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Every year on college campuses across the country unforgettable relationships are forged. Some extend beyond commencement. Others eventually fade. But the memories, many times involving beer bongs and subsequent revelry, last a lifetime.
Former Stanford standout Coby Fleener isn't ready to let those good times go just yet.
The tight end's life, like many graduates', has completely transformed over the past couple months. Since joining the pro ranks, his bank balance is fatter and, moving from hilly NorCal to the cornfields of Indiana, geographic surroundings flatter. Still, in the youngster's case, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Drafted by the Colts with the 34th overall pick in late April, Fleener immediately re-teamed with Andrew Luck, a dream scenario for a rebuilding Indy franchise. During their three seasons together in Palo Alto the duo routinely terrorized Pac-12 opponents combining for 83 receptions, 1,367 yards and 18 touchdowns. That familiarity could soon prove deadly to NFL defenders too.
At every level of football, establishing a strong chemistry between receiver and quarterback is imperative. Zig instead of zag and a Tom Brady-Chad Johnson scenario unfolds. Execute flawlessly, though, and a certain magic occurs on the field.
Prepare to be amazed.
Historically, rookie tight ends have rarely faired well. Except for Mike Ditka. In 1961, not even a wild pack of mini-Ditkas could've contained Da Coach. His 56-1156-12 effort is still the greatest first-year line by an oversized target in NFL history. Since then, few have come close to that level of dominance even in this pass-heavy era of the game. Over the past 10 years, for example, only Jeremy Shockey (2002) and Rob Gronkowski (2010) tallied a top-seven per game return in their inaugural campaigns.
Fleener, though, could flirt with greatness.
Here are four reasons:
. Fleener isn't a powerful mutant like Gronk or an athletic marvel similar to Jimmy Graham, but he possesses many of the attributes needed to be instantly successful at the pro level — reliable hands, good balance, plus acceleration, size and smarts. Most importantly, he's an exceptional, well-groomed route runner, a plus-sized Wes Welker.
Scheme. With Reggie Wayne rapidly aging and Austin Collie a major injury risk, he could become the object of consistency and dependability for the Colts. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is enamored with two-TE sets. In his first coaching stint in Indy, he was an influential figure during Peyton Manning's rookie season, encouraging the then young QB to lean on security blankets Ken Dilger and Marcus Pollard (55-612-5 combined). A similar strategy will be implemented to help Luck along, boosting Fleener's scoring potential.
Synergy. The unbreakable bond between Luck and Fleener cannot be overstated. Their advanced knowledge of each other's idiosyncrasies and tendencies is akin to what Jay Cutler has with Brandon Marshall or Matt Ryan with Roddy White. Keep in mind, this will be the fourth year the combo has played together. That comfort level is invaluable. Here's what the pair said after tearing it up in minicamp red-zone drills a couple weeks ago:
"It is fun to have a guy that you are familiar with throwing to," Luck said after throwing three of his 10 touchdowns to his former Cardinal teammate. "Hopefully, we get on that level with everybody. There is always more to work on between him and I, as well, but it was nice to see him go out there and make some nice catches. …"
"I'm very comfortable with Andrew, both on and off the field," Fleener said. "I think it's more than just us having chemistry. I think it's him being a darn good quarterback. I can't say enough to be on this team and be thankful to have him as a quarterback."
Situation. "Pump up the Volume" may be the theme song in The Circle City this year. The Colts defense, one of the friendliest units in the league last year (Ranked 28th in total D), is a work in progress. Unless defensive coordinator Greg Manusky morphs into Dumbledore and waves a wand, opponents will likely score at will on Indy. Deep, nearly insurmountable deficits could happen early and often. If that materializes, Luck's arm may fall off from overwork. Roughly 35-40 attempts would be routine, meaning Fleener would average nearly 7-8 targets per game. Garbage time, in particular, could smell sweet.
Bottom line: Because of the depth and scope of tight end this year, Fleener is reason No. 80 why avoiding Gronk and Graham in Round 2 is smart money. Investing an early pick in the position ranks right up there with attempting to apprehend Adrian Peterson singlehandedly … unintelligent. Yes, fellow rookie Dwayne Allen will also be heavily involved, but if everything comes together it's conceivable he finishes inside the TE top-10, ahead of more prominent names like Tony Gonzalez (84.8, TE10) and Brandon Pettigrew (79.7, TE9). Overall, the Colt is a sensational value at his current 131.1 (TE15) ADP in Y! leagues.
All freshmen take their lumps in the NFL, but considering the favorable environment around them, Fleener and Luck are in position to make new, lasting memories.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 71 receptions, 859 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
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