Fantasy mini-camp: Tight end class uncertainty brings Colts' Fleener into relevancy
Division: AFC South
Team: Indianapolis Colts
Situation: Fantasy tight end class
Player to watch: Coby Fleener
On Wednesday came the bummer revelation that Rob Gronkowski will undergo back surgery, but for an issue unrelated to his 2009 procedure that kept him out for an entire college season. Recovery time is about 12 weeks, though early speculation suggests Gronk could miss the first six games. Let's not forget this comes after the fourth surgery on his broken arm.
On Thursday came a story out of Indianapolis with nothing but positive vibes: Colts head coach Chuck Pagano believes second-year TE Coby Fleener could double his rookie reception totals. Gotta love offseason optimism, though in this case we're down with Pagano (more on this shortly).
Are these two items related? Not in the NFL world and even in the fantasy football realm only slightly, but on some level there it seems appropriate that one would follow the other. With Gronkowski sketchier than ever and the fantasy tight end class already light on clear-cut starters, looking for potential sleepers like Fleener is the goal this offseason.
First, a quick look at the overt starters (this is my list; in the coming days I'll work with others on the FFToolbox team to generate and release our latest 2013 rankings). Jimmy Graham...Gronk, for now followed by Aaron Hernandez, then Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez. By late summer I can conceive of buying into Vernon Davis since the Michael Crabtree targets most go somewhere.
Then what? I touted Dennis Pitta last year and have always liked Kyle Rudolph, but we cannot state with utter confidence either will provide weekly advantages. We've all drafted Greg Olson, Jermichael Finley, Antonio Gates and Owen Daniels at some point. We might again this season, but not with the previous glee. Martellus Bennett and Jared Cook are always intriguing, but new teams equals some measure of uncertainty for now.
Know this: when people talk of a "weak" class of tight ends (or say a group of NBA Draft prospects), they're not simply talking about talent, but the doubt when scouting. The faith gap between the top 5-6 and everyone else is wider than Albert Haynesworth's midsection.
Yet by rote, many an owner will simply take the next name off the list once there is a sense the TE run is beginning. Even with some belief in the Bennett's or Daniel's, coupling them with another option is a wise play. For those wait and perhaps take a third or fourth running back, there are flyers that alone or paired together could prove comparable to the back half of the TE1 class.
Is Pagano's optimism just your standard training camp coach talk (assuming the coach is not the curmudgeonly Bill Belichick)? On some level, sure, but Fleener, drafted 34th overall in 2012, has legitimate downfield speed that wasn't always highlighted because he often stayed back to help block for his Stanford pal Andrew Luck.
Not only do Fleener and Luck already have chemistry, they will now return to the west coast-based attack they played in college since they played under new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton at Stanford. As a senior, Fleener caught 34 passes for 667 yards and 10 touchdowns (for those worried about Dwayne Allen, note that Hamilton's schemes "often featured as many as three tight ends on the field at the same time.")
If the Gronkowski situation devolves into a multiple-games-missed dilemma and the general haze over the TE class remains, don't sleep on targeting sleepers like Fleener, who should be deemed a top-20 option by draft day.
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