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13 for '13 Number 12: Tight End Coby Fleener

Leading up to the Colts' regular season opener against the Oakland Raiders on September 8, we will count down the 13 players most important to the team's success in 2013. Today we look at number 12 on the list, tight end Coby Fleener.

Thomas J. Russo-US PRESSWIRE

Coby Fleener has missed practice time this week with a concussion that he supposedly suffered in Sunday's preseason loss to the Bills, a game that saw Fleener fumble away a ball and drop another one in the end zone. Last season, Fleener missed some time with a shoulder injury which caused him to play in 12 games, starting 10.

It's safe to say that the Colts absolutely need Coby Fleener healthy this year, and they absolutely need him to play well. And that's why he appears on this list at number 12.

Coby Fleener is poised to have a breakout year this year. Many people were disappointed with his rookie 2012 season, as his 26 receptions for 281 yards and 2 touchdowns were much lower than people were expecting and hoping for from the team's second round draft pick (34th overall) and Andrew Luck's Stanford teammate.

First off, the expectations for his 2012 season may have been unrealistically high; secondly, his teammate Dwayne Allen was absolutely tremendous, which overshadowed Fleener; thirdly, he did miss time with an injury; fourth, Bruce Arians' offense wasn't a great fit for Fleener; and fifth, he was just a rookie after all. Need any more reasons? Nope, didn't think so.

Basically, here's where Fleener is entering 2013: he's a bit overshadowed by Allen, but not so much to the degree that people aren't expecting things from him this year, he's in an offense that he is very familiar with and excelled in at Stanford, and he is in his second year in the league. He's really poised to have a big year, as both myself and Tyler Brooke have looked at this offseason. Ryan Grigson agrees, telling Pro Football Talk's Scott Pioli when asked about breakout candidates:

"The first player that would come to mind would be [tight end] Coby Fleener," G.M. Ryan Grigson sold Scott Pioli of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN. "Knock on wood, he’s a guy that you knew had speed, had size being six-six and running 4.51 [seconds in the 40-yard dash]. You know he could be a tough mismatch downfield because he could play above the rim."

Helping Fleener is the arrival of his offensive coordinator at Stanford, Pep Hamilton, who is now running the offense in Indy.

"He’s doing the same things that made him that guy that we all said, ‘Wow,’" Grigson said. "So I think just him having that comfort with Pep being here and being back in the system, it’s really come across like he’s ready to have a great year. We expect that from him, top. He’s got to get better as a blocker, he knows that. We want him to be a threat downfield."

People who ask me for fantasy advice get two responses: 1) don't listen to me when it comes to fantasy football, and 2) Coby Fleener. He's a breakout candidate for the Colts this year, and his impact in the passing game will be crucial for this team. The Colts and Pep Hamilton plan to use Fleener in several different ways, not just at tight end but split out wide as a wideout too.

Fleener's impact in the passing game was evident in the Colts' first preseason game, as he had a 14-yard reception and then a 24-yard reception in limited time, catching 2 of Andrew Luck's 4 completions on Sunday. The problem, of course, was that he fumbled the ball away at the end of that 24-yard catch and then shortly after dropped a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone from Matt Hasselbeck. That got fans concerned, and it turns out that Fleener suffered a concussion as well. But the point I'm trying to make is that we saw how involved Fleener will be in that offense and we see that he does get open and put himself in the position to make plays. Sure, he has work to do, and if he continues to work and improve then we will see him really breakout this season.

If he doesn't, we will see a major component of this Colts' offense taken away and we will not see the level of play from the unit that we expect to see. Fleener is one of the most gifted pass catching tight ends in the NFL and has the speed and hands to make himself a very dangerous weapon. Whether it be from the standard tight end position or as a receiver split out wide, Coby Fleener will see the field a lot this season and he will be a major factor in the Colts' offense. That's why he's number 12 on this list, and that's why he needs to keep getting better. Because he has the caliber to be a top-notch pass catching tight end, and the opportunity will be there this year for him to prove it. As I wrote back in March on Fleener:

"If Coby Fleener can be the player the Colts drafted him to be, Andrew Luck will be poised for an even bigger year than he already was. Adding Pep Hamilton should help Fleener perhaps more than anybody else, and as a result the second-year tight end could be staring at a big year. Between Fleener and Dwayne Allen, the Colts could have one of the best tight end duos in the NFL. And what better way for the offense to thrive than giving Andrew Luck two big, dangerous targets in Fleener and Allen?"

Check out our list counting down the 13 most important players to the Colts' success in 2013:

13. Cory Redding, defensive end

12. Coby Fleener, tight end