The Eagles handed James Casey a $12 million contract in free agency and spent a second round draft pick on Zach Ertz, giving Chip Kelly three starting-caliber tight ends on the roster (with Brent Celek as the third). Despite the logjam at the position, none of the three players are necessarily odd-men-out. Kelly loves the height and speed mismatches that tight ends can create in the passing game and the size mismatches they present in the running game. While the Eagles’ tight ends won’t catch as many passes as they would like to, each of them can carve out a meaningful role in the offense.
At 6’2″, 240, Casey would be considered extremely undersized in an in-line tight end role. In Houston, he played a lot of fullback and was the second or third tight end. He’s best playing off the line of scrimmage, and Chip Kelly will likely use him as the team’s slot receiver. At Rice, Casey was Mr. Versatile, playing everything from tight end to wide receiver to quarterback. He has soft hands and excellent run-after-catch ability for a tight end. He’s a very smooth and graceful athlete for his size and can make defenders miss in space. He appeals to Kelly as a slot receiver because of his size and blocking ability. In an offense that likes to throw a lot of quick screens and bounce runs to the sideline, the slot receiver will be counted on to be an impact blocker on the perimeter. Casey – given his experience at fullback – should be able to clear out little slot corners with relative ease. His athleticism and blocking prowess make him a valuable weapon for Chip Kelly to use, even without the ball in his hands. Expect him to play around 75% of the team’s snaps as the team’s move tight end/slot receiver.
Of the three tight ends, Celek is the only one that was not hand picked by Chip Kelly. That certainly doesn’t bode well for his long-term future in Philadelphia, but in the short term, he remains the team’s most logical day 1 starter at the in-line tight end position. Celek is far and away the team’s best blocking tight end, both in the run game and in pass protection. He’s the toughest and most physical of the bunch, and in a run-oriented attack, that counts for a lot. Kelly has stated that Celek’s strength is his blocking, which suggests that he may fall behind the more athletic James Casey and Zach Ertz in the targets category. However, neither Casey nor Ertz offer much as in-line blockers, and that vacant traditional tight end role is Celek’s clear path to playing time. Unless Ertz outplays him, Celek is still in line to play the majority of the team’s offensive snaps, but his days of catching 60 passes a season are over.
Of the three tight ends, Ertz’s role is the least defined heading into 2013. It’s never easy to project how quickly a rookie will adjust to the pro game, and the Eagles don’t have to force him into a big role right off the bat. Still, Ertz is a heady player whose game is quite polished for a 22-year-old. He is unique among the Eagles’ tight ends in that he can play both the move and in-line tight end positions. At 6’5″, 250, he has the length and bulk to play on the line of scrimmage, but he also has the athleticism to split out wide or play in the slot. At Stanford, he was very comfortable playing in a receiver-type role. I expect him to learn both positions and be the primary backup for both Casey and Celek. In traditional 2-tight end sets, Ertz should play alongside Celek, and he may even get some opportunities to line up out wide as a fourth receiver. As a do-it-all tight end, Ertz will likely convince the coaching staff to put him on the field in a variety of roles. He should play close to 50% of the team’s offensive snaps and emerge as a serious threat to Brent Celek’s job. Ertz is the most talented receiver of the bunch and can be effective anywhere he lines up.
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