Why the Texans Could Draft the Stanford Tight End
I know what Texans fans are probably thinking: “NOT ANOTHER ONE!!!” While the prospect of drafting a tight end like Coby Fleener in the 1st round of the draft may not seem to be the most exciting one, I am going to attempt to explain why it might work, if only to prepare you for the very real possibility that it could happen.
The NFL has become a passing league, with 3 players passing for over 5,000 yards in 2011. Before that, only one player in the past decade had accomplished the feat, Drew Brees of the 2008 New Orleans Saints. With the increase in passing yards has come an increase in creativity in the passing game by offensive coordinators. One of the strategies being employed by teams that have the personnel to do it is two tight end sets.
Any Texans fan knows that Houston loves having two tight ends on the field. Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen were routinely on the field at the same time in 2011, especially after Matt Schaub went down for the season. Dreessen, in particular, provided a security blanket for T.J. Yates, becoming his favorite red zone target, racking up 6 TD catches in 2011 to lead the team. Dreessen is gone now, and the Texans must replace him.
Many Texans fans would like to see James Casey fill the void, but there’s a good chance that James Casey will be starting at fullback in 2012. That doesn’t mean Casey won’t ever line up as a tight end, split out wide, or in an H-back role. He most definitely should be, and I hope the coaching staff uses him in that role more, as it creates matchup nightmares for opponents.
All that brings us to this: Adding a talent like Coby Fleener to the Texans’ offense would potentially give the Texans two top-flight tight ends, a dimension they’ve never had before. The New England Patriots have a little of that going on in Foxboro, and everyone knows how that’s worked out for them. I’m not saying Coby Fleener will ever be Rob Gronkowski, nor come close to being as good as the Gronk, but I’m not saying a Daniels-Fleener combo can’t be deadly, either. Let’s look at a couple of reasons why adding Coby Fleener could be a good idea for Houston.
Coby Fleener has something that can’t be coached, and that’s a combination of size and speed. Rob Gronkowski definitely has great hands, he’s a great route runner, and a solid blocker, but don’t fool yourself. The Gronk’s success is in large part due to the fact that he is simply massive, with speed. Gronkowski is 6’6”, 260lbs. He ran a 4.65 40 yard dash before the 2010 draft.
In contrast, Coby Fleener is 6’6”, 247lbs. Fleener ran a 4.47 40 yard dash at his Pro Day last week. While he’s a bit lighter than Gronkowski, he’s just as tall and he ran the 40 nearly .2 seconds faster. Fleener also has big, reliable hands. With his wingspan, he has the ability to turn off-target passes into completions.
With his size and speed, Coby Fleener will present serious matchup problems for defenses, no matter who is assigned to cover him. Linebackers simply won’t be able to cover Fleener and his 4.47 40 yard dash. He doesn’t just have good straight line speed, though. Fleener is very quick-twitched for his size, showing plenty of route-running savvy and suddenness with his head fakes and shoulder dips.
If opponents decide to match up a faster, quicker corner with Fleener, he will simply overpower them in the running game. Keep in mind, Houston loves to run play-action and zone stretch running plays. This makes the ability of the tight ends to block of paramount importance, and Fleener is quite adept at blocking in space. He needs to work on his in line blocking abilities, but some coaching and an offseason in an NFL strength and conditioning program should solve that problem.
In the passing game, even though nickel corners may be able to stay with Fleener, his height advantage over these sub-6 footers alone creates a mismatch, particularly in the red zone. He can easily win jump balls with safeties down the middle of the field on seam routes, as well.
Coby Fleener would also offer offensive coordinator Rick Dennison a myriad of options in terms of the types of formations the Texans can run. Much like Gronkowski, Fleener can be lined up all over the field, whether that be out wide, in the slot, or on the line of scrimmage.
This 2006 article from footballoutsiders.com, written by Mike Tanier had this to say about the flexibility of two tight end sets:
“the two tight ends can line up on the same side or on opposite sides of the offensive line. Similarly, the receivers can be split or aligned to one side. Various types of “trips” formations can be designed using two tight ends and a receiver or two receivers and a tight end. Of course, receivers like Antonio Gates often line up in the slot, while the Cowboys sometimes use their tight ends as fullbacks. The formations sometimes seem as unique as snowflakes… Basically, multi-tight end sets are everywhere, and they are being used in every possible situation. And as colleges keep churning out tight ends who are as big as fullbacks and as fast as wide receivers, offensive coordinators will keep scheming to use these athletic specimens as all-purpose weapons”
The fact that this was written in 2006 almost seems prophetic. Indeed, the tight end has become increasingly involved in the passing game, almost exponentially, over the past several years. Teams like the Patriots and even the Texans are ahead of the curve. Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith have historically placed much more value on the tight end the past several years than many fans would have liked. Maybe they knew what they were doing after all. If they want to stay ahead of the curve, however, then adding Coby Fleener with the #26 pick would be a great way to do it.