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Rookie Report Card: Week Eight

In my weekly column, we take a long look at two rookies.  I compare their performance to date against my original expectations of them.  Let’s continue this series off by looking back at Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey after their Week Eight games:

Coby Fleener, TE IND

Here is what I saw in college with Fleener: After reviewing Fleener’s games against Notre Dame, UCLA, and California, there were several things that stood out.  He is great in space and can line up anywhere, but is the most effective lined up in the slot.  Fleener runs more of a wide receiver route tree than a traditional tight end would to exploit his straight ahead speed.  I doubt he is lined up much on the line as he struggles with run blocking.  Fleener can be a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties.

Fleener needs to get stronger and put on more weight on his 6′ 6″, 247 lbs. frame (he is up 7 lbs from his college weight, but should play more in the 255 lbs range).  He attacks the ball at its highest point, uses one or both hands well to make the difficult catch and shows good concentration coming down with the ball, but can be out-muscled at times.

Here is what I saw from Fleener against the Titans:  He started the game lined up as the in-line blocking tight end.  In that role, he was effective sealing off the defense on sweeps and other outside runs.  The connection with Andrew Luck is not just in the passing game as he came back to block for his college quarterback during a scramble.  When targeted, Fleener does a great job catching the ball at it highest point and shields it away from defenders.  On a 15 yard catch in the first quarter, he jumped a yard higher than the linebacker and safety covering him.  Unfortunately for him and the rest of the Colts offense, he was not used very often as he only received three targets.

Fleener lined up beside his quarterback in the shotgun right before the end of the first half.  He used that to get a free release of the line of scrimmage.  Luck took advantage and hit him for a quick strike for a first down.  He apparently suffered a shoulder injury blocking and did not start the second half.  During the third quarter, Fleener came back to the gridiron.  He ran a passing route and fell down before the ball got there without being touched.  It appeared that his leg gave out while the ball was in the air.

The Colts offensive attack seemed to go to more run-based once Fleener left the game.  The play calling was more conservative.  Fleener in just over a half’s worth of work only finished with two receptions for 24 yards on three targets.  For the first seven games, he has 21 receptions for 222 yards and no touchdowns on 36 targets.  The other Colts rookie tight end, Dwayne Allen, is producing close to the same yardage per catch (174 yards on 17 catches).  Allen, however, has two touchdown receptions and gets targeted more often in the end zone than Fleener.

Overall, the Indianapolis offense is quite young and will need time to mature.  For the rest of this year, Allen is the tight end to own between the two.  Perhaps when the Colts settle on a true number one running back (who isn’t on the team yet) and get a complement to Reggie Wayne on the outside, we will get the chance to see what these young tight ends can do.  Fleener is a good low-end second dynasty tight end who could become a mid-level number one tight end.  Try to buy him low if you can.

Chris Rainey, RB PIT
Here is what I saw in college with Rainey: When you first take a look at Rainey, it is clear that he is an explosive athlete.  He has almost Olympic sprinter speed in a very small body.  The quickness and agility he possesses help him beat defenders to the edge and can accelerate at the drop of a dime.  His hands are one of his best assets and he understands what it takes to get separation from defenders in space.  I see him as a third down back and returner in the NFL.

Other than his size, he is limited in many ways from becoming a starting NFL running back.  He is not a very muscular athlete.  Percy Harvin seems to be brought up when referring to Rainey, but Harvin is a thicker fast twitched specimen.  Rainey is thinly built, who lacks power and balance when he runs and when he attempts to block.  He can be careless with the ball, shows limited vision and is not very durable.  The former Florida running back is a gifted special teams player, as a returner and has blocked several kicks and punts.  I’m not sure he has the toughness to be a regular contributor on the offensive side of the ball.

Here is what I saw from him against the Redskins:  As a returner, he does not show a lot of burst.  He seems to be fine with taking what the kick coverage gives him.  As he demonstrated in college, Rainey is not a good inside runner.  When the Steelers used him the pistol formation, he was not very effective.  Pittsburgh featured him in their no-huddle offense to take advantage of his quickness and to get him in space.  He was targeted at the two yard line with a quick pass.  He was more surprised with the target than the defense was as he failed to make the easy catch for a possible touchdown.

Rainey has received more work the last two weeks because of injuries to Rashard Mendenhall and Issac Redman.  His quick and agile style works well as a complement to Jonathan Dwyer’s more powerful, low to the ground running attack.  He had four carries for 26 yards rushing and 19 of those yards came on a direct pitch.  His only reception of the day was a five yard loss as he got smashed by London Fletcher on a screen pass.

His totals through seven games are not impressive – 15 carries for 58 yards, a rushing touchdown, and eight receptions for 48 yards on ten targets.  Once the other Steelers running backs become healthy, I doubt Rainey will get much work outside of the return game.  It is encouraging that he saw the field more often than Baron Batch, though.  He should be rostered in dynasty leagues that give points for return yardage as an RB5, but in other leagues, he is not a good reserve.

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Phil Randall
9 years ago

If you had a choice between Allen and Fleener on your Dynasty team which one would you choice?

Paul Merkel
Reply to  Phil Randall
9 years ago

I waited for Allen – for what thats worth

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