Fleener, for his apart, has brushed aside the idea that he’s under pressure to live up to Graham’s shadow in New Orleans.
“I can’t control people’s expectations,” Fleener said. “Jimmy’s an outstanding player, and I’d be happy to make that kind of contribution to the offense.”
Fleener will likely get more chances than he had in Indianapolis, where he shared time and targets with Dwayne Allen, the tight end the Colts decided to re-sign instead of Fleener, who caught more than 50 passes in each of the past three seasons. New Orleans brought back Hoomanawanui and Josh Hill on three-year deals, but it’s clear that Fleener was signed to be the headliner at that position.
Coby Fleener is something of a polarizing figure in fantasy leagues this year, probably because he’s been so inconsistent during his time in the league. But the case for Fleener also seems pretty straightforward.
The Saints offense throws to TEs a lot, including 110 targets to a 35 year old Ben Watson last year. Also, Fleener himself has been pretty good when given starter opportunity. Here’s a table from the Game Splits App that shows Fleener’s line when Dwayne Allen is out of the lineup.
Those “out of split” stats are pretty close to Ben Watson’s 2015 season. Watson had 825 yards and six touchdowns while coming in as the PPR TE7. Fleener is currently being drafted as the TE7 in MFL10s. So all Fleener really has to do to return value is to be as good as a 35 year old Ben Watson, and as good as Fleener has already been when the Colts have been without Dwayne Allen. It doesn’t seem like a tall order.
But Fleener might have built in upside because he equalled Watson’s yards and touchdowns on just 102 targets. I would estimate that 125 targets or so might be in the range of outcomes for Fleener in an offense that hasn’t had fewer than 627 passing attempts since 2009. None of the other Saints pass catchers are target hogs, or at least haven’t been to this point in their career. All Fleener has to do to hit 125 targets is get 20 percent of 600 targets.
All of the worries about Fleener probably represent real downside. But his ADP seems pretty appropriate given what we know now, and if Fleener becomes one of the more important targets in that offense, then TE7 will seem like a bargain. Charles Kleinheksel speculated earlier in the offseason that Fleener could be a top five tight end.