Top Saints to watch at training camp: No. 7, Coby Fleener
This time next week, the New Orleans Saints will be reporting to training camp at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. Our countdown continues for some of the top players to watch over the next month and a half, and today’s focus is on tight end Coby Fleener.
When you think about the tight end timeline the Saints have had over the past decade, you can arguably say they started to hit big when Jeremy Shockey entered the equation in 2008. From there, Jimmy Graham’s emergence became a huge staple for Sean Payton’s attack, and Graham became one of the league’s top pass-catching threats.
Once Graham was shockingly traded away from the Saints prior to the 2015 season, the void was there. However, the black and gold got their production from veteran Benjamin Watson, who had a career year. Although Watson desired to stay in New Orleans, he left the Saints for the Baltimore Ravens. The question remained: How would the Saints compensate for his departure?
Enter Coby Fleener, the first big splash in free agency for general manager Mickey Loomis and company. The 5-year, $36 million deal signed on March 9 met a good bit of criticism from national media analysts, claiming that the Saints grossly overpaid for an unproven talent. Not everyone was so quick to ridicule the move, as the reality is the team guaranteed half of his deal and spread his signing bonus over the duration of his deal with $1.6 million hits each season.
Fleener, who said it was a no-brainer to join Drew Brees and friends, looks to become a primary target for the offensive attack in 2016. During minicamp, Brees noted that a lot of film was watched on Fleener last season with the Saints playing the AFC South in 2015. Furthermore, the chemistry was established during minicamp when Brees targeted Fleener often and connected during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
“It felt like every time we turned on the film to watch an opponent that we were about to play, I’m watching Colts film or Fleener film. It was like, ‘Man, this guy has an uncanny ability to separate.’ He’s always open. There’s always a place to throw the ball where he can get it,” Brees said in the middle of June.
Next: Film study: Coby Fleener will be a New Orleans star
Fleener has big shoes to fill, and a lot to prove for a player that never had a 1,000-yard season or much in the way of a Pro Bowl caliber type year. However, the Saints have many offensive weapons heading into 2016, arguably the most talented group ever put together in the past decade. As The Advocate’s Nick Underhill pointed out, Fleener’s biggest value could come within the 10-yard line. Needless to say, a legitimate red zone threat for the Saints is desired, and Fleener could easily become one of those guys. He’ll have a big chip on his shoulder with a lot to prove, and should flourish with the Saints.
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