Film Study: Coby Fleener will be a New Orleans Saints star

Nov 2, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener (80) stiff arms Carolina Panthers strong safety Roman Harper (41) during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 2, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener (80) stiff arms Carolina Panthers strong safety Roman Harper (41) during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

The signing of Coby Fleener spun heads and made headlines not long after NFL free agency opened up on March 9.  The New Orleans Saints were expected to have another year of moderate spending in free agency as they had to recover from the combined $68.5 million in dead money owed to released players in 2015 and 2016.

Instead, New Orleans kicked the door down by handing out a five-year, $36 million contract to the former Indianapolis Colts tight end.  Coby Fleener will receive an average guaranteed payment of $2.92 million per year for the next five years, which ranks eleventh in the NFL among tight ends.

But is the 28-year old worth the investment?  To find out, I used’s GamePass service to watch every coaches’ film of every snap Coby Fleener played in half a dozen games; his 2015 contests against the NFC South, as well as two recent games against the New England Patriots.

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In brief: Coby Fleener is on the brink of breaking out in a big way.  Sean Payton has always run a tight end-friendly offense, with a quarter of all passes targeted their way in recent years.  Coby Fleener is a huge, athletic option in the receiving game at 6-feet and 6-inches, 255-pounds with a 4.5-second 40-yard dash to his resumé.  There’s nothing sneaky about his athleticism and that speed shows up on film.  The Stanford graduate still holds the school’s record for highest yards-per-catch by a tight end (19.6).

Miscast in Pep Hamilton’s offense, Coby Fleener wasn’t a great fit with young quarterback Andrew Luck.  Even though the pair have a history going back to the start of their college careers, Luck struggled to get passes to Fleener in stride or target him deep downfield.  Coby Fleener’s strength is working against linebackers and safeties vertically or horizontally where his suddenness gets easy separation.

As far as route-running, Coby Fleener could use some polish.  He rounds out his breaks and hasn’t consistently shown a knack for maximizing his size, but his raw speed is an advantage in its own right.  Sean Payton’s staff have developed a number of tight ends over the years and none have had the combination of youth, experience, athleticism, and intelligence that Fleener brings to the table.

Coby Fleener regularly wins his routes immediately off the snap.  He has powerful, long strides that eat up real estate in a hurry and frequently got a jump on defenders in coverage when I watched his game tape.  What was frustrating – and baffling – was watching Fleener do everything right so far as running free past scrambling, world-class coverage linebackers like Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly but rarely get targeted on deep routes.  He was running for nothing.

Drew Brees doesn’t face the hesitation that Andrew Luck and a hobbled Matt Hasslebeck suffered last year.  He is a much more instinctive passer who understands the nuances of ball placement, a skill that Andrew Luck for all his strengths has yet to master.  Andrew Luck is very much still learning.

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Drew Brees regularly hits receivers in stride and knows how to lead them open on the move, as seen by the huge numbers of yards gained after-the-catch he has achieved the last few years; he has ranked second, fourth, second, and second in the league in that category the last four years.  With the most accurate passer in pro football history targeting him, Coby Fleener should see the best production in his young career.

But how is he as a blocker?  Saints fans are still tender on the topic of Jimmy Graham’s “conscientious observer” role as a blocker, and this area has been cited as a weakness of Coby Fleener’s.  The tight end himself has admitted that he is only an adequate blocker, and that’s an honest assessment.

He never threw a devastating pancake block that I would have liked to see in the half-dozen games I watched, but Fleener rarely lost his assignments.  He neutralized his man and kept gaps mostly-clear, which is all that can be expected of a receiving-first talent.  To his credit, Coby Fleener wasn’t a liability blocking out in front or holding up in pass protection.  He’s a true three-down player.

So what can we expect from Coby Fleener moving forward?  His salary looks outrageous considering his past production, but it matches market value and will look continue to look better as more young tight ends like Jordan Reed and Tyler Eifert see the end of their rookie contracts and hit paydirt.  If Sean Payton and Drew Brees can release Coby Fleener’s potential, don’t be shocked if he breaks a thousand yards receiving and sniffs double-digit touchdowns in 2016.

Did you like this article?  What are some things you want to see that I didn’t talk about?  What kinds of Saints-related content do you want to see from me in the future?  Drop me a line on Twitter for updates and notes about all things New Orleans Saints football.