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A Tight Unit With No End In Sight

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Dwayne Allen has potential to anchor one of the top tight end units in football. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.
Dwayne Allen has potential to anchor one of the top tight end units in football. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

Notable players: Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Justice Cunningham, Weslye Saunders

One-word description: Future

There’s a new hip trend in the world of NFL offenses. Instead of focusing on the development of wide receivers, everyone is trying to find the next great tight end, and in some cases, the next two great tight ends.

The Indianapolis Colts followed suit in the 2012 NFL Draft. After taking Andrew Luck with the no. 1 overall pick, the Colts started stockpiling weapons for their franchise quarterback to utilize for years to come. But their first two picks following Luck weren’t wide receivers or running backs. They were Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, the draft class’s top two tight end prospects.

With the wide receiver and running back positions not entirely set for the future, it looks like Allen and Fleener will be Luck’s most consistent go-to guys over the next year at least.

Allen already proved he’s one of the best all-around tight ends in the NFL. For tight ends either in their rookie or second year in 2012, Allen hauled in the most receiving yards (521), second-most receptions (45) and third-most touchdowns (three). In the blocking game, he made it look like he should be starting on the offensive line. Some of that has to do with how horrible the line was last year, but Allen proved whether it’s in the running or passing game, he can keep opposing defensive linemen and linebackers away from his ball-carrying teammates.

Fleener certainly isn’t the blocker Allen is, but he proved last year he also is no liability when it comes to opening holes for running backs or protecting Luck in the pocket. Fleener’s strength is in the receiving game. Among rookie or second-year tight ends last season, Fleener ranked fifth in receptions (26) and yards (281) and fourth in touchdowns (two). And that all came in just 12 games played. Had he played the other four games and not had to leave others early due to injury, his stats would be right up there with Allen’s.

Third on the depth chart should be this year’s Mr. Irrelevant pick, Justice Cunningham. He’s kind of the opposite of Fleener. He’s not going to be making SportsCenter for any acrobatic catches, but he’ll be serviceable enough to play on passing downs. Where he’ll make a living in the NFL is in the blocking game. He’ll be on the line of scrimmage for every short-yardage play. When the Colts need to pound out a yard or two on the goal line or third downs, the blocking by Cunningham and Allen will give the Colts almost a seven-man offensive line feel instead of a five-man one with some tight ends thrown out there hoping to somehow contribute.

The final man to round out the depth chart will be Weslye Saunders. He doesn’t specialize in one thing, but he also isn’t bad at anything, either. He’s the perfect depth guy. He’s good enough to help the team off the bench if need be, but not good enough to hurt the team financially.

I don’t know if this is the best positional unit on the Colts roster, but it is one of the most complete. You’ve got a guy who can do it all, one who specializes in the pass game, one who is a blocking master and another who although isn’t a top talent can still fill in for any of the starters. As if that isn’t enough, all four tight ends are 24 or younger. Forget this roster. In two or three years, this very well may be one of the best and most complete units in the NFL.