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Second to Gronk

The fantasy world rarely agrees on anything 100 percent across the board. That’s part of what makes Rob Gronkowski‘s value so appealing. He’s the top, unquestioned option at his position, making him a hands down first round option. Adding to how impressive Gronkowski’s lone wolf value is, we can see the inconsistency the others have had attempting to play second fiddle. Just when we had Jimmy Graham in as the TE1a, he gets moved to a new team in Seattle and suffers a serious knee injury. For a minute there, it looked as though Julius Thomas would push for that No. 2 spot but relocating to Jacksonville and suffering an early-season injury of his own now has Thomas outside the Top 10 in most fantasy circles. With all these swings and misses in mind, who should we be chasing once the top dog is off the board?

Many would go with Jordan Reed as the next man up behind Gronkowski. We’re not saying that’s wrong given last season’s numbers, but are we suddenly expecting him to play a full slate of games? Are we discounting his injury and concussion problems in order to chase last season’s stats? Others would have Greg Olsen up next. Again, we’re not saying that’s a bad move but don’t we all fully expect some sort of regression from Cam Newton? The Super Bowl hangover has historically been a very real thing and the return of Kelvin Benjamin could factor into a production dip. What about Tyler Eifert? The Tyler Eifert who was a touchdown machine in 2015 or the Tyler Eifert who is already dealing with injury in 2016? The point being made is that there is once again much risk at the second tight end spot.

So what are we to do? Do we select Travis Kelce and hope that the touchdowns increase? Or do we let others ahead of us pick their poison and target someone specifically a little higher than he’s projected to go? “Risers And Fallers” suggests that perhaps letting Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen, Tyler Eifert and Travis Kelce go and then jumping a little earlier on Coby Fleener may be the best strategy.

Looking at Fleener’s numbers in Indianapolis, you really don’t get the feeling that he’s ready to produce at an elite level. He’s been good at times but certainly no one you’re willing to go all-in on. His best year was 2014 where he had 774 yards with eight touchdowns. Pretty good but certainly not top-end worthy. What’s driving this hype train is how Drew Brees has kept his big man targets productive for a very long time. His admiration for the tight end spot has been a very storied and well-known fact. That fact does not even come close to driving the point home hard enough, though. Let’s take a look back over the years to see how tight ends have been with Brees, starting in 2004. This 12-year sample size may just be enough to really open your eyes.

Let’s head back to San Diego where it all began. Brees was cutting his teeth alongside an undrafted former college basketball player from Kent State named Antonio Gates. Here’s how the 6-foot-4, 255-pound tight end faired.

2004: 964 yards, 13 TD
2005: 1,101 yards, 10 TD

Next, we follow Brees to New Orleans. Here, we have a seventh-round selection from Hofstra who was so unknown he was labeled as a TE/WR in his first season. That was great for our roster purposes but it’s mainly being used here as a reference to Marques Colston being big enough to play tight end but quick enough to play outside. With Brees under center, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound tight end Marques Colston was able to create mismatches all over the field. Here’s how Colston produced as Brees’ big body go-to man.

2006: 1,038 yards, 8 TD
2007: 1,202 yards, 11 TD
2008: 760 yards, 5 TD (only played 11 games)
2009: 1,074 yards, 9 TD
2010: 1,023 yards, 7 TD

Third in the big boy batting order is perhaps the most impressive of all. Brees once again took a former basketball player and turned him into one of the most productive fantasy threats in the game. Coming in at a whooping 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds is former Miami Hurricane, Jimmy Graham.

2011: 1,310 yards, 11 TD
2012: 982 yards, 9 TD
2013: 1,215 yards, 16 TD
2014: 889 yards, 10 TD

Finally, we reach the most recent tight end on the receiving end of Brees’ passes. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound former New England Patriots’ tight end Benjamin Watson who had quite the second half of a season last year, helping him finish with decent numbers. These were compiled as he turned 35, mind you.

2015: 825 yards, 6 TD

So that brings us back to the 6-foot-6, 251-pound Coby Fleener in 2016. What are reasonable expectations for him in his first go around with the Saints? Everybody and their mother wants to average out Chargers’ wide receiver Keenan Allen‘s stats over a full season. That thought process is what has him flirting with Top 10 status for wide receivers. Why don’t we just use the same mindset and utilize the law of averages here? We’ve compiled all the stats from all the big men over the last 12 years and averaged them out to see what we’d have. You ready? Here it is:

1,030 yards, 10 TD

You should definitely be buying what we’re selling. Again, yes, Fleener’s numbers alone from his days in Indianapolis don’t scream “potential 1,000-yard receiver over here!” But Andrew Luck doesn’t have the natural chemistry with the tight end position in the same way that a Tom Brady or Drew Brees has. Don’t forget that Dwayne Allen was vying for catches out of the tight end spot too. Tight end competition doesn’t look to be an issue with the Saints in 2016. There’s a lot to be optimistic about with Fleener if you are pessimistic about the other options after the top spot.

About Patrick White

Have been with Sharks for seven years. Been printed and published. Have been copied by, faced off against, and beaten some of the fiercest competition and abbreviated outlets in football. If you read RnF and live by the old "If you're not first, you're last" mentality, you'll be just fine.