Experience: 8th year
Acquired: Selected in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
Brent Celek heard it all entering the 2013 season. They said he was too slow to fit into Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense. They said he was going to be phased out of the Eagles game plan to make room for the recently acquired James Casey and second-round pick Zach Ertz and that his days as a reliable weapon were behind him.
Apparently, Celek wasn't listening.
In the Eagles' Monday night opener in Washington, Celek grabbed a 28-yard touchdown pass over the middle in the second quarter. As he high-stepped his way into the end zone, Celek let the rest of the NFL know that was still a force to be reckoned with.
From a receptions and yardage standpoint, Celek's production did decrease, but playing in an offense with as many weapons and as run-based as the Eagles were in 2013, there's good reason for the slight dip. The former Cincinnati Bearcat caught 32 passes for 502 yards, but his 15.7 yards per reception average was the highest of his career. Even more importantly, Celek came up huge for the Eagles as a red zone target with four touchdowns. He finished the season with six touchdown receptions, the second-highest total of his career, behind only his eight touchdown grabs in 2009.
Standing at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, Celek fits the bill as a big target, but it was the little things that Celek did in 2013 that really stood out to Kelly. Whether it was teaching Ertz how to learn the ropes, throwing a key block on a big run or just providing a steady, level-headed presence in the locker room, Celek in many ways kept the Eagles grounded.
"I really think that he's probably been the most underrated or underappreciated (player)," Kelly said after the October win over Tampa Bay. "I know that from a coaching standpoint that Brent through six games has been fantastic for us and (he's been) a warrior."
Celek became a fan-favorite in Philadelphia because of his blue-collar attitude and his relentless work ethic. That continued in 2013, and with how well Celek takes care of his body through the Eagles' recovery-boosting sports science program, there's no reason why 2014 should be any different.
TOP PLAYS OF THE YEAR
Celek was a part of a number of great plays this past season. When it comes to choosing the best, an argument can be made for his “low five” touchdown grab against Arizona, and the same argument can be made for his 43-yard catch-and-run on a tight end screen against Washington a couple of weeks earlier, when he turned on the jets and shifted into another gear. And who could forget his amazing over-the-shoulder touchdown grab against the Giants at the Meadowlands in Week 5?
Another signature Celek moment came in the Snow Bowl victory over Detroit. The Eagles led 34-20 with just two minutes left to play. On fourth-and-12, just about everyone in Lincoln Financial Field thought that another run was in order. Instead, the Eagles snuck Celek off the line of scrimmage, and Foles sold the play-action perfectly. He lofted the ball out to Celek who had no one within 15 yards of him. He had nothing but green grass, or in this case, white snow in front of him, but rather than score the touchdown and give Detroit the ball back, he slid down on one knee after getting the first-down. It was a self-less play that capped off the most memorable game of the season.
Even with all that said, Celek's best moment of the year came in the Eagles Week 17 meeting with Dallas. As the second quarter clock ticked down towards halftime, the Cowboys trailed 10-7, but were driving for a potential go-ahead score. After linebacker Mychal Kendricks intercepted a Kyle Orton pass, the Eagles went to work quickly. Foles went play-action and lobbed one up for Celek, who somehow managed to go full extension and snag the pass out of the North Texas air. On the very next play after the 35-yard pickup, Foles hit Celek on a crossing route for a 14-yard touchdown. Celek turned in two of his most important moments on back-to-back plays, helping the Eagles capture the division title.
Of all the aspects of Celek's game, there is one that separates him from other tight ends around the league - yards after the catch. Most tight ends aren't known for being dangerous after the catch, but Celek is one of the exceptions. Since 2009, Celek's 1,834 yards after catch ranks second among all NFL tight ends, trailing Dallas's Jason Witten by just 8 yards.