Can Coby Fleener Become the Next Great Saints Tight End?

With Benjamin Watson off to Baltimore, can Fleener fill the void left in New Orleans?

When trying to decide whether to spend money on something new, it’s always good to think about whether you will use it or not. 

In hindsight, that old sweater that you bought to wear one time and then stuffed in the back of your closet for the next five years was probably a bad idea. On the flip side, those shoes that you spent a little too much money on but ended up wearing until the soles fell off proved to be worth the cost.

So when the Saints, who have targeted their starting tight end 132.2 times per season over the past five years, lost Benjamin Watson to the Ravens, it was deemed acceptable for them to go out and buy a new tight end.

Meanwhile, the Colts chose to make Dwayne Allen the 10th-highest paid tight end in the league, which led Coby Fleener to look for a new team. 

The Saints gave Fleener a deal not far behind the average value of Allen, and the void left behind by Watson's departure was quickly filled.

Using standard statistics, as well as numberFire’s Net Expected Points (NEP) -- which measures a player’s efficiency in terms of adding points for his team -- let’s examine whether this signing is a good fit for both sides.

Fleener in Indianapolis

The Colts drafted two tight ends in 2012 and eventually chose to stick with Allen over the more consistent Fleener, who appeared in all 16 games over the past three seasons, compared to only 27 games total in that span for Allen.

The new Saints tight end finished in the top 16 among tight ends in Reception NEP twice during his time with the Colts, and his best season came in 2014, when his 70.2 Reception NEP was the eighth best among all tight ends.

After progressing after each season during the first three years of his career, Fleener took a step backward for the first time in 2015. Fleener set a new career high in receptions and percentage of targets caught last season but also set a career low in yards and regressed in touchdowns from the previous year for the first time in his career.


Fleener’s struggles in 2015 can be attributed in large part to the Colts’ struggles at quarterback throughout the season. Injuries forced Andrew Luck to miss nine games, and Matt Hasselbeck and Josh Freeman started the remainder of the season for Indianapolis.

Five Colts wide receivers and tight ends caught a pass in both 2014 and 2015, and four of them regressed in Reception NEP per target last season.

Player2014 Reception NEP/Target2015 Reception NEP/Target
Dwayne Allen0.900.22
T.Y. Hilton0.830.75
Donte Moncrief0.730.79
Coby Fleener0.760.43
Griff Whalen0.660.57

Donte Moncrief
was the only Colts pass-catcher to increase his Reception NEP per target from 2014 to 2015, due in large part to his increased role in the offense. Moncrief was targeted 105 times last season, compared to only 49 times in the prior year.

Watson and the Saints

The recent performance of tight ends in New Orleans sets Fleener up with some big shoes to fill. Since Jimmy Graham became the starter in 2011, the Saints have had a tight end finish in the top six in terms of Reception NEP among all tight ends in the NFL each season.

YearPlayerReception NEPRank
2011Jimmy Graham108.872nd
2012Jimmy Graham90.683rd
2013Jimmy Graham119.711st
2014Jimmy Graham73.565th
2015Benjamin Watson78.846th

With Watson gone to the Ravens, the Saints were left with Josh Hill as their top option at tight end. Hill received a lot of praise from Sean Payton prior to 2015 but finished with only 16 catches for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns. His best season came in 2014 when he finished with 14 catches for 176 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Watson’s 109 targets in 2015 were the lowest amount of targets that a Saints tight end received since 2011, and he still saw 17 more passes thrown his way than Fleener’s career high of 92 in 2014.


The top tight end in New Orleans has played a big role over the past five years, finishing first or second on the team in targets each season.

The Saints did see a small drop in production at the position last season after Graham’s departure but, as I mentioned above, still finished with a top-six tight end for the sixth year in a row.

Fleener does not come cheap, as his $7.2 average salary is more than the $8 million over two years that Baltimore will pay Watson, but the Saints' new tight end is eight years younger than his predecessor.

The Saints paid for a player at a position that they rely heavily on, and Fleener is going to a team that gives him more opportunities to catch the ball. This is a good move by both parties involved.