Next up in our in-depth look at the roster, we move to the tight end position. The trade of Stanley Havili earlier this offseason signaled a de-emphasis on the fullback position. Combined with the signing of James Casey and the second-round draft pick spent on Zach Ertz and it's clear the head coach Chip Kelly has big plans for the tight end and H-back positions. Six players who fit those spots are currently on the Eagles roster, and it's likely that the team will carry at least four such players come the regular season. Here's a closer look …
Derek Carrier – In some ways, Carrier is the forgotten member of the tight end group for the Eagles, but his odds of making the roster may not be that farfetched. Howie Roseman and the personnel department certainly liked Carrier enough to carry him on the practice squad throughout the 2012 season and, as a former wide receiver, Carrier could provide the kind of pass-catching mismatch that Chip Kelly is looking for at the position. Sure, he may not be leapfrogging Brent Celek, James Casey or Zach Ertz, but without the presence of a true fullback, there's every chance that the Eagles will keep four tight ends on the roster come the regular season. At 6-4, 241, Carrier will have to prove himself this offseason and make the jump from rookie to seasoned professional. One small factor that could work in Carrier's favor is his personal emphasis of strength and conditioning. Once an aspiring physical therapist, Carrier spent a summer interning with the Chicago Bulls' strength and conditioning department while in college (Carrier is the only Beloit College player to have made an NFL roster), so he's unlikely to be daunted by the rigors of the Eagles' new training regimen.
James Casey – In an offense that sounds like it will be predicated on finding mismatches and getting talented players in space, Casey, 6-3, 240, sure seems like a perfect fit. That's obviously why the team was so aggressive in courting and signing the former Houston Texan in free agency. For some evidence of where Casey can contribute, consider that he tied for first among all tight ends last season in average yards-after-catch with 6.9, according to Stats Inc. Right behind Casey and Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham in third on that list? Brent Celek, who also topped the category in 2011.
Apropos of nothing, prior to his standout collegiate career at Rice, Casey was a minor league pitcher in the Chicago White Sox organization after he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2003 MLB Draft out of high school. During his time in the minor leagues, he played alongside 18 eventual major leaguers, including pitcher Gio Gonzalez and outfielder Chris Young.
Brent Celek – Continuing the discussion of tight end YAC, Celek has been at the forefront of the category for the last few seasons. Since 2009, in fact, he leads all NFL tight ends with 1,531 yards after catch, according to Stats Inc. At 28, Celek has also likely established himself as the second best tight end in Eagles history. He ranks behind only Pete Retzlaff in franchise history with 3,473 receiving yards and 280 receptions. Retzlaff, the five-time Pro Bowler whose No. 44 is retired by the team, had 452 receptions for 7,412 yards in his 11 seasons with the team. For Celek, the question is how well he'll fit in Kelly's offense. With Casey to play the H-back role and Ertz there as the mismatch tight end, Celek is likely to be the one asked to do more of the dirty work.
Zach Ertz – The Eagles wouldn't have selected Ertz at the top of the second round if they didn't expect him to make an immediate impact offensively. At 6-5, 249, Ertz should be well-suited to handle the physicality of the NFL early on. And rookie tight ends have been able to make an immediate impact of late. Of the top 20 rookie seasons by a tight end in terms of receptions in NFL history, nine have come within the past 10 seasons, including five since 2010.
For more on Ertz, check out this look into the second-rounder's background.
Clay Harbor – Though he's never had more than 25 receptions in a season, Harbor shouldn't necessarily be counted out of the tight end picture either. The 25-year-old is an impressive physical specimen himself, having put on a show at the NFL Scouting Combine prior to his draft year in 2010. That February in Indianapolis, Harbor, 6-3, 252, finished in the top five among tight ends in the 40-yard dash (4.69 seconds), the vertical jump, the broad jump and the 20-yard shuttle, while also posting the top score on the bench press with 30 reps.
Emil Igwenagu – An afterthought in some ways, Igwenagu is interesting in that he possesses as much of Kelly's coveted versatility as almost anyone on the roster. Last year, the undrafted rookie out of Massachusetts began the season on the practice squad for the Eagles after impressing throughout the offseason at both fullback and tight end. Igwenagu then earned a promotion to the active roster during the season and ended up playing sparingly at both positions. Igwenagu played both positions in college, in addition to running back and, impressively, linebacker.
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