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July 20, 2016

Eagles 2016 training camp preview: Tight ends

Eagles NFL
072016ZachErtz Winslow Townson/AP

Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, and Brent Celek form one of the best tight end trios in the NFL.

Ah, finally we come to a position of strength on the Eagles offense. Unlike at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, there is true reason for optimism in 2016 at the tight end position, where the Eagles have talented starters as well as quality depth.

Back in January, the Eagles locked up Zach Ertz through 2021 on a five-year extension worth $42.5 million. A day later, they signed Brent Celek through 2018 on a three-year deal worth $12 million. 

Over the last three seasons, Chip Kelly's offense employed a heavy dose of three wide receiver sets, which did not play to the personnel strengths of his players, at least in 2014 and 2015. To be determined if Doug Pederson employs his tight ends more than Kelly did.

Let's take a look at each tight end individually:

Zach Ertz

As we noted in our Eagles fantasy football preview, below is a list of every tight end in NFL history who had at least 2000 receiving yards after their first three seasons in the league:

Mike DitkaBears173277425
Rob GronkowskiPatriots187266338
Jimmy GrahamSaints215264825
Kellen WinslowChargers202262021
Antonio GatesChargers194245425
Dave KocourekChargers13424059
Mark BavaroGiants158237916
Charle YoungEagles167220912
Keith JacksonEagles194218715
Dan RossBengals168215010
Bob TuckerGiants154212613
Jeremy ShockeyGiants183209510
Jason WittenCowboys188208413
Walter WhiteChiefs118204115
Kellen WinslowBrowns17620318
Zach MillerRaiders16620277
Zach ErtzEagles16920249

Ertz is one of 17 tight ends in NFL history to achieve that. Also, apparently Walter White was a football player before he became a chemist / drug lord.

A look at Ertz's stats year-by-year through three seasons:

 YearRec Yards YPC TD 
 201336 469 13.0 
 201458 702 12.1 
 201575 853 11.4 
 TOTAL169 2024 12.0 

A season ago, Ertz was dealing with a sports hernia injury which slowed him down early on. Over the last four games, Ertz caught 35 passes for 450 yards.

 OpponentRec Yards YPC TD 
 Bills98 19.6 
 Cardinals78 9.8 
 Redskins13 122 9.4 
 Giants152 16.9 

The area where Ertz hasn't produced is in the end zone, but there's really no discernible reason why he shouldn't. All indications are that Doug Pederson's system will attempt to be as quarterback-friendly as possible, whereas Chip Kelly's offense centered around the running game. With that premise in place, since Ertz is more of a receiving threat than a punishing blocker it's reasonable to conclude that his playing time should increase, and he may become more of a focal point of the Eagles' offense in 2016.

Brent Celek

In 2015, Celek had 27 catches for 398 yards and three TDs. Ertz was a bigger threat in the passing game, but Celek was clearly the best blocking tight end on the team. With two (maybe three) quality tight ends on the roster, the Eagles may seek to get both Ertz and Celek on the field more than in previous years, especially with a dearth of intimidating wide receivers.

Celek is 31, and the only skill position player left on the roster from when Pederson was still with the Eagles in 2012 as the quarterbacks coach.

Trey Burton

Trey Burton's lack of playing time under Chip Kelly always baffled me. In training camp and the preseason, Burton looked like a legitimate weapon in the passing attack, but for whatever reason he never got opportunities in games that mattered. I remember the Thanksgiving debacle against the Lions, when Burton had a catch and run of 43 yards in the first quarter:

My reaction after that play:

And sure enough, that was pretty much it for Trey until the Eagles were down by 38 in the fourth quarter. Playing behind Ertz and Celek on the depth chart, it's not as if Burton is going to get 400 or so snaps this season, but certainly his skill set warrants some kind of role in this offense.

Chris Pantale

As we noted in our latest 53-man roster projection, Chris Pantale was the pleasant surprise of spring practices, as he made several difficult catches and was getting the majority of the reps whenever the Eagles used a fullback. He has an excellent chance of making the roster as a fourth tight end, but will have to show he can be physical when they put on the pads.

The final tight end on the roster is MJ McFarland, who has a steep uphill climb to make the team.

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