With the offseason in full swing for the Philadelphia Eagles, we are previewing what lies ahead at each position group in the coming months. In this Offseason Preview, we take a look at the tight end position.
End Of Season Depth Chart: Starter Brent Celek was once again one of the most reliable weapons as he finished second on the team in receptions (57) and third in receiving yards (684). He was effective in the middle of the field where he caught 34 passes off of either short of intermediate routes. Last season, Celek led all tight ends in average yards after the catch per reception and he was among the league's elite in that category again. Celek was tight for second in the league with an average of 5.96 yards after the catch per reception. He was third in the league in total yards after the catch among tight ends with 340 in essentially 14 games (he played in just one snap in the win at Tampa Bay). In fact, Celek has more YAC than any other tight end since 2009 with 1,531.
From a blocking standpoint, Celek's role in 2012 was very similar to the one he had in 2011. He was asked to run block on 38.9 percent of his snaps in 2012 compared to 38.6 percent of his snaps in 2011. He was asked to pass block on 14.4 percent of his snaps this season compared to 15.6 in 2011. Celek went out on a route slightly more this season (46.7 percent of his snaps) than last year (45.8) percent.
Celek had a monster performance in the Week 2 win over Baltimore setting a new career high with 157 receiving yards on eight catches in the win.
One thing to note is the way quarterbacks Nick Foles and Michael Vick distributed the ball to the tight ends. Typically, young quarterbacks rely on their tight ends more, but Foles only attempted 18.9 percent of his passes to tight ends. That was the 27th-highest rate in the NFL among quarterbacks with 100 or more attempts. Vick targeted the tight ends 22.5 percent of the time, good for 15th-best in the league.
Behind Celek on the depth chart was third-year veteran Clay Harbor, who finished with a career-high 25 receptions for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his touchdowns came in thrilling fashion. The first was the game-winning score with just 1:18 remaining in the season opener against Cleveland. The other was an 11-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter which helped spark the come-from-behind win over Tampa Bay.
With Celek sidelined for virtually all of the Tampa Bay game with a concussion, Harbor had a career-high six catches for 52 yards and the touchdown. The following week, with Celek out, Harbor incurred a number of fractures in his back during the game against the Bengals, but persevered and finished with three catches for 28 yards. He was placed on Injured Reserve for the final two games of the season.
The Eagles signed Evan Moore just prior to the Week 16 game against Washington. Moore played in six snaps in his debut with the Eagles, but suffered a back injury and missed the season finale against the Giants. Moore had spent the entire season up to that point with the Seahawks, but only played in a limited role. An athletic tight end, Moore is signed through 2013 so the team can get a view of him through the course of the offseason.
Emil Igwenagu was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster for the final three games of the season. Igwenagu saw snaps at both tight end and fullback. In fact, he made his first-career start in the Week 16 Redskins game as a fullback.
Offseason To Watch: Harbor's role during the course of the season was intriguing to say the least. He was on the field for 36 percent of the snaps in the season opener and 46 percent in the Week 2 win over Baltimore. However, Harbor only saw the field once for more than 40 percent of the snaps (Week 5 at Pittsburgh) until his final two games when he had to step up for the injured Celek.
Last year, Harbor went through his first full offseason under the guidance of the coaches. Harbor dedicated himself to working on his hands, which paid off on those two clutch touchdown receptions. He learned the nuances of reading NFL defenses after playing at small-school Missouri State. He was also tested in Training Camp as the Eagles flirted with the idea of bringing in another veteran for competition, but Harbor won the job outright.
While his stats don't jump off the page, Harbor has improved his reception and yardage totals in each of his first three seasons. Harbor has good size at 6-3, 252 pounds and is athletic. At the 2010 NFL Combine, Harbor was tied for fourth among tight ends in the 40-yard dash and tops in the bench press.
If Harbor needs any added motivation, he is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Free Agents To Be: None. Celek is signed through the 2016 season. Harbor and Moore are signed through the 2013 campaign, while Igwenagu is under contract through 2014.
Best Performance: Only one tight end in Eagles history had more receiving yards in a single game than Celek's 157-yard performance in Week 2 against Baltimore and that was by Pete Retzlaff back in November 1965 when the Pro Bowl tight end had 204 yards. Not only was Celek instrumental in moving the ball, he was a source of emotion for the team as well. He was popped by Ravens safety Bernard Pollard after a 21-yard gain and got right up to deliver his trademark first-down signal. He also leaped over safety Ed Reed. It was a slugfest at Lincoln Financial Field, but Celek sparked the offense to help the Eagles pull out the narrow victory.
Noteworthy Stat: Celek had to help pass block for at least 10 snaps in six of Michael Vick's 10 starts at quarterback. Celek never had to pass block more than eight snaps in any of Nick Foles' starts.
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