Risk Propositions, Pep Hamilton and Coby Fleener
Coby Fleener has not had the greatest preseason. On his first reception, he fumbled as he was charging down the field. He then preceded to have a touchdown pass punched out of his hands. He came away from that first game against the Bills with a concussion. In the next game versus the Giants, he recorded 0 receptions on 2 targets and basically looked awful. He was running the wrong routes and really looked lost; after not even seeing a ball thrown his way on a crossing route, then Fleener came out of the game with ‘mild knee sprain’.
I’m still buying him.
Am I being stubborn? Probably a little bit. However, it’s still true that Fleener is probably the best tight end option on the team, has a significant (and positive) history with new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and phenom quarterback Andrew Luck, and costs basically nothing to acquire. In fact, his preseason struggles and the blowback from said struggles have made him very cheap to acquire (TE19, 14.02 overall per Fantasy Football Calculator)
As I wrote in “Best Case Scenario: Trendy Tight End Sleepers and Sim Scores” , neither Fleener nor teammate Dwayne Allen would have a shot a true breakout season unless one of them got injured. Then, Dwayne Allen hurt his foot. As of August 20th, Allen still has not been cleared to practice. This manifests itself in several ways: it allows Fleener to work with the 1’s and continue to develop a rapport with Andrew Luck, and gives Fleener a chance to atone for the mistakes he made in the first preseasons games.
Pep Hamilton’s offense is heavily predicated on getting the ball to the tight end. In 2012, 28% of the receptions in Hamilton’s Stanford offense went to TE1 Zach Ertz. While Fleener was at Standford, he finished essentially tied for 2nd on the team in receptions. (11.44%, behind Chris Owusu with 11.70%). The West Coast hybrid offense that Hamilton is preveiwing in the preaseason needs the tight end to open the field up for the run game and the deep passing plays to DHB and T.Y Hilton.
Even if Allen returns healthy for week 1, Fleener will be on the field, and I’m optimistic that he has the better fantasy finish out of the two players. Both will be on the field constantly in Hamilton’s offense and physically, the competition is not close between the two.
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In a physical capacity, Dwayne Allen is superior to Fleener in exactly 0 areas. Fleener is taller, just as strong and substantially faster. None of this is to marginalize Allen as a player because he was productive as a rookie (which is not easy to do) and is a fine player in his own right. For the purposes of fantasy, however, Fleener is a better bet for TE1 production.
Fleener’s elite long speed (for a player of his stature) makes him more desirable from a fantasy perspective. His lateral agility and general speed make him more capable of creating mismatches against slower linebackers and he is too tall for many NFL corners and safeties, which increases the likelihood of his usage in between the 20’s. Fleener had a beyond-elite 13.08 yards per target number his senior year of college and it isn’t as if he is incapable of being productive in the redzone. His final season at Standford (with Luck) he posted a 36% redzone TD rate which is above average. It’s worth nothing that his 20% TD rate is the 2nd highest among all pass catchers in our database since 2005.
There is always the risk that Fleener “never puts it all together” as they say, but at his current price, who really gives a shit? If Fleener plays starting snaps for the Colts and is targeted in the same way he was in the same offense 2 years ago, he will most likely supply back-end TE1 value for a non-existent price. On the other hand, if he’s just bad, then there is zero harm in taking him. According to FF Calc ADP, Fleener is going directly behind Denard Robinson and right in front of the Pittsburgh defense. Are you trying to draft Robert Woods, a player a good fantasy team will never be forced to start, or Fleener, who has legit potential to impact your Win-Loss record?
My favorite move is to jump on Jordan Cameron in the 10th and then select Fleener a little later. While I believe wholeheartedly that Cameron is going to be a legit TE1, there is value in both getting some insurance, and having a guy (Fleener) who you can either trade off to the poor sap who drafted Antonio Gates, or who you can cut after he sucks it up for two weeks. We should trust our draft strategy, player evaluation, and in-season management skills enough to be able to spend a 14th round pick on a guy who could be a real difference maker at a scarce and hard to predict position.