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With the departure of Benjamin Watson last offseason, great things were expected for his free agent replacement, Coby Fleener. Fleener largely underwhelmed in his first season with New Orleans, finishing the year with “only” 631 receiving yards (the second-highest total in his career). After paying a high price to retain Josh Hill in 2016, many Saints fans also expected him to take a significant step forward in the passing game, yet he too failed to live up to expectations, finishing with only 149 yards.
Then there’s Michael Hoomanawanui who, after coming to the Saints in a midseason trade with the Patriots in 2015, didn’t play at all in 2016 due to injury. For what it’s worth, Hill too also dealt with injuries and is in fact still recovering from a broken leg he suffered at the end of 2016.
This offseason, the Saints brought in Clay Harbor and John Phillips to the fold, two young Tight Ends who will be used primarily on Special Teams and as blocking Tight Ends. Neither really brings much to the table offensively, but both are solid depth pieces with two of the first three names on the depth chart are recovering from major injuries.
So here’s why they’re better in 2017:
Having Hill and The Hoo-Man healthy for an entire season would be an obvious improvement on 2016. Every year, Saints fans hope this will be the year that Josh Hill breaks out as a pass-catching force in the Saints offense, and it very well could be 2017. But I think where we’ll see the biggest improvement at Tight End in New Orleans is with Coby Fleener.
Coby Fleener signed with the New Orleans Saints to replace Benjamin Watson, but also looked to be the beneficiary of added targets that previously want to Marques Colston. While the Saints still had Willie Snead on the roster, Fleener was arguably the second-biggest pass-catching threat on the Saints offense behind only Brandin Cooks.
Then the 2016 NFL Draft happened, and the Saints signed WR Michael Thomas out of Ohio State. Thomas burst onto the scene as a rookie, and quickly became one of QB Drew Brees’s favorite targets in the passing game. Now behind both Cooks and Thomas, Fleener not only had the struggles of developing chemistry with a new QB in the NFL and learning a new system, but also competed for looks behind both of the Saints primary wideouts.
Even after signing Ted Ginn Jr., the trade of Brandin cooks to New England likely returns Fleener to the second read in Drew’s progressions. Fleener’s best season came in 2014 (774 yards and 8 TDs) when he was the second read behind only T.Y. Hilton. In 2015, when he was third behind both Hilton and Donte Moncrief, that’s when he saw his production dip. In 2017, look for Fleener to be Drew’s second-favorite pass-catching option behind Michael Thomas, and don’t be surprised when we see a career-year for Fleener with the New Orleans Saints this upcoming season.