During the offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles invested heavily in the tight end position, signing James Casey from the Houston Texans to a three-year, $12 million contract and selecting Stanford University All-American Zach Ertz in the second round of the NFL Draft.
With two promising tight ends on the roster, 28-year-old Brent Celek’s stock was in free fall to football analysts despite consistent career production and four years remaining on his contract. Thought to be the odd man out, rumors throughout the month of August had Celek being traded to the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In retrospect, the Eagles had no intention of trading Celek, a critical chess piece in Chip Kelly’s offensive attack. In a league that is becoming more specialized, Celek’s every-down versatility as both a pass-catcher and blocker stands out.
A tight end with a 971-yard, eight-touchdown season on his resume is clearly an adept pass catcher, and his impressive career average of 12.6 yards per reception demonstrates that he is more than just a check-down target in the passing game. Curiously, Kelly failed to mention Celek’s receiving skills during training camp. Instead, the coach singled out his blocking ability for consistent praise.
This led Eagles beat reporters to assume that Celek would be relegated to an inline blocker role so that Ertz could be installed as the Eagles “move tight end”, running more routes and catching more passes than the plodding Celek.
It hasn’t worked out that way. This past Sunday, Celek led the Eagles in receiving with 58 yards and a touchdown. He was also on the field for 61 of 65 snaps compared to Ertz’s 15. On the season, Celek has played almost twice as many snaps and has more receiving yards than Ertz. Casey has barely seen the field.
Against the Chicago Bears, most of Celek’s snaps came on rushing plays where his strength and quickness were on display, as the Eagles rushed for 289 yards in prime time. Per profootballfocus.com, he is the best starting tight end in the run blocking department, and grades out in the top 10 overall at the position.
It may be strange for a 28-year old with Celek’s resume to have a coming-out party at this point in his career, but after playing a leading role in last night’s demolition of the Bears, he is now perceived as an upper-echelon NFL tight end. This is a part Celek has been playing all along.