SB Nation's Danny Kelly (who also runs Field Gulls, Seahawk bias alert!) has been running an interesting offseason series that looks at the best position groups around the NFL. The Eagles were recently mentioned in his look at the NFL's best running back groups. Today, Kelly took a look at the best tight ends groups. It just so happens the Philadelphia Eagles' unit was ranked all the way at the top in the ELITE category.
Here's what Kelly had to say:
The Eagles have an embarrassment of riches at the tight end position, with legitimate starters in Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, and James Casey - and this trio makes them maybe the deepest team at the position.
Ertz, the former All-American for Stanford that Philly selected in the second round of last year's draft, busted into Chip Kelly's offense as a rookie and caught 36 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns. Not to be outdone, veteran Brent Celek had more yardage and scores on fewer catches, registering 32 receptions for 502 yards with six touchdowns. Both figure to feature prominently into Kelly's plans in 2014, and the Eagles will certainly hope to get more production out of 2013 free agent signee James Casey, who only played 13 percent of Philadelphia's offensive snaps and made three catches after signing a three year, $14 million deal. Casey, who has played both fullback and tight end in his career and moves well at either spot, does profile as the type of player Kelly wants to get onto the field.
With Chip's break-neck pace and no-huddle philosophy, tight ends in his scheme must be versatile enough to play inside on the line, in the slot, or even wide out running routes up the sideline. The reason for this is that when running the no-huddle or hurry up offense, you must eschew substitutions and rely on your players' ability to line up in different formations and execute different assignments. Ertz and Celek are definitely well-suited for this and produced well in 2013. Casey projects as the type of athlete that could be used all over the field as well, so the Eagles have some options and depth.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly (not to be confused with Danny Kelly, the atuhor of this article) didn't make his affinity for tight ends a secret. Shortly after accepting the Eagles job last season Chip admitted he wanted to "stockpile" TEs on the roster. This was evident when Chip decided to keep four on the initial 53 man roster last season. The fourth, Emil Igwenagu, was largely kept for depth purposes and moved to the practice squad later in the season.
In time, it was clear the Eagles would use their main trio of tight ends. Brent Celek was the reliable veteran who served as a strong blocker in the run game. This is vital since Kelly loves to run the ball. While Celek's receiving yards went down he hit a career high in yards per reception (15.7). He also had 6 TD and was a threat to score in the red zone. Celek will likely resume this role entering his 8th season.
Rookie Zach Ertz got off to a slow start, which he attributed to missing some offseason workouts while he was finishing up classes at Stanford. But he picked up as the season went along and finished with a really strong performance as far as rookie tight ends go. Ertz is poised to make a significant second year jump if given the right opportunities. While Ertz lacks Celek's blocking prowess he's a dangerous pass catcher. His combination of size and crisp route running makes him a good weapon to have.
Veteran tight end James Casey didn't have much of an offensive impact until later in the season when he was primarily used as an additional blocker in the run game. Perhaps this foreshadows a larger role for Casey in 2014. If not, Casey still returns as a reliable backup and that's not something to scoff at. If the Eagles plan to use two tight ends very often then it's absolutely imperative to have a quality third tight end. And let's not forget that Casey is also one of the team's best special teams players.
It remains to be seen if the Eagles keep a fourth tight end. Emil Igwenagu, a former fullback, compares to Casey's role as a special teams player and run blocker. Rookie Blake Annen is an intriguing UDFA but has struggled with drops in OTAs. Trey Burton is listed at a TE but measures in at 6-2, 224. He looks like more of a TE/WR hybrid.
In any case, it's hard to disagree with Danny Kelly: this looks like a pretty good group of tight ends. ELITE status will easily be reached if Ertz can be as good as he's projected to be.