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.
Man, don't you hate it when someone throws cold hard truth in your face? So I guess we shouldn't expect to see the second coming of Dallas Clark 09. At least not this year. Bummer.
Well researched and written, as usual.
Yup pretty much exactly what I have been saying, before the draft and after, I am with those hoping for a better season that what has been shown so far, and I think that with Arinas as OC Fleener will get it together over time, not sure how good of a route runner or blocker he will become, but I know he will improve, hopefully sooner than later though.
I think his blocking has been pretty good. Luck has been targeting his receivers to much and hasn`t been accurate with his throws. 3 games with our botched up 0-Line and RB`s that are not really that good just doesn`t tell us much.
I was excited you were doing this breakdown and I was hoping you would uncover some positive news we weren't seeing watching "live" action. Oh ,well.
Glad you brought up Dallas thought. My memory is not good enough to remember every game of Clark's rookie season, but i do remember that for a first rounder, we didn't use him very much. (Instead, Peyton kept throwing to this Harrison guy,)
So how much of it is a coaching/use issue vs. a player performance issue?
The point about Luck's scramble (and Fleener not giving him an option) is disturbing. Typically you expect some rookie adjustment to "the speed of the game", but this just sounds like a deer in the headlights reaction. I mean, surely there were times at Stanford that Luck scrambled and Fleener was able to give him an unscripted option. So far, the "familiarity factor" hasn't proven to be nearly the advantage that many of us were hoping for.
Fleener's drops have to be a concern as well.
have to wonder if you people actually watch the games, give any thought to Luck NOT being particularly acurrate so far or seeing the whole field that well. We have a limited play book, kids that no doubt are NOT making precise adjustments/running great routes, and a hurried QB with a lame running game. Ya, we have a chance at the playoffs, maybe in 2015 or 16.
@matt_has Interesting thing is that Fleener has not really been asked to do a lot of the things in college that he now ha to do in the NFL. For him I think the biggest difference for him is just the speed, strength and agility of the guys that he is going against, in college he didn't have to run as precise of routes and he didn't have to worry about not getting separation due to his size and speed, but now it is a totally different ball game. A lot of this is due to NFL linebackers many who are very talented athletes, so to answer the question, I think it is more of a player performance issue than a use issue, I would probably say 80/20 ratio, a coach can only do so much with a player with certain limitations.
@matt_has I also found that point disturbing. I am hoping that Luck and Fleener have a good enough relationship where Luck can talk to him and get that fixed quickly. Fortunately, this is something that can be fixed with time and effort on Fleener's part. In the Chicago game, he proved that he has the raw ability to be good.
The hands? Well, I'm not sure what the fix is for that. Either way, we need something from this guy for the offense to be successful. I am also hoping that Arians improves his playcalling as he gets a better grasp of what he has as far as player talent.
He's not an overnight phenom, but frankly I still think he's going to be a beast. He can run the seam without causing fans to cringe, because the safeties bounce right off him.