Can Brent Celek continue to play at a high level in Chip Kelly's offense? Is Zach Ertz ready to have a breakthrough rookie season in 2014? Will James Casey even be on the Eagles' roster in 2014? Let's have a look.
This is part 4 of an 11 part series, this part will focus specifically on the tight ends on the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles and how the team can improve heading into the 2014 season. Each part will focus on a specific positional group with 11 in all (QB, RB, WR, TE, OL, DL, ILB, OLB, CB, S and ST [K, P, KR and PR]). Now let's talk Eagles' tight ends.
2013 Eagles' Tight Ends: Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey.
How'd the do?
Brent Celek: 34 receptions for 518 receiving yards and 6 receiving touchdowns. (including playoffs)
When Chip Kelly was first hired, he stressed to the media that his offense was going to use the tight end position in a variety of ways. Brent Celek was coming off a down year in 2012 with only 1 receiving touchdown for the entire season but Kelly's new system was a chance for Celek to prove he still had it.
Celek was the steadying force at tight end for the Eagles throughout the 2013 season. He was #1 on the depth chart for a reason. He doesn't have the hands and route running of Zach Ertz or versatility of James Casey, but Celek could do one thing especially well and that was blocking. Chip Kelly was always quick to praise Celek after what seemed like every game for how great of a blocker he is.
But Celek was limited to just an in-line blocking tight end, Kelly got creative with Celek. He introduced tight end screens that showcased the reinvigorated tight end's underrated speed including a screen pass that he took 42-yards against the Washington Redskins in week 11 that was just short of a touchdown.
Celek proved in 2013 that he is an elite blocking tight end that can also make plays in the screen game as well as a deep target when called upon. He finished the season with 6 receiving touchdowns and averaged an impressive 15.7 yards per reception.
Overall Grade: A. Celek continued to excel as a blocker but also showed he was a threat to put points on the board by scoring 5 more touchdowns than he did in 2012.
Zach Ertz: 39 receptions for 491 receiving yards and 5 receiving yards. (including playoffs)
When the Eagles drafted Zach Ertz, the standout tight end out of Stanford at the top of the second round in the 2013 Draft, many were surprised. But those that knew the Eagles' offensive plans thought it made sense. Chip Kelly stressed how he wanted to involve tight ends a ton in the offense and Ertz was arguably the top tight end in the draft.
Ertz is still raw as a blocker but has very impressive route running for a player his size and can line-up almost anywhere on the field. Throughout the season, Ertz played in the slot, in-line as well as all the way on the outside. His versatility was a welcome addition to the Eagles offense and as the season progressed, he showed he was a play-maker.
Although he got off to a slow start and struggled with drops, Ertz finished the season on a strong note. He had a breakout game week 13 against the Arizona Cardinals finishing with 6 receptions for 68 yards and 2 touchdowns. Everyone knew Arizona's defense struggled against tight ends and Ertz took advantage of the mismatch.
In week 15 against the Minnesota Vikings, Ertz had another impressive performance. He grabbed 6 passes for 57 yards and an impressive one-handed touchdown catch in the red zone. Ertz continued to impress at the end of the season including a clutch touchdown grab to take the lead at the end of Eagles' playoff game against the New Orleans Saints.
Sadly, as everyone knows, the Saints won the game on a last second field goal. But Ertz showed a ton of promise as a rookie and he should only get better with another year in Kelly's offense under his belt.
Overall Grade: B+. He got off to a rough start with a severe case of the "dropsies" but he made great strides as the season progressed and showed he has a ton of potential.
James Casey: 3 receptions for 31 receiving yards.
Casey was one of the few free agents that the Eagles' brought in on the offensive side of the ball. Many believed Casey had potential to have a breakout season as a jack-of-all-trades in Chip Kelly's system since he has the ability to line-up almost anywhere. But it didn't really go as planned.
Casey was battling Ertz for playing time and had opportunities to start the season but a crucial dropped touchdown against the San Diego Chargers in week 2 was quite the perfect image for Casey's season.
Whenever given the opportunity, Casey just dropped the ball. He wasn't the player that everyone thought he would be and was outperformed by both Celek and Ertz. Casey did contribute as a blocker in certain situations but that was about it for him on offense. He was a solid special teams player but special teams players shouldn't be making $3+ million per season, which makes me think he may not be on the Eagles' roster in 2014.
Overall Grade: D. Casey wasn't the player that many thought he would be in Kelly's offense and he might've been their worst free agent signing of the 2013 off season. His special teams contributions are the only thing that saved him from getting an F.
Celek and Ertz both played very well in 2013 and will definitely be around again in 2014. But Casey failed for the most part and I believe the Eagles will take a long hard look at some of the tight ends on both the free agent market and in the draft as well.
Ed Dickson will likely re-sign with the Baltimore Ravens but if he hits the market, I expect the Eagles to give him a look. He played for Chip Kelly at Oregon and could be a nice addition for the team as a depth option at tight end. He is a primarily a in-line blocking tight end but having experience in Kelly's offense might earn him a look from the birds.
Scott Chandler is a huge target at 6-7, 260 lbs. and could very well be that big red zone target the Eagles could use in their offense. Chandler is better off as part of of a tight end tandem instead of being a primary #1 tight end, which makes him a perfect fit for the Eagles.
2014 NFL Draft:
I don't see the Eagles looking at a tight end any time before day 3 of the draft but there is always that possibility. Either way, here are a few prospects I could see them targeting later in the draft.
Oregon's Colt Lyerla is the name in the 2014 NFL Draft that will be consistently linked to the Eagles because of head coach Chip Kelly. He played at Oregon under Kelly and flourished in the uptempo offense that now has a home in Philadelphia. Lyerla does have a long list of off the field issues which will cause him to drop in the draft. If it wasn't for those problems, Lyerla would be drafted a lot higher. He has a ton of talent and if the Eagles feel they can fix his or manage problems, he might have a home in Philadelphia very soon.
Baylor's Jordan Najvar is a player that is flying under the radar in my opinion. He likely won't be picked until the 7th round or even go undrafted but he has potential. Najvar was hardly used as a pass catcher at Baylor but was a downright dominant run blocker and that alone should catch Kelly's eye. Najvar does have the size that Kelly loves, standing 6-6, 256 lbs. and soft hands if called upon to make a catch.
That's all for Evaluating the Eagles: Part 4, Tight Ends. Be sure to check out the rest of the series in the following days leading up to free agency!
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