Fans were excited when Coby Fleener was drafted in April, and they had some reason to be.
Fleener was the most athletically gifted tight end in the draft, and his connection with Andrew Luck was thought to give him a natural edge to start the season.
But so far this season, Fleener has been bad, underwhelming at best.
He’s had a few good moments, giving Luck a target to throw to underneath in the hurry-up offense, but he’s been overshadowed by Dwayne Allen, and looks lost at times.
Most fans won’t remember him from any of the first three games, as he’s largely been invisible. So, what is he doing on those plays when he isn’t noticed?
We’ll find that out and more in this week’s film review.
I went through and tracked every snap Coby Fleener participated in for Week 3’s game against the Jaguars. I found a few notable things.
First, while Fleener started out the season as the number one tight end, he’s clearly been surpassed by Dwayne Allen at this point. Not only was Allen in on more plays versus the Jaguars, but he was in on more pass plays, a first this season. When the Colts went single TE, it was Allen the vast majority of the time.
Second, Fleener is an awful blocker. He routinely was getting beat by linebackers and defensive backs in run blocking, and several times just flat out missed blocks. The only times when he had good, solid blocks that I tracked were when the run went to the opposite side of the field. Now, the Colts can live with this from a tight end, but only if they make up for it by being a pass catching threat. So far, Fleener hasn’t been much of one.
That brings me to the third and final point of interest: Fleener in the passing game.
First, let’s look at the way the Colts used Fleener.
The majority of Fleener’s routes, at least, against the Jags, were short and underneath routes. In fact, over 75% of his routes covered just 10 yards or less. We’re talking 10-yard in/out routes, 10-yard hook/curls, a few 2-4 yard flat routes, a slant thrown in here and there.
Of the rest of his patterns, Fleener had just one “intermediate” route, a 15-yard in, and the rest were a few “go” routes. One was on the outside (Hail mary at the end of the game), and the rest were up the seams.
Now, on those routes, how did he fare?
To be blunt, I wasn’t impressed. Fleener didn’t run his routes particularly well, and didn’t get in and out of his cuts quickly. As a result, he failed to get open very often on those short and intermediate routes. Most of the time he was covered by a linebacker, but most of the time that linebacker was able to blanket the tight end and take him out of the play.
As a rookie, Fleener has a lot to learn, particularly about reading defenses and finding zones. A few times it seemed like Fleener just didn’t understand what his role was, or should be.
One particularly poor example of this was Andrew Luck’s first pass of the game. Fleener had a 10-yard out on the play, which he was well covered on. But as Fleener reached the “end” of his route, Luck began to scramble to his right, looking directly at Fleener.
A veteran receiver would have seen his QB in trouble, and moved to try to get open and give him an option. For Fleener, all he had to do was make a move toward the middle of the field, where there was no defender residing. But, Fleener just stood there and watched Luck scramble, and Luck was forced to throw it away.
Obviously, Fleener should improve as time goes on, but for him to have Luck staring him down while he scrambles, and for him not to even try to give him another option is just poor decision making by Fleener.
The positive was that when the Colts sent Fleener on deeper routes up the seam, he was able to get some separation much easier. For me, this isn’t too much of a surprise, as Fleener’s speed and pure athleticism would make him an ideal downfield target.
It would make more sense then, to get Fleener more involved in the downfield passing, giving him longer and deeper routes. Leave the short stuff for Allen, who is slower and stockier, but has reliable hands.
To conclude, there hasn’t been a lot to be encouraged by with Fleener, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it at this point. He is a rookie, and rookie tight ends don’t usually have great years.
Dallas Clark only caught 29 and 25 balls his first two years, and didn’t get over 40 catches until his fifth year in the league. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez just about doubled their production in 2011 from their rookie year. Antonio Gates had just 24 catches in his rookie year, then had over 80 in his sophomore campaign. Jimmy Graham’s big year in 2011 was three times the production he had during his rookie year.
So, expect a slow year for Fleener, as well as Allen, in 2012. Watch as the Colts continually learn how best to use him, and as he improves his reading of defenses and adjusting to NFL speed. If these problems continue through his sophomore year, then we can start to worry. For now, it’s important to monitor him and how the Colts are using him, but also be patient.