By Cian Fahey
Will Brinson, of CBS Sports, recently wrote a mock draft which featured the most intriguing selection I had seen so far for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brinson mocked Stanford Tight End Coby Fleener to the Steelers with the 24th overall selection: “This is a bit of a surprise pick, and the Steelers don\’t necessarily “need” a tight end. However, Kevin Colbert knows value when he sees it, and Fleener is precisely that. He can create mismatches on offense, and if the Steelers are going to struggle in the running game without Rashard Mendenhall, Fleener can add a new dimension to what Pittsburgh does.”
While Tight End is definitely not the team\’s biggest need, or even close to it, the Steelers would give themselves an added advantage over defenses with the addition.
Brinson references how Fleener would create mismatches on offense. At the Stanford Cardinal\’ Pro Day, Fleener ran a 4.45 40-yard-dash. With that kind of speed, standing at 6\’6 and roughly 240 lbs, Fleener is a sure fire first round draft pick.
Fleener would add a new dimension to the Steelers\’ group of tight ends. With Weslye Saunders suspended for the start of next season, the Steelers are left with David Johnson and Heath Miller as their options at the position. Johnson is predominantly a blocker, who often lined up as a fullback for Bruce Arians, while Miller is a stud and one of the most underrated in the league.
Miller doesn\’t present major matchup problems for defenses however. There are many linebackers who can stick with his speed while a handful of safeties are big enough to fight him for the football. If the team brought in Fleener, who has the speed to escape linebackers and size to manhandle secondary players, adding him to Miller would give them a pairing similar to the New England Patriots\’ Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
While Miller and Fleener together wouldn\’t be on the same level as Hernandez and Gronkowski, their effect on opposing defenses would work the same way.
The Patriots have built their offense to hide Tom Brady\’s greatest flaws. Brady has two major weaknesses that are rarely exposed. The first, he cannot throw effectively off his back foot at all, is covered by the team\’s heavy investment in offensive linemen over the years. The second is solved by the team\’s two tight ends predominantly. Brady often struggles to adjust to defenses after the ball is snapped. He does however do great work prior to the snap in diagnosing where to go with the ball.
Brady is able to do this because the Patriots\’ offense forces defenses to show their hand schematically prior to the snap. The offense is completely based on matchups with the team\’s tight ends a major part of that. When both Hernandez and Gronkowski are on the field, opposing defenses are forced to either abandon their base defense or expose one of their linebackers to Hernandez or Gronkowski.
When the Steelers beat the Patriots earlier this season, their ability to cover Gronkowski without doubling him and shut down the running game at the same time with their front six/seven allowed them to win the game. This is something very few defenses are capable of doing when both tight ends are fully healthy.
If the Steelers brought in Fleener, they would then have two tight ends on the field capable of giving them a schematic advantage. Even though the Steelers don\’t have a versatile back like Danny Woodhead or Stevan Ridley to further their matchup offense, having such a talented receiving corp would create major problems for opposition defenses. Defenses looking to double team Mike Wallace would expose themselves to the team\’s tight ends now as well as the team\’s other receivers.
While Fleener may not be a guard, running back or tackle, he would add a huge amount to the Steelers\’ offense.
Colbert isn\’t scared of taking the best available player. He proved in the past with Mendenahll that taking a player to diversify an already talented offense is not out of the question. Maybe, just maybe, Fleener could be that guy this year.