Of all of the positions on the Indianapolis Colts' team in 2015, none was more underutilized than the tight ends. It's incredibly clear to anyone who watched the games, and the players themselves noticed it too. Dwayne Allen said as much to ESPN's Mike Wells recently:
"If you use a spatula to swat flies, it's still a spatula," Allen said. "You just misused the spatula. To grade or evaluate my season would be unfair a little bit because I don't think I was used the way I should have been used. I signed up to be a part of this team and the way the coaching staff and personnel decided to use me is how they were going to use me. But to evaluate my game as a tight end in the NFL, the film speaks for itself."
Allen was targeted just 29 times in the passing game this year, as he was often asked to be a blocker rather than a receiver. In fact, for much of the year he seemed essentially like an extra offensive lineman. It makes sense somewhat when you consider the struggles the Colts had up front this year, but it still means that Allen wasn't used as well as he could have been. Outside of the year in which he played just one game due to injury (2013), Allen set career lows in receptions, targets, yards, and touchdowns. Despite playing in 13 games (once again missing a few games due to injury) yet he caught just 16 passes on 29 targets for 109 yards and a touchdown. That's it. Seven players on the Colts had more receptions and receiving yards than Allen did. Safe to say, it was an incredibly rough year for Dwayne Allen.
The same could be said for Coby Fleener, though not to the same degree as Dwayne Allen. Fleener caught 54 passes (on 85 targets) for 491 yards and three touchdowns, actually setting a new career high in receptions. Fleener was still a dangerous receiving target for the Colts and factored into the passing game, but he still was underutilized at times this year - in ten of 16 games he caught just three passes or less, while in five games he was targeted just three times or less. Still, though, Fleener didn't have nearly as bad of a season as Allen did and still was a part of the offense, just not as much as he could have been.
The other member of the tight end position, Jack Doyle, had another solid year in his role as the number three tight end. He caught 12 passes (on 14 targets) for 72 yards and a touchdown, also functioning as an extra blocker when needed. Doyle once again was a reliable guy in his role, as he didn't get a ton of playing time but did a good job when he was on the field. As a number three tight end, he does exactly what you'd expect him to do, and the Colts benefitted from him.
The huge question moving forward is this: what will the Colts do at the tight end position? All three players mentioned in this article will be free agents, as Allen and Fleener will both be unrestricted free agents, while Doyle will be a restricted free agent. Given the circumstances of the restricted free agent tag, I'd expect for Doyle to be brought back by the Colts, as at worst he could once again be a third tight end and could give the Colts at least some depth with the uncertainty surrounding the others at the position. Then the difficult decision comes as the Colts have to decide what to do with Allen and Fleener. Both have expressed a desire to be back in Indy, and I'm sure that the team would ideally love for that to happen. But money talks, and if the Colts have too much money tied up at other spots and if either of the tight end's asking price is too high, I think the Colts would move on. In other words, neither tight end seems like a guy that the Colts feel they absolutely must have back, though it would be nice to have both of them. If they have to choose, it'd be a tough one and it's a decision that we'll talk more about in the coming months, but it's safe to say that the position will look different in 2015. Maybe that means that the team will have different players as Allen and/or Fleener move on, or maybe that simply means that the position will be more well-utilized with both Allen and Fleener back in the mix. But either way, it seems safe to say that after the tight ends were not used as much or as well as they could have been in 2015, things will be different in 2016.
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' 2015 season, check out Josh Wilson's other position reviews: