In the days leading up to the start of the 2015 NFL Draft, what are the biggest questions that need to be answered at each position? In our #EaglesDraft Position Preview series, we will explore how each position changed since the start of free agency and how the draft could impact the shape of the roster. Today, we look closely at the tight ends ...
The Look Before Free Agency: Armed with significant talent at a position which usually only sees three or four players on the 53-man roster, the Eagles made the difficult decision prior to free agency to part ways with veteran tight end James Casey. The 30-year-old was originally signed by the Eagles during free agency in 2013 and was a standout for the Eagles on special teams over the last two seasons. But the presence of Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, along with the emergence of undrafted rookie Trey Burton, made Casey expendable. So the Eagles allowed Casey to find a home where he might see the field more. He recently signed with the Denver Broncos.
After Free Agency: Aside from the release of Casey, the Eagles have made no changes to the roster at tight end. All eyes will be on Ertz in 2015 as he moves into his third season with the team. At times, the former second-round pick has been a difference-maker for the Eagles, as evidenced by his franchise-record 15 catches against Washington in Week 15 of the 2014 season. But because the Eagles offense has had such offensive diversity over the last two seasons, Ertz pure totals as a receiver may underwhelm some (he had 58 catches for 702 yards and three touchdowns in 2014). With Jeremy Maclin departed and Ertz fully up to speed in the offense, expect those numbers to take a jump in 2015.
Brent Celek, meanwhile, remains the consummate Eagle. Now one of the league's best blocking tight ends, Celek is, to the surprise of some, still the starter. At 30, the former fifth-round pick is entering his ninth season in Philadelphia. After back-to-back seasons with 32 catches, Celek remains a part of the passing offense as well.
Burton should also not be overlooked, as the undrafted Florida Gator won a spot on the roster coming out of Training Camp and became one of the best players on a special teams unit that was the best in the league. Though he didn't record a catch as a rookie (he did rush five times for 10 combined yards in the Week 6 win over the Giants), Burton will likely be eased into an offensive role in his second season.
In all, the Eagles' group of tight ends is deep and varied enough that there isn't much of a need heading into the season. That said, the Eagles will need more than three tight ends in Training Camp and with Celek now on the other side of 30 it would not be a shock to see the team add another young tight end in the middle or late rounds of the NFL Draft. If not, expect one or two undrafted players to join the Eagles in an attempt to follow the path laid forth by Burton last summer.
As we approach the NFL Draft, here's a look at the tight ends on the Eagles' roster ...