Addressing The Coby Fleener Induced Mass Hysteria

By Christopher DiMarino

There has been a lot of back and forth debate about Coby Fleener. There are people who agree that he could go in the first round. Some are skeptical that the Pittsburgh Steelers would draft a position of lesser need. Finally, there are those who don’t think he’s a possibility going at 24, because he’s a second round talent. I want to quickly address all of these concerns and do my best to be impartial considering I am in favor of him at 1.24.

The main fuel behind writing this article is to explain the mock draft and player analysis system, and how it has built up our biases. The first bias to consider is team need bias. As an example, there could be a great middle linebacker who is the 10th best player, but if teams 8-20 don’t need him, he would likely get mocked in the 20\’s. So if I was looking at him, I might think he’s a late first round talent so if he was to get drafted at 10 I would think that was a big reach.

If I read an overall position rank, I might get a different story. The worry with those is that you never know how much drop off there is. Take tight end for example. Fleener is ranked #1 and #2 is Dwayne Allen. That information tells me nothing about how far apart those two will be drafted. So since Fleener is an early second round projector, I might assume that the Steelers 2nd rounder would be a good place for Allen. Even if this is a good place for Allen, he might not be on the same athletic level as Fleener.

The next issue is the opposite, which is over pricing team need. Most mockers will only really consider players that each team needs, versus who they may grab because he’s the best available. So if there’s 5 offensive tackles that are talented, and 5-8 teams need a tackle before the Steelers, they likely won’t be projected to draft one. Even though logically other teams could be drawn to better available player and look to fill that need in later rounds.

Putting too much stock into combine performance and not enough stock into personality are biases as well. As I\’ve stated in previous articles, most of the decision of who to draft happens when the team meets the prospect. We\’ve recently come down from the roller coaster ride that was Dontari Poe. A “workout warrior” is a guy who excels at the combine in physical drills such as the 40 yard dash and bench. This needs to compliment a players skills and experience rather than acting as the sole selling point for him. A guy like Poe is a disgusting talent with immense speed for his size and peak strength, but without a good history on the field, teams are drafting a physically talented question mark. On the flip side, a guy who puts up huge numbers in college isn\’t always suited for the next level. Matt Spaeth is a good example of a player who had huge numbers in college and hasn\’t had his big break as a receiving option yet in the pros.

I hope that I placed at least some doubt that Fleener being projected as a late 1st/early second means he\’s not a worthwhile pick at 24. Now I\’ll get into numbers. This is a deep draft for tight ends, but few have the tools to be exceptional receivers at the next level. So Fleener\’s first hurdle to becoming a Steeler would be the Steelers feeling the need to draft a pass catching tight end. I still have no doubt  with or without Fleener the Steelers will use a late round pick on a blocking tight end.

So to judge whether he\’s a first round talent, let\’s judge Fleener vs. the past early round tight ends. I\’ll be the first to admit that he doesn\’t look any more promising than the 2-3 hybrid tight ends who\’ve been drafted in the past 3+ seasons. He has similar large size (6\’6) and fast speed (sub 4.5s) as the Jared Cooks and Jimmy Grahams. Yet most of these tight ends were drafted long after the 1st round. I will focus on the past 3 years as it seems the hybrid tight end as really been picking up steam lately.

Two tight ends have gone in the first round in the past 3 years, Jermaine Gresham and Brandon Pettigrew. While both have made impacts, neither of them have panned out as sure fire stars (though Gresham appears to be on the cusp). Several were mid 2nd round picks (pick 2.10 on average) but only Rob Gronkowski has impressed from that group. However, Fleener shares little in common with these tight ends. Both Gresham and Pettigrew were heavier (260lbs) and both ran much slower 40 times (4.6 and 4.8 respectively). Gresham had an impressive college career at Oklahoma with a sophomore season of 518 yards and 11 tds and a junior season of 950 yds and 14 tds. Pettigrew had less stats but was viewed as more of a blocking option with his thick build.

Fleener had 434 yards and 7 tds in his junior year and 667 yards and 10 TDs in this past season. Fleener was the main target of Andrew Luck and as no other team member had more than 6 TDs and only one had more than 400 yards. However, there is always a chance that having a huge talent at quarterback inflated his value. Luck\’s accuracy is astounding and Stanford receivers typically didn\’t have to make difficult catches. Also consider the fact that Stanford didn\’t play too many hard teams as they just recently became a better dynasty.

Fleener\’s stock rising isn\’t a bad thing. Many fans want the Steelers to trade out of the first round and if the Indianapolis Colts are worried teams may take Fleener, the Steelers may be able to capitalize. I will be happy if the Steelers take him, or trade down. I just want to avoid the Steelers taking a player that will end up as a bust because he doesn\’t fill a need. I think given Fleener\’s combination of his pro day performance and college resume he is a known commodity. There are still question marks of whether he can refine his route running and learn to locate the soft spots in the complex NFL level zone defenses.

Let\’s see how he would fit into the Steelers offense. The biggest wild card for Fleener\’s value is Heath Miller. Typically drafting a player at the same position jeopardizes a veteran, but I think this would be a win-win.  Heath can help develop Fleener and teach him the tools to be successful in the NFL. This isn\’t just limited to pass catching, but includes blocking. And Fleener will take the focus off of Heath, who will still retain a heavy number of reps as a blocker. And when teamed together, defenses will have a terrible time trying to contain 2 tight ends, especially if Heath uses delayed routes.

More and more, it seems like inside and underneath routes are being run by a different caliber of player. While Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace can stretch defenses, that leaves the inside to be carved up by tall tight ends and short route smart receivers. I think that Fleener could thrive as Todd Haley may want Ben Roethlisberger to take shots deep, but not be careless. A big target like Fleener would give him a safety valve to not have to go for the hail mary on every pass play.

To close, I got a little side tracked, but the purpose of this article was to both eliminate the illusion that mocks and player ranks are flawless, and to give further definition of Fleener\’s value. So while the Steelers don\’t have a pressing need at tight end, Fleener is without a doubt the only player not named Dont\’a Hightower who can have an immediate effect out of the likely first round options. While there are other tight ends available in this deep class, none provide the level of pass catching skill that Fleener does. I\’d like to learn a little more about Fleener\’s personality, but I think the big factor on whether he dons the Black and Gold is whether the Steelers feel they need to shore up the offense or defense.

  • andreaallennyc

    Coby Fleener is a wonderful guy, a hard worker, great team player, and very very smart. He’s working on his master’s degree at Stanford.

  • BMWKing1

    Good stuff as always!

  • Grw1960

    Overall an interesting read.
    I agree Fleener would give Haley more options, but at least 2 OL players are needed before end of round 4.
    However I disagree with the statement ” Fleener is without a doubt the only player not named Hightower who would have an immediate effect out of the first round options”
    Any player available in the mid 20s could have an immediate impact.
    The Steelers have many open roster spots for this upcoming season. Not the norm for the Steelers. But it will make for a very interesting draft, training camp and end of camp roster discussions

  • Joe D

    Another funny article about Fleener…
    Must be a slow news day!!!
    Nothing to write about…. so lets stir the pot..

  • Bleebo77

    One other factor in making the jump to the pros is the NFL team where a player lands. Gronk was “only” a 2nd round pick, but in the Pats offense, he set records. Look at Welker – cast off from 2 teams only to emerge as the NFL’s #1 WR, at least in volume. I hate to say it, but the Pats are the best are getting maximum value out of marginal or unconventional players by flexing scheme and doing things unconventionally if needed. (When was the last time they had a true #1… or even #2… WR?)

    We don’t know Haley yet, and so it’s hard to say if Fleener will be more like Gronk and Graham (1200+yds/10+TDs) or more like most other – even highly drafted – TEs (500-700yds/5TDs)… or worse. As Steelers fans, it’s tempting to think we’d have the next Gronk, but history of first round TEs says we should be happy to have him be another Gresham or Pettigrew.

  • Clintmartin

    Christopher this was a great read and I do agree with you on this one. Players don’t always play to their potential, they are also workout warriors like Poe who played at Memphis and didn’t get utilized correctly. He wouldn’t get alot of playing time on the Steelers team He would probably be third on the depth chart behind Mclendon. Or Mclendon or Hampton would have to go due to the 53 man roster, I don’t Know how many DT Steelers keep on there roster.

    How about Jamarcus Rusell who got to the league and and was complacent with mediocrity.
    He had poor work habits due to college being to easy so he did not have to work hard to succeed. He then got to the NFL got 40 million and alos lazy.

    Not 1 analyst could predict this would happen his stock was high, He also got the kiss of death going to the Raiders.

    But the last 2 drafts the Steelers have taken in the 1st round Defensive Ends with no intentions of them starting right away. They were building on there future anticipating the departure of Aaron Smith.

    So that being said without further ado with the 24th pick in the 2012 NFL draft the Pittsburgh Steelers select Dontari Poe.

  • ShouldBeTheGM

    Let’s be clear. Roth has about 5-6 year window to win another one. The number one priority as of right now, and should have been since 2006 is to protect the franchise qb. If idiot management had done this then I suspect we would have possibly acquired 2 more sb trophies by now.. We need all picks in the trenches(2 nt, rest OL) . We don’t need a rb, wr , te , mlb etc.. If anybody in their right mind thinks that Foote or Sylvester cannot do an equal job to Farrior as of last year you are delusional. In addition Worlids is ready to start so either move him inside or Harrison inside. Any of our current rb’s will just as effective as Mendenhall. Redman is easily a better back and is tougher. So this can he go a season ?question is idiotic. #3 WR’s are a dime a dozen. We pick one up every year in FA on the cheap. So burning money on one when we can’t even resign Wallace is stupid.

    We lost last year because Roth was banged up as well as the 2010 SB. Because none of the line can pass block. Or run block from what I can tell. The Denver game doesn’t count because that was coaching. Piss poor stupid coaching. If Lebeau wasn’t a class guy I would have probably fired him after the Ravens game he botched. Certainly after the worse upset in playoff history. Fact of the matter is, this is his last year. The Rooney’s probably gave him a year to redeem himself . This is why Butler didn’t not sign somewhere else as a DC because it has been agreed he will be DC after next year once Lebeau retires. He’s clearly lost it. Not adjusting the defense after the first bomb was stupid. After the second I turned off the game realizing they were not going to adjust. I’ve never been that pissed at the team. Idiot Tebow shred’s the number one defense (because the only pass he can complete is a bomb ) and looks like tool against the worse defense the following week. So point is the defense is sound even with a stiff replacing another stiff(Farrior) as long as the coach is awake. Oh yeah , the great coach Tomlin , insists he would run the same defense again. Fool. Same fool who let a dimwit like Roth tell him to keep Arians so he can throw bombs like a wannabe Drew Bledsoe under an wannabe Mike Martz OC. Which can work if the line could pass block. Since they can’t than it won’t work. Tomlin did not fire Arians. The Rooneys did. Thank God.

    Trenches god dammit. I dont’ care if they reach or not..Overkill it whatever it takes. Both guards suck, The tackles are half-ass and the center always gets hurt. No depth behind any of it. If Roth gets beat up again than all the TEs, LBs etc.. in the world will not win the SB. The defense will need a NT. No way in hell Hampton comes back fat and old after a late season ACL and is effective. He should be cut immediately. Get 2 half decent guys and rotate them if necessary. Hell Hoke did the entire season in 2004. He was a 7th round pick. More panic by Colbert. Same panic he has demonstrated resigning guys like Simmons and Kemo and reaching for Mahan. Dude can’t pick OL past 1st round.

    So there is your damn draft strategy . Everything else is crap.

  • Jprankster2005

    I think if we drafted fleener it would open up holes for heath and the WR’s I think we would have even a more dangerous offense….. I think we should go Fleener before Hightower……

  • SteelersDepot

    I will make sure you don’t have to read another one.

  • Gronk was a second rounder, because of a back surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2009 college season. If Gronk didn’t get hurt, there’s a good chance that he would have been drafted in the first round. The thing to remember about Gronkowski, is that he was 20 lbs heavier than Fleener, coming out of college.

  • LOC

    move Worilds and Harrison inside ?

    please share the drugs you are on

  • Grw1960

    Poe is probably a consideration.
    I would prefer DT Brockers if he some how slips to the Steelers .
    Brocker is young yet and will probably weigh in the 330s by the start of his 2nd year in the pros.

  • Sonny

    Worilds can’t play inside, he is only effective ouside on Woodleys side. James H is an OSLB only. Mendenhall will be missed, he is proven the others aren’t. Sylvester has to produce in mini camp and in the pre season or he’s out. Who is Roth?

    i agree that the OLINE stinks and is a very huge question mark, but the draft is a crap shoot and nothing is guaranteed

  • Knucklehead

    “…who will still retain a heavy number of reps as a blocker.” I can’t believe that so many Steeler fans are so eager to diminish Miller’s role in the Offense like that.

  • ShouldBeTheGM

    Well not both inside at once. I’m not aware Timmons is going anywhere.
    I’m also not convinced Worlids can’t play inside at a decent level. He played the run pretty well when on the field from what I saw. Better than Woodley. Chad Browns was okay inside his first couple of years even though he excelled at outside. If Worlids can rush the passer which I think can then he’s an option on the outside and if Harrison slows down than he can move inside. It’s an option they have. Harrison does not get the credit he deserves as a run stopper. Nobody is going to run on him inside or outside. He’s a brickwall and attacks the lanes with fury. Point is we have high round picks at lb sitting on the bench and a lot of salary going to existing lb corp. I think selecting an ILB in R1 is overkill especially considering the state of the Oline, NT and even Corner. A 2 down run stuffer at the ILB spot we can easily obtain in later rounds. I mean the Oline is so deplorable I don’t understand the LB concern. What if we lose Pouncey or Gilbert? How many more hits can Roth take. As of right now we can’t block the Ravens. If we can obtain a decent line than I think we win the SB easily barring the injury bug. Frankly I think Farrior is addition by subtraction and any stiff can replace him. I’m not talking about Farrior in his prime here. I’ve already seen enough of Sylvestor to know he can do the job as well as Farrior did last year.

  • I don’t think moving Harrison inside is such a crazy idea. I don’t think it’s the ideal situation, and I’m guessing you feel the same way, but it is an option. Of all the Steelers LB’s, Harrison is the strongest against the run. If Harrison loses a step, his ability to rush the passer is going to suffer. At least inside, the Steelers can still take advantage of Harrison’s ability to sniff out the run.

    If the Steelers fail to get a high round ILB, it’s not the end of the world. Inside backer is one of the easier positions to hide, if there is a weakness in talent, especially when you have a player like Polamalu at strong safety. I also wouldn’t rule out the Steelers trying to sign London Fletcher to a one year deal. I know the guy is old as dirt, but the production is there, and he shouldn’t cost a lot. In 14 seasons, Fletcher has never missed a game. If you look at his stats last year, Fletcher led every LB in the NFL in tackles, combining for 166 tackles on the year. He also was credited with 8 defended passes, 2 int’s and 3 forced fumbles.

  • ShouldBeTheGM

    Right. It’s not ideal but when guys slow down they move to other positions if necessary. Woodson went to safety and excelled. I consider it only an option if Foote or Sylvester can’t man it, Harrison slows down or just getting our best 4 lbs on the field. I was impressed with Worlids. Not every guy needs to be all pro. In all honesty he reminded of Harrison when he was a back up. Funny nobody thought Harrison would replace Porter. The brass didn’t. They selected R1 and R2 OLB in 2006.
    Fletcher might cost too much but I think he is a 3-4 backer. As of right now I’m concerned about saving every dime to keep our WRs if possible. Also another point to the lb advocates, when is the last time a lb started in the Lebeau defense rookie year. He prefers guys who know the defense versus more talented rookies. The only guy I can think of is Bell who was rookie of the year. Timmons and Woodley took a couple of years to break in the lineup . Maybe OLB has more to learn but Timmons went inside.
    Reconsidering the TE consideration, I would be for it if they went to a 2 TE offense as the standard formation mostly for max protection and more ball control offense. That would help the tackles plus a shorter passing attacking less hits. Looked pretty good against Tennessee though I admit they had pass rush issues. But I still feel strongly we need 2 guards, another tackler , preferable LT and maybe 2 NT’s. Whether thru the draft or B free agents that might get cut later on. Right now pass protection and really run blocking are beyond imperative.
    And the reason I’m ranting on this is it’s been going on for years. I mean last year they were content to start the season with Scott at LT and meanwhile we’re overstocked at WR and they still bring in Burress for a look. It’s like they don’t acknowledge the obvious issue with the team. They lucked out Starks was able to come back. Fix it. Fix it now.


    Please quit calling him Roth.

  • “or just getting our best 4 lbs on the field”

    Well stated.

    Re: Fletcher, he has played ILB his entire career. He has spent the last three seasons at LILB, in the Redskins 3-4 defense, and has been extremely productive. His last contract averaged $5M/year, over 5 years. That may be outside the range the Steelers are able to play, but they should at least take a run at him. Who knows, maybe they get lucky.

    I think we’ll see the Steelers become active in FA, after April 21st, at which point RFA’s can no longer sign with another team. Until then, the Steelers have to keep their powder dry, just in case a team tries to take a last minute run at Wallace.