METAIRIE, La. -- Expectations for Coby Fleener proved to be way too high last season.
Ideally for Fleener and the New Orleans Saints, though, they’ve become too low now as the 28-year-old hopes to take advantage of that Year 2 bump in a new offensive system.
“I think just opening the playbook for the first time this year and being familiar with those terms [is the biggest difference]. I’m not learning a whole new language this year, I’m not learning from Square 1,” Fleener said during the first week of OTA practices. “So being able to revamp and feel comfortable going out there and not having to worry about what play call is gonna come up is a huge benefit.”
Fleener had a decent enough season in his debut with the Saints: 50 catches, 631 yards, four touchdowns.
But it was nowhere near the type of breakout that fans, fantasy players or Fleener and the Saints themselves expected after he joined New Orleans’ dynamic and tight end-friendly offense.
The Saints created most of those lofty expectations when they signed Fleener to a hefty five-year, $36 million contract on the first day of free agency.
“I wouldn’t say I set numerical goals. But I think it absolutely could’ve been better. I would have loved it to have been better,” Fleener acknowledged. “But had we gone to the playoffs and gone to the Super Bowl, [my numbers would have been] neither here nor there. And I think that’ll be the same goal this year.”
Fleener essentially had the same type of season in New Orleans that he had during his first four with the Indianapolis Colts: some big moments mixed with too much inconsistency.
He also continued to battle some dropped passes (three, according to ESPN Stats & Information, with a few other contested misses that could have fallen into that category).
Fleener also needs to have more success making contested catches and becoming more of a red-zone presence with his 6-foot-6, 251-pound frame.
And it admittedly took Fleener a while to get adjusted to a new offense and new quarterback, though he has said multiple times that QBs don’t get any better to work with than Drew Brees, and explained, “I don’t think there’s anything egregious from Year 1, like, ‘We NEED to get on the same page.’”
Part of the reason Fleener’s numbers and targets weren’t higher is because the Saints’ receiving corps was deeper than ever with Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas and Willie Snead all having stellar 2016 seasons.
Cooks is gone now, so it’s possible a few more targets could come Fleener’s way as a result. And Saints coaches still believe in Fleener’s potential to succeed in this offense.
But it’s impossible to expect Fleener to come anywhere near the kind of astronomical numbers Jimmy Graham posted in New Orleans from 2010-2014 (like 99 catches for 1,310 yards in 2011 and 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013).
The best-case scenario would probably be a repeat of Benjamin Watson's 2015 season (74 catches, 825 yards, six TDs).
Fleener said he never compared himself to those players when he came to New Orleans. But he understands why others did, and he has no problem with fans having lofty demands.
“I don’t think I ever came in with the mindset of, like, ‘I’m Jimmy Graham’ or anything close to what Jimmy is or was,” Fleener said. “Jimmy’s a really special player in his own right and somebody that I try to emulate in a lot of ways. And so to imagine that I would have the same statistics as him the first year out, I think would be a challenge.
“[But] I appreciate that challenge, I appreciate the high expectations from the fan base, and I think they should have those. So hopefully we can meet or exceed those this year.”