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Colts 2016 season in review: Jack Doyle steps up to lead the way at tight end

NFL: Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Last offseason, the big topic of conversation regarding the Colts was which one of their tight ends they would choose to re-sign, Dwayne Allen or Coby Fleener? There were people on both sides of the argument, and both sides had valid points - but who would have guessed that it was actually another tight end the Colts re-signed that would have a better year than both of them?

While all of the attention was on the Colts’ decision to re-sign Allen to a four-year, $29.4 million deal, the Colts also extended a restricted free agent tender to Jack Doyle worth $1.671 million. He signed it, and went on to exceed expectations in 2016.

Previously a very good number three tight end, Doyle stepped up as the Colts’ number two - and at times number one - tight end in 2016, finishing second on the team in receptions, targets, yards, and receiving first downs behind T.Y. Hilton. Doyle caught 59 passes (on 75 targets) for 584 yards, and five touchdowns while averaging 9.9 yards per catch. He caught 78.7% of his targets, which was the ninth-best mark in the NFL among players with at least 50 targets last year. He became a security blanket for Andrew Luck, and his quarterback looked his way often. Doyle also proved to be very capable in all areas, as both a receiver and as a blocker, and he proved to be the Colts’ best overall tight end in 2016.

As for Dwayne Allen, the big-money tight end, he had a solid season. He caught 35 passes for 406 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 11.6 yards per catch, and he had a breakout game in week 13 when he caught four passes for 72 yards and three scores against the Jets. Overall, though, Allen still hasn’t regained his form from his rookie season, though he’s still a solid blocker and a solid receiver and a guy worth having around. And he did miss some time with an injury once again this year, but it’s worth pointing out that he missed two games, the fewest he’s missed in a season since his rookie year.

There have been Colts fans down on Allen for a while, and this season didn’t help things. It’s because Allen really hasn’t become a dynamic, top-tier tight end like many thought he would be and didn’t live up to the big contract he got last offseason. But he’s still a solid player, and he’s still important to this tight end friendly offense. Furthermore, Allen’s contract results in him having a cap number of just $6 million in each of the next two years, which isn’t bad. So the Colts shouldn’t move on from Allen, and he’s still a starting-caliber tight end - he’s just perhaps not as good as many thought he could be by this point in his career.

While some fans have been disappointed in Allen, the pleasant surprise was the emergence of Erik Swoope this year. He entered training camp fighting for the number three tight end spot, and he won it both by performance and by default. This season, though, he impressed when he got opportunities. He played in 16 games (starting four) and caught 15 passes (on 22 targets) for 207 yards and a touchdown, averaging 19.8 yards per catch (the highest of any player on the team with more than one catch). The Colts have talked about how they’re impressed how far he’s come as a blocker, but it’s even more obvious that he’s a good receiving tight end. Swoope showed some really nice moves this season in running routes and looks to be the most skilled receiver in the tight end room.

If the Colts can manage to bring back Jack Doyle next season (and with the cap room they have the question isn’t whether they can but whether they will), they’ll have a really nice trio of tight ends in Doyle, Allen, and Swoope. That’s a group that can continue to make plays and be a force in the Colts’ offense, and Rob Chudzinski loves to use the tight ends - so that’s a good thing. All in all, there were a lot of encouraging things from the position this year, namely the emergence of Jack Doyle and Erik Swoope in larger roles.