Instant Analysis: Fleener Riot

Jeff Miller

Have you ever wanted to start a riot? If so, and the only thing stopping you was not knowing the proper steps to getting a fracas up and running, please allow me to introduce a simple four step plan that is certain to cause folks to reach for their torches and pitchforks:

  1. sign up for Twitter
  2. get a gig at DLF doing dynasty rankings
  3. move Coby Fleener to TE7
  4. tweet about it

How could I be so confident this will have people in the streets calling for your head?


The numerous dissenting opinions can be easily summed up by this single reply:


Since my fateful tweet got tweeted to the Twitter masses, I’ve actually backtracked a wee bit. I realized soon after that I couldn’t in good conscience have Fleener above the criminally underrated Delanie Walker. It was only after I sat down to swap the two that I learned Ladarius Green had signed with the Steelers. With those two things in mind, the golden coiffed former Stanford Cardinal settled in at TE9, which now somehow feels too low. Such is the life of a ranker.

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Speaking of backtracking, let’s rewind a bit so I can explain how this whole mess started in the first place.

Earlier this week, I went on a Twitter rant over Fleener being ranked lower than former teammate Dwayne Allen by my fellow DLFers. Somewhere in the diatribe I quoted a few stats, some of which made their way into Luke Wetta’s Weekly Twitter Observations article. (Please accept my apology for the error in the table in Luke’s article. Unfortunately I either can’t type or do math, because Allen has missed 24 games, not 14.) Typos notwithstanding, my point was Fleener had been more productive and healthier at every turn. I also talked about how he was expected to be back in Indy, with Allen moving on to greener pastures. This was plenty enough evidence for me to slot the former at TE16 and the latter at TE19, but alas, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Thanks to the Colts pulling a fast one on us, my well thought out ranking went kaput, forcing me to reassess both player’s standing. In the aftermath of the move Allen jumped up to 14, with Fleener diving dramatically, all the waydown to 27.

Despite my current optimistic outlook, Fleener isn’t a good football player. While he manages to get open more often than science has an explanation for, he also has bad hands and poor after the catch skills. But because TE is somewhat trashy after the top six or eight guys, Fleener’s supposed re-signing in Indy was enough for me to make him a mid-range TE2. It doesn’t hurt that he’s shown TE1 upside before, posting the seventh-most PPR points at the position in 2014 despite splitting targets with Allen, who played 12 games and scored eight touchdowns himself.

When it was Allen who landed back in the great state of Indiana, I felt compelled to rank Fleener more inline with how I view him from a skills standpoint. As with other players at the position who aren’t high-end athletes or superior football players, the jersey he wears is critically tied to his value. Considering the list of potential suitors capable of elevating a middling talent was rather short, I dumped Fleener all the way to Jacob Tamme territory. As I look back now, that was an overreaction. If I had it to do over, I’d have stuck him at 23, right behind Maxx Williams.

Of course, none of that really matters, as our subject somehow found gold at the end of the rainbow both literally (five years, $36 million) and figuratively (Drew Brees and Sean Payton).

How good is Brees for tight ends? He somehow managed to coax a TE6 season out of a 35-year-old Ben Watson last year. It isn’t like Watson was some big-time threat in his younger days, either. His 74-catch season was a career high, topping the 68 he snagged in 2010 for Cleveland. Even more telling, it was only his second campaign with more than 49 receptions and fourth with over 38. Jimmy Graham he is not.

The reasons for Watson’s success are rather obvious. While he was a steady hand, much of the credit goes to the Saints lack of competition for targets. Aside from Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead, there wasn’t much standing in Watson’s way. It’s simple math, really. When you throw it as much as New Orleans does, there are 110 opportunities for a meh tight end to catch the ball. I don’t see any reason to believe that changes this year, or next.

Before I get into some reckless stat extrapolation, there is one last important point I want to cover: the Saints’ current starting receivers are both sub-six feet tall. This leaves ample opportunity for the 6-foot-6 Fleener in the red zone, and with Brees at the helm, there are sure to be red zones aplenty. (Keep your Brandon Coleman talk to yourself. I’m not buying him in the least.)

Now for the fun stuff! As I said earlier, despite ceding 50 targets to Allen, Fleener was the TE7 in 2014. If we do some math wizardry and adjust his final stat line that year for the 110 targets Watson saw in 2015, it looks something like this:


211 points is half a step from the top-five most years.

It’s worth noting we haven’t considered Brees is several measures more efficient than Andrew Luck. If we give Fleener even a modest 5 percent bump in efficiency, we are looking at Greg Olsen-type output. Terrifying, huh?

The point of the above exercise isn’t to say Fleener is about to be a top-five tight end. I am simply showing you he has the upside to be that (and perhaps more) in this system. Like it or not, Fleener outscoring Olsen isn’t a far-fetched possibility.

Perhaps more important than ultimate upside is what I consider to be one of the safest floors at the position. Assuming 16 games of health and no surprise trades for Dez Bryant, I’d have trouble believing Fleener doesn’t post at least 165 points (think 60 catches, 800 yards, four TDs), making him a very solid TE1. Considering the tight end position is littered with totally unproven youngsters (Green, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Eric Ebron) and aging, uninspiring vets (Julius Thomas, Martellus Bennett, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten), I find his combo of high floor and decent upside hard to ignore.

Before I depart, I’d like to leave you with one final thing. Back in 2013, a tight end often maligned for poor hands and unrefined pass-catching skills found himself in a different city. When he signed, his new front office and coaching staff were effusive with praise, releasing numerous quotes about making him a major part of their passing game. Fantasy owners scoffed at the notion, instead targeting the man he replaced, as he has also moved on.

The player I’m speaking about is Delanie Walker, and these two blurbs from Rotoworld are a succinct summary of the prevailing wisdom at the time:


Fleener isn’t Walker, but the Titans don’t have Drew Brees or Sean Payton. Also, lol Jared Cook.


jeff miller