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Indianapolis Colts 2016 position preview: Tight ends

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Jim Steve-USA TODAY Sports

The tight end position is one that will look different for the Colts in 2016 despite the fact that their starter has been around for four years.

The Colts brought back Dwayne Allen on a huge contract, giving him a four-year, $29.4 million deal with $16M guaranteed, but they let Coby Fleener walk in free agency (Fleener got a big deal from the Saints, too: five-years, $36 million with $18M guaranteed). Though Fleener has drawn a lot of criticism from Colts fans, he’ll be harder to replace than many realize.

Fleener proved to be a reliable receiving target for Andrew Luck over the past four years, often serving as the second-most productive receiver behind T.Y. Hilton. Now, with Fleener gone, the Colts will need others to step up in the receiving game. The wideout trio of Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and Phillip Dorsett should take some of the load off, but it still means that Dwayne Allen will have a much bigger role this season.

For Allen, that’s a good thing. He was frustrated last year with how underutilized he was in the receiving game, and he had a point: he caught just 16 passes (on 29 targets) for 109 yards and a touchdown in 13 games. For some teams, that’s tight end number three quality; for the Colts, he was arguably their number one. So his role must be increased in 2016, and the fact that the Colts brought him back - and that Allen was happy about what he had heard from the coaches - strongly suggests that it will be. The Colts would be very wise to utilize Allen’s entire skillset, allowing him to be a talented blocker and a capable receiver. He won’t be the physical, athletic threat that Coby Fleener was, but Allen can still be a dangerous playmaker in the passing game (particularly in the red zone).

It will be all about Allen for the Colts at tight end in 2016, but it’s very important to have depth - particularly when you consider that Allen has missed at least three games in each of the past three seasons. That means that Jack Doyle, who’s the number two, could play an underrated and key role for the offense this year. He’ll see playing time even when Allen isn’t out, but if Allen goes down with an injury it would be Doyle filling in. Doyle is a solid all-around tight end who has proven his worth as the team’s number three in recent years, but his workload will be significantly increased this year.

After Allen and Doyle, there’s a competition for the third tight end spot. Erik Swoope, the former NCAA basketball player, undrafted free agents Mike Miller out of Taylor and Darion Griswold out of Arkansas State, and the recently-signed Emil Igwenagu will be competing for the spot. Swoope is obviously the most notable name from that group because of the fact that he’s been with the Colts for a couple of years, but this year is really the time he needs to prove himself. The Colts have been developing him, but he really needs to impress enough this year in camp and preseason to make the roster. Miller and Griswold will provide serious competition, so it should be an interesting battle to watch.

Overall, as I already mentioned the tight end position will be all about Dwayne Allen this year. He’ll have a bigger role than he has had previously for the Colts, and he’ll really need to step up and fill the role of a true number one tight end - both as a blocker and a receiver.