At the tight end position, the Indianapolis Colts have a duo that could be one of the league's best - if they could stay healthy and on the field together at the same time. In fact, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen became the first tight end tandem in NFL history to both catch eight touchdowns in the same season when they both reached that mark in 2014. Combined with Jack Doyle, the Colts' three tight ends combined to catch 98 passes for 1,287 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season a year ago.
If the three of them can stay healthy, they should once again provide a huge boost to the offense. Of course, when we talk about "staying healthy" at the tight end position, we're really talking about Dwayne Allen. After playing in every game in his rookie season and really impressing, he missed all but one game of the 2013 season due to injury. He returned in 2014, and while he only missed three games, he was hampered by injuries for a significant portion of the season and it slowed him down. He is a huge part of what the Colts do offensively and there really isn't anyone that can replace him for the Colts, as he is a dangerous receiving threat but at the same time a terrific blocker - not to mention a leader in the locker room as well. In his three-year career so far, Allen has appeared in and started 30 games, catching 75 passes for 936 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 12.5 yards per catch, but that doesn't tell the whole story either, as he has helped the Colts out a lot with his blocking as well.
The same can't be said of Coby Fleener (he's not a good blocker at all), but the Colts didn't draft him to block and, if the position is at full strength, that likely won't be his role too much. But where Fleener struggles at blocking, he makes up with his receiving. In his three years, Fleener has played in 44 games and has caught 129 passes for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 12.9 yards per reception. Last year, Fleener set career highs in yards (774) and touchdown receptions (8) while also catching 51 passes (one shy of his mark in 2013). In fact, in 2014, Coby Fleener was a top-ten receiving tight end in the NFL. Here's a chart showing where he ranked in each category, and I've included Pro Football Focus' pass rating because many will use his overall rating on PFF to disprove a claim like that. Here's the chart:
|Coby Fleener in 2014|
|Category||Number||Rank among TEs|
|Yards Per Catch||15.2||1|
|PFF Pass Rating||4.6||7 (T)|
|Drop Rate (PFF)||10.53||29|
Fleener wasn't just one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL last year, he also has been the second-best pass catcher for the Colts over the past two years. His 103 receptions and 1,382 yards over the past two seasons are both second on the team to only T.Y. Hilton, while his 12 touchdowns are tied with Hilton for the most. With Reggie Wayne struggling through injuries and other receivers not stepping up, Fleener has played well.
The third member of the Colts' tight end position last year must also not be forgotten, as Jack Doyle had a very good season in what the Colts asked him to do. He played in all 16 games (starting one) and, according to Pro Football Focus, played 469 snaps. He caught 18 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns, doing a solid job in the receiving game when asked (catching everything thrown his way) but mainly serving as a blocker. That was where Doyle was strongest and he helped the Colts in the run game quite a bit. He did a very good job as the team's third tight end, and the fans certainly noticed - he was one of the top vote-getters in a Colts' poll for training camp posters.
The trio of Allen, Fleener, and Doyle is clearly the top three on the depth chart entering the 2015 season as well, but Erik Swoope, Sean McGrath, and Justin Sinz will all be looking to earn a spot on the roster, either by beating out Doyle or more likely by impressing enough to keep four players at the position.
Swoope played collegiate basketball at Miami but was signed by the Colts last offseason as they attempted to make him into a tight end. He showed some nice receiving skills in training camp a year ago considering he was making the switch to football, and he stuck around with the Colts on their practice squad last year. This year, he has been impressing in offseason workouts and, as head coach Chuck Pagano said that Swoope is, "becoming a football player right before our eyes." He's a guy to keep an eye on for the Colts in training camp.
While Swoope is transitioning to the NFL game, Sean McGrath has played at this level before, playing in 18 career games between the Seahawks and the Chiefs. In 2013 with Kansas City, he played in all 16 games and started nine of them, catching 26 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns (averaging 11.6 yards per catch). He seemed to be a bit of a fan favorite among Chiefs fans (kinda like Jack Doyle is with Colts fans), but McGrath didn't report to training camp in 2014 due to personal reasons and retired. He missed the entire 2014 season but un-retired earlier this offseason and eventually signed with the Colts.
Justin Sinz played collegially at Purdue, where he caught 80 passes for 670 yards and seven scores in his career. He was also named an Academic All-Big Ten selection for four straight years. He concluded his time at Purdue by catching at least one pass in his final 24 games.
The Colts' tight end position looks to be a very good one again in 2015, as Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, and Jack Doyle make up a pretty good trio at the top - particularly Allen and Fleener. It will be a real challenge for Swoope, McGrath, or Sinz to make the roster, as it would likely mean impressing enough in camp and preseason to convince the Colts to keep four tight ends on the roster out of training camp. If they did that, however, my guess would be that Swoope would have the slight edge, though it would be determined in camp.
The biggest question at the tight end position for the Colts is not necessarily the players but how they will be used. Will the Colts continue to run a lot of two tight end sets? The answer is yes - offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is not abandoning that part of his playbook, but it's very possible that it becomes less of a focal point as they shift toward more three and four receiver formations. If the Colts go with one tight end, it would likely be Dwayne Allen, as he is the most complete player and can help the Colts in a number of areas. As such, Coby Fleener could be the one to see his snaps decrease a bit in 2015, but make no mistake: the Colts will still continue to use him significantly in their offense. Ultimately, there's a lot to like about the tight end position for the Colts, and it's better to have the issue of too many players needing snaps and targets than too little.
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' roster heading into camp, check out Josh Wilson's other position previews: