The tight end play of the 2010 Eagles was solid overall. Brent Celek took a step back from his Pro Bowl-caliber 2009 campaign, but was still a solid contributor. He had 42 receptions for 511 yards and 4 TDs, good for a 12.2 YPC average, which ranked him 11th among all NFL tight ends. Meanwhile, Clay Harbor had a forgettable rookie season, with only 9 catches for 72 yards and a TD.
When evaluating Celek, it was clear that no matter who was under center for the Eagles this year, neither Kolb nor Vick looked Celek’s way as often as Donovan McNabb did a year ago. In watching every game this year, I didn’t notice much difference with how teams were defending him on the surface. There weren’t any obvious changes, like double teams or defending him with a DB on any consistent basis. It seems that there could be only two reasons for his drop off in production this year: either Celek wasn’t consistently getting open due to poor routes, or the Eagles’ QBs were flat out overlooking him when he did get open. It could also be poor play design, but since the offensive coaches were the same from 2009, I’m going to say that isn’t the likely reason.
But, if you look deeper, you find the real reason, and it stems back to the poor offensive line play that plagued this team all season. Celek was simply asked to block more this season to help Winston Justice protect Michael Vick’s blind side, and he actually showed substantial improvement in this area compared to 2009.
He still had some lapses in protection, and he will never be the best blocking TE in the league, but he did a very nice job in helping to mask some of Justice’s flaws in pass protection. While run blocking, he was usually doing a decent job of clearing out a path for Shady McCoy when asked to do so. But, the Eagles usually don’t run out of max protect sets, so he didn’t get a chance to show off his run blocking skills very often. His receiving numbers may have taken a slide downward, but his importance to this offense cannot be explained using numbers.
Brent Celek just turned 26 years old, and won’t turn 27 until next January. Some fans have questioned him, but to me, he’s the clear future at the tight end position for this team. He is always working extremely hard, fights for every yard, and does anything Andy Reid asks of him. He also has the talent to be a consistent 1,000 yard receiving threat if he isn’t being asked to be a sixth offensive lineman on half of the plays each game.
Also, while Clay Harbor didn’t show much in terms of production this season, I like his raw tools. He has good size and feet, and seems to run well for his size, while there wasn’t much of an opportunity to evaluate his hands or football IQ. He’ll absolutely be with this team another season, and seems to have taken the spot that was supposed to go to 2009 5th round choice Cornelius Ingram. He will be a solid backup tight end next season, and could blossom into a quality player after a couple years of seasoning.
Ingram is an interesting case. He has never played a game for the Eagles, as he has run into injury problems prior to both seasons he has been in training camp. The Eagles were clearly concerned enough about his past to draft Harbor in the 4th round of the 2010 draft, and their concerns seem to have been verified.
But, they were enamored with Ingram’s physical tools during the 2009 draft, and picked him even though he was coming off of a torn ACL he suffered while playing at Florida. Also, even though he has been plagued with constant knee issues ever since 2009 training camp (in reality, even as far back as the 2008 college season), they still kept Ingram around for most of this past year on the practice squad. They clearly like this guy and think he could be a good player if his knees ever allow it, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in Lehigh for his third training camp.
While it’s possible the Eagles may draft a tight end in April, I think it only happens if there is someone they really like who has slipped. This is definitely not a priority position in the offseason, as they already have a Pro Bowl-caliber player in-house. Also, this team has too many holes on both lines and in the secondary for them to use a high pick on a tight end. Look for the same tandem of Celek and Harbor to be back in 2011, with the slim chance of a Cornelius Ingram sighting in training camp.