In today's NFL, the tight end position has a major impact on the game. We saw just how much damage offenses could do with tight ends against a Colts' defense that struggled to cover them, but luckily for Indy they have their own tight ends to pose threats to opposing defenses.
It was a tremendous year receiving-wise for the Colts' tight end position, and in fact Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen became the first tight end duo in National Football League history to both catch at least eight touchdown passes in the same season. Between the three tight ends who caught a pass for the Colts this year (Fleener, Allen, and Jack Doyle), the Colts got a lot of production out of their tight end position: 98 catches, 1,287 yards, 18 touchdowns, 71 first downs (with 72% of the receptions going for a first down). That's very impressive and it's indicative of just how important of a factor the tight ends were in the Colts passing game this season.
Let's start out by looking at Coby Fleener, who really stepped up again this season. He caught 51 passes for 774 yards and eight scores, finishing in the top ten among NFL tight ends in receiving yards, touchdowns, and yards per reception, as well as finishing in the top fifteen in receptions. This season, Coby Fleener was a top-ten receiving tight end, believe it or not. In fact, only once in his career did Dallas Clark reach the numbers that Fleener did this season (in Clark's fantastic 2009 campaign). He was a huge weapon for the Colts offense this year, as he was a year ago, and he was one of the best receiving options that quarterback Andrew Luck had as some of the receivers struggled. Fleener was a reliable target for Luck and helped out the offense significantly. People like to point out the drops for Fleener - he had six this year for a drop rate of 10.53%, per Pro Football Focus - as well as his run blocking, which also wasn't great. But that's not Fleener's game. He's not going to be the run blocker and he's going to have some drops - but he's the Colts' 'number two' tight end technically, and he provided the Colts a big boost in the passing game this season. Ever since Reggie Wayne went down in 2013, Fleener has really stepped up as a threat for Andrew Luck in the passing game - they desperately needed it in 2013 and they needed it again this year. Both times, Fleener has delivered - he didn't put up eye-popping numbers and he still had his struggles, but a lot of the criticism that he receives from fans is unfair. He was a very good tight end in the passing game in 2014 and hopefully he can continue to improve on that.
Fleener is part of the Colts' terrific tight end duo, along with Dwayne Allen, who returned this year after missing most of the 2013 season due to injury. His impact on the offense cannot be ignored, as he provides the Colts a versatile player who can make plays in the passing game and is a great run blocker as well. As already mentioned, he caught eight touchdowns this year, finishing with 29 receptions for 397 yards total - with 83% of his receptions going for first downs. Those stats aren't anything special (though the eight touchdowns are great), but Allen was the second tight end receiving option, much less on the whole team. When the Colts got in the red zone, Allen was as big of a threat as anybody, and if anything he was likely underutilized in the passing game. But that's not all that the tight end does, and he's a very complete player who also provides the Colts with great run blocking and pass blocking. He did have some struggles this season - missing a few games due to injury and having a disastrous two drop, zero catch, one penalty, performance against the Cowboys before getting injured - but overall his role in the offense really helped them play at a higher level than they did a year ago.
The third tight end on the Colts roster didn't get a ton of attention this year but had a very impressive season for the role that he was asked to play. Jack Doyle really didn't have a major role in the offense, but when he did play he was fantastic in the role that he was asked to fill. He caught 18 passes for 118 yard and two touchdowns, but also served as a valuable pass protector and especially a great run blocker. Most often the Colts would ask him to block, and that was a good thing, because Doyle's strength comes in his protection and he was terrific in that role as the Colts' asked him to be the third tight end. Doyle was used as a spot starter, a depth player, a third tight end, a fullback, and utilized in a number of areas in those roles. He didn't get the attention that Fleener or Allen did and that's understandable, but that great tight end duo was supplemented greatly by the addition of Doyle. As the tight end position grows more and more toward the receiving game, Doyle showed that he can indeed play that game (catching two touchdowns) but he's more a force in the run game, and if the Colts are serious about improving their rushing game they be smart to keep Doyle around.
Overall, there is a lot to like about the Colts' tight end position, and it's one of the few that I don't consider a need whatsoever this offseason. Coby Fleener (26-years old) and Dwayne Allen (24) are both young guys who both are good receiving options for the Colts, forming one of the best tight end duos in the NFL. Fleener was a top-ten receiving tight end this season while Allen was a very versatile part of the Colts' offense and an x-factor, serving as a receiving option, a huge red zone threat, and a great blocker. And when you complement that duo with the play of Jack Doyle (24 years old), who for a third tight end was terrific and a very good blocker, it all adds up to a position of strength for the Colts. And I expect that to continue moving forward as well.
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' 2014 season, check out Josh Wilson's other position reviews: