Chip Kelly has created curiosity this offseason, and he’s mostly done that by existing. Descriptions of the new offense he’ll roll out with the Eagles range from vague, to there’s no way in hell it’ll work so let’s just give the Eagles 16 losses now because they’re the worst.
Drawing equal attention has been the quarterbacks, with Michael Vick the sort of presumed starter, while a mid-round pick was just spent on Matt Barkley, and Nick Foles has sometimes been getting the most first-team reps in OTAs. Whatever, you guys can have your quarterback quandary. Because I’m so hipster, I’m wondering about the tight ends.
A quick and casual glance at Philly’s offensive depth chart at the position would lead you to the assumption that Brent Celek is the leading candidate for targets. After all, whenever he wasn’t hearing about his ex-wife making out with a random radio show intern, he was the Eagles’ leading tight end last year. Yes, last year.
Celek recorded 684 yards and one touchdown on 57 receptions and 88 targets. That came in a year when he first had to deal with Vick, who was highly inconsistent before he was injured, and Nick Foles, who was mostly just highly inconsistent. So, well done, kid. Now go compete for touches with two other guys.
Those guys are James Casey, the jack of a few trades, and third-round pick Zach Ertz. Every year we have a handful of brewing situations around depth charts which are terrific in reality, but maddening in the fake football world filled with calculators and cheetos (so many cheetos). This is one of those times.
In a Kelly offense with its quick-strike passing and dual tight end formations, having a deep TE depth chart is key. He may even use sets with three tight ends, and he said as much earlier this offseason when the local media tried to do exactly what I’m doing now: figure out what the hell is going on.
After the draft, Kelly was asked how he would use his abundance of tight ends. His answer came in the form of three fingers, which is much better than one finger, I suppose.
“Yeah. I go like that,” he said, holding up three fingers to members of the media at a post-draft press conference, “and three tight ends go into the game. Now, if [the opponents] go three linebackers, we split [the tight ends] out, we throw passes. If they go three DBs, we smash you [with the run]. So pick your poison.”
Again, potentially really smart and innovative stuff in reality, but maddening for fantasy purposes. In Casey, Ertz, and Celek, there’s a lot of versatility to be found.
Casey came over from Houston as a free agent. That’s where he often lined up in the backfield, which is how he caught 34 balls for for 330 yards last year despite the presence of Owen Daniels. As a receiving option he could function in the same way that Aaron Hernandez does in New England when he lines up in the backfield then slides into the flats and finds a hole in coverage, and Casey was also often used a lead blocker. That was set to be his source of value prior to Ertz being drafted, as he could see consistent targets as the short option while Celek stretches the field on deeper routes.
And that could still happen. Hell, it probably will still happen, as Ertz is more of a threat to Celek.
Ertz is a pass catcher. Straight up. That’s what he does, and that’s who he is. Oh sure, he’s fully capable of throwing some ‘bows and blocking when asked (1:15 mark of the video blow…ouch), but that’s not where he truly thrives. At Stanford, he often lined up in the slot (though he was set in motion out of the backfield a lot too), and from there he went deep down the seam. During his senior season he finished with 898 yards and six touchdowns. To compare, Coby Fleener had 667 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final year as a Cardinal.
A perfect example of his slot ability — and his strength — comes starting at about the 35-second mark in the video below.
Ertz’s 20-yard touchdown reception in that game while split out wide against Cal is also pretty damn impressive. This can’t be emphasized enough: that came out wide. You know, where you can usually find wide receivers.
The tools of Ertz and Celek mirror each other, which leads to pause for caution, especially when we also remember Kelly’s open pondering about using three TE sets. Ertz may have the edge though as a pure receiver if we attempt to do some between-line reading of Ted Williams. That’s Ted Williams the Eagles tight ends coach, and not guy with the career .344 batting average.
While speaking to Philly Mag, Williams said Celek is at his strongest as a blocker, while Ertz excels most as a receiver. Both statements are true after simple observation, especially after what we saw from Ertz above. In a separate piece Sheil Kapadia notes that Celek played 80.8 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps last year, a high volume which contributed to his production, but that usage will surely fall now due to the depth at the position. Kapadia estimates that while Celek may end the 2013 season with a narrow advantage in targets, overall Ertz will be the most effective pass catcher.
For fantasy purposes, this is a streaming playground. Each tight end could represent a lottery ticket dice roll, so if you’re the type who doesn’t want to invest highly on the likes of Jimmy Graham, then Ertz, Celek, and Casey (in that order) should be on your streaming list. Ditto for when bye week madness begins.
Beyond that, though, either stay away until there’s some more clarity early in the season, or just stay away. Over at both Fantasy Football Calculator and Fantasy Pros, none of the Eagles’ tight ends have an ADP in the top 20.
Chip Kelly leads the league in uncertainty, a wrath his tight ends aren’t escaping yet.