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Top 5 breakout candidates

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Nov 13, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor (57) sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals won 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 13, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor (57) sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals won 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /
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Dec 11, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Coby Fleener (82) warms up before the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 11, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Coby Fleener (82) warms up before the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

Coby Fleener

Coby Fleener. Man, it would be sweet if Fleener can be the player that we all expected him to be. But spell me skeptical. Sure, Fleener has tools — as Payton said when the team first brought him in, he looks like he’s just about always open. And in an offense that spreads the ball around and has in the Payton era had great success from their tight ends, most expected that trait to amount to huge numbers. Unfortunately, poor blocking and a soft nose have really hindered his impact. Josh Hill and Hooman are both far superior run blockers, and that often earns them the nod when Fleener’s abilities as a pass-catcher haven’t resulted in big gains.

To be clear, that’s not to say that Fleener hasn’t had success with the Saints. He’s near the top of the league in tight end receptions and for deep completions. But the Saints are spoiled, first by the starry emergence of Jimmy Graham and then the miraculous resurgence of Ben Watson. Saints fans expect their tight ends to get the job done, and Fleener has left too much on the field.

But now that Brandin Cooks is out of town and the Saints project to run a more run-heavy offense, there’s a real opportunity for Fleener to prove that he belongs. And it won’t take much for the speedy TE to break into the Pro-Bowl discussion. The Saints put up huge numbers and there are yards and touchdowns aplenty for Fleener to pad his stats. If he can carve out a solid role as a run blocker, his abilities as a pass catcher will open up the field for him. In a league increasingly veering towards TE-heavy sets, Fleener’s potential impact will be huge for the Saints.

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