio Brown and pass-catching running back Le'Veon Bell, Cook with wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, and while there can only be one "Black Unicorn", Bennett will with absolutely zero doubt always be second fiddle to Rob Gronkowski (as long as the latter is healthy). That leaves Fleener, who the Colts allowed to walk by prioritizing fellow class of '12 TE Dwayne Allen, a more complete and well rounded player with a superior overall game, but not as dangerous a downfield receiving threat. The Saints don't have a clearly established go to WR between undersized first rounder from the vaunted WR class of '14, Brandin Cooks, former UFA Willie Snead IV and Marques Colston replacement, rookie second rounder Michael Thomas. Not counting his rookie campaign or injury-riddled 2015 season with the Seahawks after a blockbuster trade, from 2011-2014 (including three Pro Bowls), former starting TE Jimmy Graham had 99/1,310/11, 85/982/9, 86/1,215/16 and 85/889/10 seasons receiving. Brees even elevated mid-30s journeyman tight end Ben Watson to a career best 74/825/6 season in 2015, so Fleener has an outstanding opportunity to improve on his career best 2014 season of 51/774/8 across the board.
Miglio: This is the year Ladarius Green goes off. There is no way he will be over-hyped for a third offseason in a row, right? Actually, Coby Fleener's arrival in New Orleans is probably more significant from a fantasy standpoint. It seems that Drew Brees doesn't care who his starting tight end is as long as he can throw him the ball. Ben Watson garnered 124 targets last season as a 34-year-old castoff, and it stands to reason Fleener will see similar volume.
Wimer: This is perhaps the clearest-cut call among the offensive skill positions as far as veteran movement - Coby Fleener owners in dynasty leagues have to be thrilled with his new home in New Orleans, and redraft fantasy owners should take note. Fleener is now in a position to be THE man at tight end in a system that relies on the tight end. He won't have to split opportunities as he did during his years in Indianapolis, and should wind up among the top-10 fantasy tight ends by year's end, with realistic upside to finish among the top-five. He's on my short list of high-end tight end prospects for all my redraft leagues.
Wood: Coby Fleener is the EASY answer here for two reasons. One, he signed a monstrous contract to be Drew Brees’ newest weapon. Jimmy Graham dominated in the same role and while Fleener isn’t in Graham’s tier, he’s plenty athletic and is demonstrably better than last year’s trio of Josh Hill, Ben Watson and Michael Hoomanawanui. That trio – hardly world-beaters – combined for 156 targets, 101 receptions, 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Imagine what Fleener is going to put up over a 16 game span? While Fleener has cemented himself as a clear fantasy TE1 in New Orleans, his move also unlocks Dwayne Allen’s value. Allen has dealt with injuries and Fleener, thus limiting him from a full-time role. This season he’ll have every chance to become Andrew Lucks’ most trusted red-zone target.
Player Receiving 4 Votes
Martellus Bennett, New England
Fahey: Bennett may be the third or even the fourth receiving option on the Patriots offense but his talent is such that he could thrive on a small sample. The Patriots experimented with a two-tight end redzone package last year that would have put Scott Chandler in position to catch seven or eight touchdowns if he had proven reliable. Bennett is a better player than Chandler, so if he impresses early the Patriots should continue to go to him in those situations.
Feery: A fourth-round draft pick was enough to pry Martellus Bennett away from the Chicago Bears, and the New England Patriots sound like they are more than ready to make good use of the veteran tight end’s skill set. A poor culture fit appears to have been Bennett’s downfall in Chicago, so it’ll be interesting to see if he fits in well with the ‘Patriot Way.’ Assuming he does, Bennett will form a daunting combination with the All-World Rob Gronkowski in two tight end sets, which is a formation that has proved to be awfully potent for the club in years past. Reports indicate that Bennett has spent an extensive amount of time working with Tom Brady in red zone drills, which should lead to plenty of consternation for opposing defensive coordinators that have the Patriots on the docket for 2016.
Holloway: Bennett was underutilized in his first four seasons in the NFL with Dallas, but showed what he was capable of in his first season elsewhere, catching 55 passes for 626 yards and 5 TDs in his only season with the New York Giants. He performed well in Chicago in his first two seasons there, with stat lines of 65 catches, 759 yards and 5 TDs, followed by 90 catches, 916 yards and 6 TDs. Last year, he fell out of favor in Chicago during contract extension discussions. He moves on to New England getting signed for $20.4 Million for four years with $5.2 Million guaranteed. He gets the opportunity there to play in a high octane offense known for using their tight ends well and as the counterpunch to Ron Gronkowski.
Waldman: Yes, he's technically the backup to Rob Gronkowski but Bennett is not that unique of a personality to accept a far lesser role as a 29-year-old tight end with starter skills and production on his resume. The Patriots will reprise the Gronkowski-Hernandez multiple scheme that is the best fit for the personnel of this team. The Patriots lack a primary receiver with a great vertical game and the deep ball isn't Tom Brady's strength. The dual tight end offense allows New England to make a broad range of adjustments prior to the snap of the ball that puts defenses in a bind and gives Brady plum match-ups to exploit. Bennett isn't as athletically dangerous as Hernandez was but, he's still one of the better move tight ends in the league and he'll complement Gronkowski nicely. His move to New England will make Julian Edelman less valuable than his ADP, bolster Gronkowski's fantasy upside to elite WR1 production, and Bennett will also have strong fantasy TE1 upside in the offense.
Players Receiving 2 Votes
Martellus Bennett, Leaving Chicago
Harmon: There will certainly be analysts ready and willing to theorize on what the mercurial Bennett’s production will look like in New England. While that is important, let's flip back around to what he leaves behind in Chicago. Zach Miller averaged 13.5 PPR fantasy points and five catches per game in the four contests Bennett missed last season. While he’s older at 31 years old, Miller had plenty of athleticism to lose. He ran a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash with a 37.5-inch vertical jump. The Bears don’t have a reliable third target behind Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White. Miller could be a late-round savior for those who eschew tight end early.
Parsons: Martellus Bennett heading to New England was a welcome sight. The former Cowboys and Bears tight end looked to be eroding physically in 2015, but now gets a fresh start with a quarterback upgrade and being an improvement over Scott Chandler in the secondary tight end role. Bennett exiting Chicago leaves aged veteran Zach Miller as the likely starter, who has played well at times in Bennett’s absence. Ben Braunecker is already logging positive reports as an athletic incoming rookie to potentially push Miller. The Bears offense is a bounce-back candidate unit in 2016 with Miller being an upside play down the ADP radar.
Ladarius Green, Pittsburgh
Alexander: Ladarius Green should at least inherit Heath Miller’s 80 targets from last season. If he maintains his career reception, yards per target, and touchdown per target rates we’re looking at a baseline projection of 52 receptions, 545 receiving yards, and five touchdowns. The resulting 136.5 fantasy points would have placed Green as the PPR TE12 last season, but there’s clear upside for more. Miller and the now-suspended Martavis Bryant leave behind 35% of the Steelers red zone targets from last season. It’s not a stretch to imagine the 6’6’’, 240 lbs. Green soaking up the majority of those looks and reaching double-digit touchdowns, putting his ceiling somewhere near the top five at the position.
Pasquino: I considered both Ben Watson (Baltimore) and Martellus Bennett (New England), but the Ravens have several tight ends under consideration for targets this year and the Patriots have some guy named Gronkowski as the primary tight end. Even if New England goes back to a two tight end base formation to create mismatches, Tom Brady could be out 25% of the season. With Heath Miller finally calling it quits in Pittsburgh (congrats on a great career, Mr. Miller), the door is wide open for Green to finally step up and out from the Antonio Gates shadow in San Diego. Ben Roethlisberger is a strong QB1 with veteran savvy, and the Steelers will need help in compensating for the loss of Martavis Bryant (season-long suspension). Roethlisberger has gone on the record for the second year in a row for targeting an average of 30+ points on offense this year, and the Steelers are one of the franchises who can get to that number. Green has TE1 upside this year and with less pressure on him with two other superstars on offense (Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell), Green can get open over the middle and push for career-best numbers in 2016.
Player Receiving 1 Vote
Jared Cook, Green Bay
Simpkins: Most owners have soured on Cook because, while he always seems to flash his abilities, he has never completely lived up to his potential as a player. Part of that is on Cook, but another part of that has to do with spending his entire existence playing in either Jeff Fisher’s or Mike Munchak’s blase passing attack. The Packers have been seeking a physically dominant receiving tight end since Jermichael Finley’s career was prematurely cut short by injury. Even in a down year, Aaron Rodgers made Richard Rodgers (who is not much of an athlete) into a competent fantasy tight end. It’s possible that Rodgers can do the same for Cook this year.