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The Case For Coby Fleener

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Okay, here we are, two weeks away from NFL Draft Day and I’ve narrowed it down to one of two players I’d like to see the Cowboys select in the 1st round on Thursday, April 26.

After extensive research and intensive study, here it is…

With the 14th pick of the 1st round of the 2012 National Football League Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select:

Fletcher Cox – Defensive End – Mississippi State

I’m convinced this player is the 2nd coming of Jay Ratliff.

However, there’s only one problem with Fletcher Cox.  He will be drafted before the Cowboys select.

So, that brings us to Plan B…my 2012 Sean Lee is:

Coby Fleener – Tight End – Stanford

I’m convinced this player is the 2nd coming of Jason Witten.

And, Coby Fleener will be available at #14.  In fact, the Cowboys could possibly trade down, pick up an extra 3rd round pick and still get the man who could team with Witten to produce an immediate “Gronkowski/Hernandez Effect” on the Cowboys offense and be the heir apparent to Witten at one of the most critical positions on the Dallas offense.

But wait a second!  What about the Cowboys needs on defense?

Sorry, there’s no DeMarcus Ware in this draft.  There’s no Ed Reed either.  There’s not even a Terence Newman in the middle of the 1st round.

Well then, what about the Cowboys needs on the offensive line?

Yes, Stanford OG David DeCastro or Georgia OG/OT Cordy Glenn could be there at 14.  However, I’m good with taking an offensive guard in a later round as this appears to be a deep class of them.

This 1st round pick is about so much more than filling a perceived immediate need on the team.  The Cowboys have tried that before.  That drafting philosophy brought you the likes of Shante Carver, David LaFleur, Dwayne Goodrich, Quincy Carter, Bobby Carpenter, and Jason Williams.

This is about finding the right kind of guy that fits with this team both now and in the future.  Jason Garrett said as much last month when I asked him what he’s looking for in a player.

“We use the expression all the time.  We’re looking for the right kind of guy,” Garrett said, “and the right kind of guy to us is someone who loves to play football, very passionate about it, willing to work very hard at it, willing to be a part of a team, willing to be a part of something that may be greater than himself.

“We want a guy who has an ego.  Egos are important, but ego in the context of what we’re trying to accomplish as a team,” continued Garrett.  “Guys who love to play, and are willing to work at it, are great teammates.  There’s always going to be a place for those guys with the Cowboys.”

Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter, and DeMarco Murray were the right kind of guys last year.   Fletcher Cox, David DeCastro, and Coby Fleener are the right kind of guys this year.

Again, Cox won’t be there at 14.  If he is, grab him!  DeCastro should be there, but I believe he wouldn’t have as much impact on this Cowboys team as his Stanford teammate Fleener would.

According to someone close to the Stanford team, Fleener is “an amazing character guy…a great player and greater guy.  He can stretch the field and has proven he can make big time plays to change the game.  He’s a special player, a hard-nosed guy who can battle in the trenches and create matchup problems for any defense with his speed and catching abilities.”

Fleener is clearly the top tight end in this draft, and it’s not even close.  He averaged 19.6 yards per reception and scored 10 touchdowns in 2011.  That followed a 7-touchdown, 15.5 yard per catch season in 2010.

At 6-6, 247 pounds, he ran a 4.45 forty yard dash at his Pro Day at Stanford last month, as fast as many of the top wide receivers at the combine.  He had 27 bench reps of 225 pounds, more reps than 75% of the offensive tackles at the combine.  Fleener’s 37-inch vertical jump was better than any other tight end at the combine.

Truly, you have to think of Fleener as more than just a tight end.  He’s part tight end, part wide receiver, part “pain in the rear” to opposing defensive coordinators trying to figure out if the Cowboys offense is in a run or pass formation on a given down.

At the time the Cowboys drafted Martellus Bennett in 2008, Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett seemed excited to have an athletic tight end with receiving ability to pair with Witten.  That’s why they traded Anthony Fasano to the Dolphins the night before the draft.  However, Bennett never developed efficient receiving skills.  Eventually tipping the scales at 270 pounds, he didn’t possess the speed to threaten defenses.

Four years later, the Cowboys now have the opportunity to draft a special tight end to use alongside Witten and create passing game mismatches much like what the Patriots have been able to do with the Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez duo which combined for 169 receptions and 24 TDs in 2011.  I believe Jason Garrett thought he was getting that same kind of matchup nightmare for opposing defenses in 2008.

“A lot of that has to do with the kinds of tight ends you have and what their skill set is,” Garrett said at the owner’s meetings last month.  “When you break the huddle, (the defense) doesn’t know what kind of offense you are.  So, the tight end position is one that you can create different kinds of feelings for your offense and presents some problems for the defense if you have the right kind of guy.

“If you have the right kinds of guys that have versatility, it can cause problems because they have to say, ‘we’re playing regular defense’, you split them out, and you play it like its 3-wide,” said Garrett, “or if they’re playing nickel defense, bring them in, and we’re running the football.  So, you’re really dictating it based on the guys you have.”

You can count Garrett as one of those who admired what the Patriots were able to do with their two tight end alignment last season.

“I would make the argument they use them as a third receiver more than use as a fullback or even as a second tight end,” said Garrett.  “Those guys were receivers attacking (the defense).  They got some advantages from a matchup standpoint.  This guy is bigger than that guy trying to cover him, or this guy is faster than that guy trying to cover him.”

Garrett was talking about Gronkowski and Hernandez, but he might as well have been talking about TE/WR Coby Fleener, who is bigger and faster than almost any guy trying to cover him.  And, he happens to be that “right kind of guy” Jason Garrett covets.

Fleener has been ranked as high as the #7 draft prospect by the National Football Post, but most have him as a late 1st rounder.

I doubt the Cowboys will pick Fleener.  He’ll probably go 22nd to Cleveland, or 26th to Houston, or 30th to San Francisco and his old college coach Jim Harbaugh.

Wherever he goes, analysts will rave about it.  Why not?  Who wouldn’t want to draft Jason Witten?  And Coby Fleener is Jason Witten…with 4.45 speed!

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