While this blog has thus far been entirely taken up by politics, that isn't my only interest in life and therefore not the only thing I'll be writing about here. So apologies to those of you arriving at this post expecting more political analysis and welcome to those who are here to read my thoughts on why Colts tight end Dwayne Allen could be set for a big year.
Dwayne Allen, a third round pick out of Clemson in 2012, has had a mixed NFL career to date. Sharing time at tight end with fellow 2012 draftee Coby Fleener, Allen followed an excellent rookie year with three injury hampered seasons that has seen him miss 21 regular season games, including 15 in 2013. Combined with a confusing lack of usage, circumstances led us to the point that in the 2015 season he caught just 16 passes.
With both Fleener and Allen facing free agency this year, it seemed likely that Allen, arguably the more talented all around tight end of the two, would be shown the door in favour of the more productive and, crucially, healthier Fleener. Personally, I had always been underwhelmed by Fleener, whose impressive physical attributes never translated into the sort of on-field dominance that they could have done.
I was surprised, therefore, when the Colts chose to keep Allen, signing him to a $29.4m contract, leaving Fleener to sign with the New Orleans Saints in a $36m deal.
And now, coming into the 2016 season, Dwayne Allen has a chance to shine. He has to stay healthy, but the marriage of situation and talent puts Allen in a position to become a dominant player at the position. Let me explain why.
There are lots of doubts about Dwayne Allen's durability. There are few doubts about his ability. Allen won the John Mackey award for the best tight end in college football. Pre-draft, Allen was talked up by some as a potential first round pick, and only a poor combine performance saw him fall to the 3rd round where the Colts snapped him up.
In his rookie year he received a +10.1 run blocking grade from ProFootballFocus, who highlighted him as their 'Secret Superstar' heading into the 2013 season. He performed historically well for rookie tight ends, and as this post by Kyle Rodriquez over at Bleacher Report demonstrates, had demonstrated the full range of skills needed to be a top player at his position in the NFL. To just give a flavour of his ability, take a look at this play against the Lions, where he sells to block, catches a screen and then shows the vision, agility and speed to get to the outside and tear down the sideline. (Also worth noting is that Colts centre Samson Satele runs a full 40 yards downfield and never lays a finger on anyone. Sigh)
Then, sadly, the injuries derailed his career. He caught just one pass in the 2013 opener (which was for a touchdown, incidentally) before going on IR with a hip injury. Since that point, he has never quite hit the heights of that rookie season, though he proved his value in 2014 when he led the team in touchdowns.
However, the Colts clearly believe that the talent they saw in that rookie season is still there. They wouldn't have let Fleener walk otherwise. If they're willing to commit $29m to Dwayne Allen, I'm willing to bet that he still possesses the talent to be top tight end.
But the talent has always been there for Allen, so why will this year be any different from previous years? Because he now has two other crucial ingredients required to be successful.
Ever since he was drafted after Fleener in 2012, Allen has lived somewhat in shadow of the former Stanford player. In the four years they have shared the field, Colts tight ends have been targeted a total of 520 times, but Allen has only received 147 of those targets. Now he did miss a year through injury, but even taking that into account he has consistently received fewer targets than Fleener, with the gap reaching it's peak in 2015 when Allen got just 29 targets compared to Fleener's 85.
But Fleener is now gone, and with him go the 85+ targets he has attracted in each of the last three years. To go along with that, the Colts also cut ties with Andre Johnson, the veteran WR who was targeted 77 times last year. Together, over 160 targets from last year's offense walked out the door, and with the Colts making no significant pass-catching additions in either the draft or free agency it is reasonable to assume that they expect that slack to be picked up by players already on the roster.
While second year wide receiver Philip Dorsett will step into the role vacated by Johnson, Allen is in a position where his main competition at tight end is Jack Doyle who, while an important role player because of his blocking ability, is not in the same league as either Fleener or Allen as a pass-catcher, earning just 43 targets in three years. Erik Swoope is the only other viable tight end target on the roster, and while there is alot of positive buzz around the basketball convert, it would be a surprise if he were to go from practice squad player to significant contributor in one off-season.
It is also worth noting that replacing Johnson, a 6'3" 225lb receiver, with Dorsett, who comes in at 5'10" and 185lbs, takes away a large redzone target for the Colts, an area where Allen has thrived. 13 of his 91 career receptions have resulted in touchdowns, and in 2014 he led the team with 8 touchdowns on just 29 catches. It's not unreasonable to think that when the Colts get near the goal line, Allen will be the main man they look to go to.
So after years of sharing the applause, the stage is set for Allen to be the clear number one tight end target in the offense. And it's offense that strongly leans on the tight end.
The next, and arguably most important, piece in the Dwayne Allen breakout puzzle is the role of incoming offensive co-ordinator Rob Chudzinski. I say incoming because, while he took over the role midway through last season, he is only now installing his offense and hopefully won't have the same QB carousel to deal with this year as he did in 2015.
Historically, Chudzinski's offense has been tight end friendly. Very, tight end friendly. Here is the stats for each of the starting TEs in his previous stops with Cleveland as OC and HC (2007-2008 & 2013) and Carolina as OC (2011-2012).
2007 - Kellen Winslow: 16 games, 149 targets, 82 receptions, 1,106 yards and 5TDs
2008 - Kellen Winslow: 10 games, 81 targets, 43 receptions, 428 yards and 3TDs
2011 - Greg Olsen: 16 games, 90 targets, 45 receptions, 540 yards and 5TDs
2012 - Greg Olsen: 16 games, 104 targets, 69 receptions, 843 yards and 5TDs
2013 - Jordan Cameron: 15 games, 117 targets, 80 receptions, 917 yards and 7TDs
It's worth noting that 2011 was Cam Newton's rookie season, and his other teams were QB'd by Derek Anderson (x2) and the Frankenstein's monster combination of Brandon Weeden/Jason Campbell in 2013, so 5th year Andrew Luck is almost certainly the best QB that Chudzinski has had to work with.
And while there are some very talented TEs on that list, I don't think it's outrageous to suggest Allen is able to deliver the same level of play as they did. The Colts obviously believe that he can, otherwise I'd be writing this column about Coby Fleener instead. And that column would contain more dropped passes.
So, for the big reveal (it's not that big, it's just maths). Splitting those stats on a per-game-basis to account for missed games, and then prorating for a full 16 game season means that average Chudzinski tight end gets 119 targets, 70 receptions, 829 yards and 5TDs a year.
To put that in context, a player delivering those stats last year would have been top 10 in targets (5th), receptions (10th), yards (8th) and TDs (tied for 9th). And that, remember, is the average performance of a Chudzinski tight end. If you're a believer in Allen's talent, as I am, then his ceiling may be beyond those numbers.
Dwayne Allen has shown us in the past that he is a dynamic tight end, and now finds himself as the primary option in an offensive scheme that siphons targets to the tight end, run by a QB who is one of the best in the game. If he can stay healthy, and that's a big if, then don't be surprised if this time next year we're talking about Dwayne Allen as a top tight end in the NFL.