One of the most criticized players on the Colts over the past three years has been tight end Coby Fleener. From his drops to his blocking struggles, he's been an easy target for Colts fans looking to criticize someone. I've been guilty of it in the past too. But it's time that we actually realize the kind of player that Fleener is and the kind of season he had: which, in case you were wondering, was a good one.
Fleener played in all sixteen games, catching 51 passes (third on the team) for 774 yards (third on the team) for 8 touchdowns (tied for first on the team) while averaging 15.2 yards per reception (second on the team). He'll likely finish in the top ten in the league among tight ends in terms of receiving yards, touchdowns, and yards per catch and in the top fifteen in the NFL among tight ends in receptions. A top-ten receiving tight end? Coby Fleener? Statistically, he has been this year.
Compare Fleener to Dallas Clark, the receiving tight end who preceded him in Indianapolis. Clark had more catches than Fleener has this year in three different seasons, more yards in two different seasons, and more touchdowns in two different seasons, while in only one season did he have a higher yards per reception average. And then there's this from Nate Dunlevy:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Fleener the 3rd Colt TE to go for 50/750/8. Clark in 2009 (100/1106/10), HoFer John Mackey in 1966 (50/829/9) are the other two.</p>— Nate Dunlevy (@NateDunlevy) <a href="https://twitter.com/NateDunlevy/status/549308092463480835">December 28, 2014</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Through his first three seasons, Fleener has played in 44 games and caught 129 passes for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns. In Dallas Clark's first three seasons, Clark played in 40 games and caught 91 passes for 1,251 yards and 10 touchdowns. Clark turned into a very good tight end for the Colts after being a first round draft pick, and Coby Fleener is ahead of that pace already after being a second round pick. That's impressive. This isn't to belittle Dallas Clark's accomplishments (because Fleener right now doesn't match Clark in his prime) but rather to show that at this point, Fleener is off to a good start to his career.
People want to point out his drops - and that's most certainly an issue. According to Pro Football Focus, Fleener also ranks in the top ten among tight ends this year in another category - drops (6) and drop rate (11.54%). It's an issue that we've noticed, and none more obviously than the drop against the Redskins a couple of weeks ago when he was absolutely wide open. But if you remember, drops were something that Dallas Clark struggled with as well, but fans were willing to let his play overshadow those drops. With Fleener, that hasn't been the case. It's just one of those things about people seeing what they want to see.
I'm not ignoring that drops are an issue. But I think that, for a third-year tight end who is technically the team's number two tight end, 51 catches for 774 yards and eight scores in a season is definitely something you can live with. And really, he had a good year last year too. Fleener has stepped his play up over the last season and a half and has become a valuable weapon for the Colts, whether fans like to acknowledge it or not.