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Position review: tight end

Three’s company

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We wrap up our position reviews with tight ends. We thought we would see all three tight ends on the field more than we actually did. Hopefully the wide receivers will be upgraded in the offseason and we won’t have to see it much in 2017.

Zach Ertz

Another year, another slow start and torrential finish by Zach Ertz. This is getting repetitive. Over his last eight games, Zach Ertz caught 55 passes for 569 yards and 4 touchdowns, extremely similar to his last eight games of 2015 when he caught 51 passes for 583 yards and 2 touchdowns.

His late season surge wasn’t the only repetitive thing about his season. Per Football Outsiders, he had the third worst broken tackle rate of any player at 2.6%, and in 2015 it wasn’t much better at 5.3%. His 10.5 yards per reception was the worst of his career, in every year of his career it has lowered. In fairness, every year the talent level of the skill positions has lowered as well.

Maybe that breakout season we’re expecting and that Howie Roseman is paying for will come though. In both seasons he had a new QB, so adjusting to a new QB is a legitimate argument. And he missed two games due to a rib injury that he was rushed back from, which will hamper anyone. Where he really took off was after the criticism of his effort in an ugly loss to the Bengals. He had 9.6 yards per reception on the season after that game, 11.7 in the four that followed.

But don’t expect that break out to be a carbon copy of his second halves of seasons, which prorate to over 100 catches and 1100 yards. In the last five years, Jason Witten is the only tight end to catch over 100 passes and only Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce have caught over 1100 yards.

Verdict: Thumbs up. When he was healthy he was productive. He’ll need a consistent, productive and full season in 2017 to ward off the critics and justify his contract.

Brent Celek

Celek had the least productive season of his career, which shouldn’t be a surprise for a 31 year old backup, but it felt like a waste of a season. For the first time in his career he did not catch a touchdown, and was targeted just twice in the red zone, a curiously low number for the 9th worst red zone offense. Celek is on the downside of his career, but his route running and hands warranted more use in the red zone.

Over the last six games of the season he played fewer snaps than Trey Burton, though he also caught 7 passes during that span, but for just 48 yards.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Celek offered little production for his playing time, which declined as the season progressed.

Trey Burton

Even though as noted above he overtook Brent Celek on the depth chart as the season progressed, it would have been nice to see Doug Pederson use him more. 20 of his 37 receptions gained a first down or scored a touchdown. In a way, he was the 2016 version of Josh Huff: he’d make a decent play on an offense starved of playmakers, then spend entire drives on the bench. Against the Seahawks he opened the game with a 14 yard catch, he was targeted just once the rest of the game. He caught back to back 32 and 11 yard passes in the first quarter against the Giants in the loss in the Meadowlands, he wasn’t targeted again until the third quarter. He caught seven passes on 13 targets in his first two games, over his next eight games he was targeted just 15 times. More playing time was warranted.

The increase in offensive playing time meant that his special teams usage dipped, after being the second most used special teamer on the Eagles in 2015 he was just fourth in 2016.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Already a key special teams player, Burton added to his resume with a solid season as a pass catcher. A restricted free agent this year, a contract extension is just a matter of time.

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