Eagles Training Camp Preview: Better or Worse at TE?

Eagles Training Camp Preview: Better or Worse at TE?
July 17, 2014, 3:00 pm

As the Philadelphia Eagles prepare to open training camp on July 25, we examine whether the team is better or worse than last season at each position. We continue with the tight ends.

 

BETTER

Zach Ertz

This kid is poised to have a breakout year, period.

You could just see him beginning to take over games late last year, especially when the Eagles were down inside the red zone. Ertz reeled in all five of his touchdown catches over the second half of the season, including one in their playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints.

You could just see it looking at the guy back in training camp. At 6’5, 250 pounds, Ertz may have the body of a tight end, but he runs very fluidly, almost like a wide receiver. Don’t worry about his 40 time, Ertz has deceptive speed, plus he knows how to use his body to shield the ball from defenders.

Tight ends often experience a leap in production during their second season, and it certainly appears Ertz is headed for a spike. The second-round pick finished 2013 with 36 receptions for 469 yards and four touchdowns, which were better totals than the likes of perennial Pro Bowlers such as Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham posted for their rookie campaigns.

With the release of wide receiver DeSean Jackson, it’s only logical the Eagles would utilize the tight end more in the passing attack. If Ertz’s rapid development continues like it has, he can potentially push 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns in ’14.

 

James Casey

It took the Eagles awhile to find much use for Casey. Signed to a three-year, $12 million contract during free agency last year, some observers had expectations Casey would play a big role in the offense, but he wound up buried on the depth chart behind Brent Celek and Ertz.

Casey started to see an uptick in playing time around December, though. Granted, he wasn’t targeted at all in the passing attack late in the year. However, Casey is a very effective run-blocker, and the Birds were pounding the rock while trying to put games against the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys on ice.

That seems to be his role going forward. Now that the Eagles finally found the right packages for him, Casey should have more value to the offense than merely a competent backup and special teams contributor.

 

WORSE

Nothing.

 

THE SAME

Brent Celek

Celek is approaching his 30th birthday, so one could easily make the case his best days are behind him, and he’s at risk of decline setting in—if it hasn’t already. Last year was a career renaissance of sorts for Celek, though, as he went from being known largely for his ability as a receiver to a key component of Philadelphia’s No. 1 ranked ground attack.

Celek was a beast of a run-blocker in ’13, playing a big part in paving the way for LeSean McCoy’s first rushing title. According to metrics site Pro Football Focus, Celek graded out as the best of any regular tight end in that department. It’s that ability that will likely keep him in the starting lineup for another season over an emerging Ertz, at least in the beginning.

And while Celek’s receiving totals were down, it was actually one of his best seasons in several aspects. His 15.7 yards per reception was the highest of his seven-year career, and three more than his lifetime average. Six touchdowns were also good for the second-best finish as a pro.

The other thing about Celek is he’s dependable. The guy plays through injuries, missing only one game since reaching the NFL. Even if his talent begins to fade, Celek is going to give a ton the Eagles a ton of effort and will get the job done—for one more year, at least.

 

THE UNKNOWN

Blake Annen, Trey Burton

Last year, the Eagles carried four tight ends out of training camp. I don’t think they’ll bother this year, as an extra running back and/or offensive lineman could be in the cards instead, but the team does have intriguing options here in a pair of undrafted rookies.

Annen is the one who caught my eye. He only managed to haul in 19 passes in four years at Cincinnati, but set the world on fire at his pro day, clocking a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash at 6’4”, 247 pounds. Annen is basically the same size at Ertz with wide receiver speed—far less polished, of course.

Burton lined all over the offense at Florida, taking snaps at tight end, wide receiver, running back and even as a passer—versatility that no doubt appealed to Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. He’s only listed at 6’3”, 235 pounds, which I find small for a tight end, but realistically, it’s probably his position in name only.

I don’t think either guy is ready for the main roster, but wouldn’t be surprised to see one or both make the scout team.

 

BETTER OR WORSE

Better. Ertz can be a star in my opinion, as in right now, which is what makes this group leaps and bounds better than last season. Celek is still an effective receiving option, and found his niche in the Eagles’ run-blocking scheme, which should help offset any decline in talent. Nothing not to like here, including some interesting developmental rookies in the mix hoping to get noticed.

 

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