Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 6/20/12
Last year can easily be dubbed as “the year of the tight ends”, based on the rising stars that are exploding into the NFL at the position. New England Patriots’ tight end, Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans Saints’ tight end, Jimmy Graham recorded a combined 189 receptions, 2,637 receiving yards, and 29 touchdowns in the 2011 campaign. Their massive success last year has really raised the bar for the rest of the tight ends in 2012 so, the question is, who has the potential to become an elite tight end next year?

One player that, when I look through the tapes, I see having very similar qualities to Gronkowski and Graham is Indianapolis Colts’ tight end, Coby Fleener. Fleener was taken 34th overall in the 2012 NFL draft, and the first tight end to be picked. Like Gronkowski and Graham, Fleener is a tall, athletic tight end (6’6” and 250 lbs) who has great jumping abilities. Fleener has proven during his collegiate career at Stanford that he is not afraid to jump over defenders and come down with the ball, which is why Andrew Luck felt comfortable throwing him the ball in the redzone (10 redzone touchdowns in 2011).

Fleener also has explosive speed off the line for a man his stature, running the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.45 seconds at Stanford’s Pro Day evaluation in 2012. With agility such as this, it will be hard for opposing defenders to keep up with the athletic tight end. Not only will they have to make sure to keep pace with Fleener but, they will have to obtain elite ball positioning and jumping abilities as well. Fleener recorded a vertical jump of 37 inches, which means that the ball can be thrown over nine and a half feet in the air and he can still get his hands on it. This rookie will be a match up nightmare for any defense in the league.
It also does not hurt that the guy who will be throwing him the ball in Indianapolis is his college QB, Andrew Luck. Fleener has been Luck’s go to guy for the past three seasons at Stanford, and that chemistry should not die now that they are both in the NFL. It is known that a rookie QB is not shy to throw it to an athletic, reliable TE so, Fleener’s statistics should only rise in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis does not have what you would call a star studded line up of receivers for Luck to throw it to either. Austin Collie, Donnie Avery, and Reggie Wayne will more than likely be the top three wide outs in 2012. Both Collie and Avery have never eclipsed 700 receiving yards in their careers, and are quite injury prone, while Wayne used to be considered an elite receiver but, age is not on his side playing in his 12th this up-coming season. It is not a farfetched statement to say that Fleener has the highest probability of becoming Luck’s go to target in 2012.

Based on the athletic talent Fleener possesses, the familiarity his has with his quarterback, and the situation he finds himself in, playing for the Indianapolis Colts, I believe Fleener can become the next elite tight end in the NFL. He may, or may not reach elite status in his rookie year but, the potential is there. I expect that he will record 850+ receiving yards, along with 8+ touchdowns in 2012.

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