When General Manager Ryan Grigson and Head Coach Chuck Pagano chose to part ways with veteran tight end Dallas Clark, they knew there would be a glaring spot open for a pass-catching tight end. In today’s NFL, an athletic receiving tight end has become a key part of nearly all of the league’s top passing offenses — Saints have Graham, Packers have Gresham, Patriots have Hernandez and Gronkowski, Chargers have Gates, Cowboys have Witten, etc.
One player who could be re-signed to fill that role is Jacob Tamme — who had a solid 2010 season after the Colts lost Clark for the year — but he has yet to be signed and one would have to think that if the team really wanted to bring him back it would not take a fortune to do so. Throw in the fact that the tight end market is short on proven receiving talent and it makes sense that any long delay with Tamme indicates the front office has moved on.
With this back-drop in mind, and with Indianapolis clearly using their top overall pick on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts will likely take a close look at fellow Stanford tight end Coby Fleener.
At 6-foot 6-inches tall and 244 pounds, Fleener is the prototypical size for a receiving tight end in the NFL. Throw in an unofficial 4.45 second 40-yard dash time at Stanford’s Pro Day and 27 bench reps at the NFL Combine and a combination of size, strength, and speed starts to form. With the Ron Gronkowski’s and Jimmy Graham’s in the NFL today, front offices looking for receiving tight ends have to be salivating.
Before taking a look at Fleener’s college production, one must consider the habits of NFL teams who draft new quarterbacks — particularly early in the first round. It is common practice that any team rebuilding around a new field general will look to surround him with one or two new weapons to help him succeed.
At Stanford, Andrew Luck’s top receiving target was not an all-world receiver. In fact, the receiving corps was really unimpressive. Luck’s primary target when he had to make something happen in the air was Fleener. Fleener finished his college career with 96 receptions, 1543 receiving yards, and 18 touchdowns. His senior year included 34 receptions, 667 yards, and 10 touchdowns.
Luck is very familiar with Fleener’s release off of the line, downfield speed, height, leaping ability, and red zone presence. The transition for the two into the NFL would give the Colts the coveted big, tall, fast receiving threat that often goes hand-in-hand with dominant NFL offenses.
As a Bay Area sports viewer, I had an apparent misperception of Coby Fleener as often injured. I’m not really sure why, except maybe for a concussion he suffered during the 2011 season that caused him to miss game time (two other members of the Cardinals suffered concussions in that game). He also suffered a high ankle sprain in Stanford’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State on January 2, 2012. That injury prevented him from being able to sufficiently prepare for the Combine in February.
Evaluating the Choice
With the exit of tight ends Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme, along with the departure of downfield receiving threat Pierre Garcon on the outside, there is a real need to add a pass-catcher who will stretch the field vertically. One of the best ways to do so in the modern NFL is to put an athletic tight end in the middle of the field to stretch the defense up the seams and cause confusion for defenders who must choose which players they need to cover downfield. With the history between Fleener and soon-to-be Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, there is a very real chance the front office could consider nabbing the speedy tight end in the second round — he would be a no-brainer if he slipped into the third round but that is entirely unlikely after his Pro Day.