Dwayne Allen Hasn't Earned His New Contract Yet, But He Can

A change in usage could make Dwayne Allen one of the best all-around tight ends in the league.

During a day of legal tampering and trades, one of the most surprising NFL moves on Monday was that tight end Dwayne Allen re-signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

Allen was drafted by the Colts in 2012, in the same class as fellow tight end Coby Fleener. Allen has since spent most of his time in Indianapolis behind Fleener on the depth chart, especially last season when Allen was targeted only 29 times in 13 games.

Allen grew increasingly frustrated with his role on the Colts, going so far as to state publicly he disagreed with the way he was used during the 2015 season. With Allen and Fleener both set to be free agents this offseason, it seemed to be a near certainty that Allen would be playing for a new team in 2016.

However, that’s not the case as the Colts and Allen agreed to a four-year, $29.4 million deal on Monday night.

Not only was it a shock that Allen agreed to return to the Colts, but the money given out was also much higher than many expected. Specific terms of the contract have yet to be specified, but the $7.35 million average annual value would make Allen the  10th highest paid tight end by that measure, per Spotrac. The $16 million reported to be guaranteed would tie for seventh most among tight ends.

That might seem like a lot for a player who has never caught more than 45 passes in a season over his first four years, but Allen can be well worth that money as long as he stays healthy and the Colts realize how to use him correctly.

Good When Healthy

One of Allen’s problems during his career has been an inability to stay on the field. He missed nearly all of the 2013 season with a hip injury sustained in Week 1 and then missed three games in each of 2014 and 2015 due to ankle injuries.

When he has been on the field, though, Allen has played like one of the more valuable tight ends in the league. Of course, this gives us quite a small sample size of only two full seasons when Allen was both on the field and used in the most effective way. But by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Allen has a case at least for the potential to be among the top paid tight ends. NEP, for the uninitiated, measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data.

Take a look at Allen’s 2012 and 2014 seasons by NEP and where they ranked among other tight ends in the league.

Year Rec Rec NEP Targets Target NEP Rec NEP/Target
2012 45 (22) 41.44 (23) 66 (27) 27.15 (9) 0.63 (19)
2014 29 (26) 45.17 (16) 50 (26) 29.71 (10) 0.90 (3)

In both years, Allen’s Reception NEP per target well outweighed his ranking among tight ends in targets, showing he was able to provide more value when he got the ball. Allen’s 2014 clearly stands out, as he ranked third among players at the position in Reception NEP per target. That was heavily influenced by his eight touchdown receptions that season -- 27.6 percent of his catches.

Even at peak performance, that wouldn’t be a repeatable skill, but Allen was the team’s best red zone threat -- something he could be again. During the 2014 season, Allen was only fifth on the team with nine red zone targets. He was below Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks, Fleener and T.Y. Hilton.

However, Allen caught seven of his nine targets for five touchdowns.

Fleener also caught 5 touchdowns in the red zone that season, but that came on 7 catches and 13 targets.


Since the 2012 draft, it seemed like people within the Colts organization were the last to realize Allen was a superior player to Fleener. It’s unclear what the future for Fleener is with his free agency, but this could be a sign the Colts have come around to the idea of Allen being the better overall player.

The Clemson product has been a better route runner, receiver and blocker when on the field, yet Fleener still got the majority of the opportunities in the passing game. Maybe Allen’s blocking ability was detrimental to his usage in the offense in 2015 because of Indianapolis’ overall inability to block.

Allen was on the field for 509 offensive snaps yet was targeted just 29 times. In that same time Fleener was on the field for 732 offensive snaps and targeted 84 times.

During their time together Fleener was typically the primary pass catcher, but he never broke through like the Colts might have expected. Here are his NEP numbers since 2012:

Year Rec Rec NEP Targets Target NEP Rec NEP/Target
2012 26 24.13 48 8.88 0.50
2013 52 46.10 87 6.46 0.53
2014 51 70.20 92 30.23 0.76
2015 54 36.19 84 -2.93 0.43

Even as Fleener saw a bigger role in the offense, he was never able to become the type of playmaker warranting that type of usage. His best season by Reception NEP per target was 2014, and Allen was the third-most efficient tight end in the league.

There was barely a boost in production during the 2013 season when Allen was sidelined, as Fleener was 35th in Reception NEP per target among 47 tight ends with at least 32 targets (two per game).

Finding a Role

There’s an argument to be made that Allen might not be able to handle number-one tight end duties. Allen is in the mold of the new hybrid “move” player, who can line up all over the field, but he might not be as effective with typical tight end duties play-in and play-out.

But with new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, Allen will likely be put in more situations to succeed in 2016. On Tuesday while speaking with the media in Indianapolis, Allen said a conversation with Chudzinski helped assure him he’d be used differently in the upcoming year.

With a possible parting now between the Colts and Fleener, Allen could be freer to fill his potential in the passing game. Restricted free agent Jack Doyle could be brought back -- he was given an original-round tender by the Colts -- to manage more of the blocking Allen was assigned while also getting a bigger role in the passing game as the secondary tight end.

Over the past few years, Allen has shown the potential to be one of the better all-around tight ends in the league. Up to this point, he hasn’t be really given the opportunity to realize that potential fully.

This new contract hints that the Colts see what could be accomplished even with their faults during his career. The team is betting on the player, and whether it works out or not could depend more on how the team learns from past mistakes of how he’s been utilized.