The fourth installment of our ultimate Eagles OTA preview places the magnifying glass over the tight end group. One of the few positions where continuity is already established, tight end will still have a few interesting narratives to follow when OTA’s kick off on Tuesday.
Last year, OTA’s provided us with the first window into how Pederson’s offense would function, unleashing the idea of three-tight end sets. With the same three tight ends returning in 2017 and a year of experience under Doug Pederson, it will be worth paying attention to how the tight ends line up and if Pederson has any more curveballs up his sleeve.
The big difference here is that after two full offseasons, the Eagles have substantially bolstered their offensive line, perhaps taking some of the blocking weight off of the shoulders of Brent Celek especially. Would the Eagles now be able to flex the likes of Trey Burton out to the slot on occasion, knowing that they have sufficient protection down in the trenches? Or are those impressive three-tight end sets that helped send running backs into the endzone on several occasions last year, still a staple of Pederson’s offense?
Celek’s role diminished?
Surprisingly, Brent Celek actually had his worst statistical season in his career so far, amassing just 14 receptions in the 16 games he played, although his catch rate was a career high.
Tying in to the first point, watching how Celek is used through OTA’s could be our first indication of how the team plan to use him moving forward. The savvy veteran played in just 38% of offensive snaps last year, which saw his integral blocking role allowing Trey Burton and Zach Ertz to really emerge as primary targets for Carson Wentz.
But it’s arguable that Celek’s role may have been marginalized due to the injury setbacks the group suffered in 2016. With Ertz missing some substantial time, it almost forced Celek into that role, while the far more versatile and sneakily athletic Trey Burton, was the receiving replacement.
The group is now fully healthy, and Celek proved in small doses that he can still be an overlooked threat for the Eagles offense. Again, this may sound like a really minor story, but if Celek is going to play out his new contract that he signed last year and retire as an Eagle, his contributions this year will be pivotal. The question becomes, just what role will Celek take on? Will it simply be an expansion of what we saw last year, or will the Eagles let him run rampant in the passing game once again?
Ertz so good:
Statistically, Zach Ertz is a top-10 tight end in the NFL, period. But in the eyes of many, his late season breakouts are too little, too late, to help surge the team forward. One potential reason for this, as first speculated by Turron Davenport, all comes down to chemistry. It’s something that takes time to build and after having no continuity with his quarterback since arriving in Philadelphia, from Foles, to Sanchez, to Bradford, to Wentz, Ertz finally has a chance to build.
After having a full offseason training with Sam Bradford, expecting him to be named the starter, the team traded him to the Minnesota Vikings in the final breaths prior to the start of the 2017 season. To make matters worse, Ertz would miss time at the start of the year with an injury..meaning that the symbiotic link that saw Bradford and Ertz light it up in 2015, had disintegrated and needed rebuilding.
Ertz now enters year two with Carson Wentz, with the chemistry clearly blossoming toward the end of last season. If the duo can hit it off during OTA’s as many expect them too, preluding what we may see throughout Training Camp and beyond..then 2017 could be an incredibly bright year for both.
Burton’s Offensive role:
After signing a one-year tender with the team, Trey Burton will be with the Eagles throughout 2017 after enjoying a career year. Having truly started from the bottom as an UDFA and a fourth tight end on the roster, it was a great story to see Burton go on to catch his first career touchdown in week two of last season..but after much of his success came through a jump up the depth chart in the absence of Zach Ertz, did he do enough to earn a more prominent role?
Burton’s versatility is something that has been well documented since his days at a Flordia Gator, and it was of course around this time last year that he began to emerge as one of the offseason standouts, a label that would see him attain various opportunities throughout the regular season. The question becomes, will Burton simply act as the backup to Zach Ertz, or contribute in numerous facets of the offense, building on what he achieved last year. If he is to do the latter, our first glimpse will come over the next few weeks in the heart of OTA’s.
There is of course one man left unaccounted for, UDFA, Billy Brown. The Shepherd University product stands at 6’4, 255 LBS, and has the versatility to at least rival Trey Burton during OTA’s and create some camp competition. When we broke down the UDFA signing, and went beyond his impressive numbers, we spoke to an NFL scout who had nothing but high praise for Brown:
“Brown, could be a monster in the league. iIf he plays to his potential, we could be looking at a Jordan Reed, from Washington (Redskins), or something like that. He has all the tools to be a scary player, and if he gets cleaner in his route running, learns to lower his pad level, and just continues his growth, he could be a match up nightmare.”
Brown followed his 89 receptions, 1,492 yards and 10 TD’s, in 2015, with 99 catches, 1,580 yards and a ridiculous 22 TD’s, in the 2016 season. Which garnered him All-MEC , First-Team All-Super Region (Division-2) honors, as he was considered one of the best D-2 players in college football.
Someone with the size and athleticism of Brown could be of real value to the Eagles Offense, whether or not they utilize him or not will be another question..and the answer will begin to unfold next week.
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports