How the Eagles are using Celek

Eagles tight end Brent Celek had four catches for 42 yards against the Redskins. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

Back in 2009, a four-catch, 42-yard performance from Brent Celek probably wouldn't have impressed anybody.

Celek had 76 catches and 971 yards that season, ranking seventh and fourth among tight ends, respectively. It looked like he would be a major part of the Eagles' passing attack for years to come.

But in 2010, those numbers dropped to 42 catches and 511 yards. The reasons? He stayed in to block more; Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb targeted him less; and Celek had too many drops.

This year, Celek is on pace for just 35 catches and 307 yards. But those numbers don't tell the whole story of how he's playing.

Thanks to Pro Football Focus, here's a look at how the Eagles are using Celek, compared to the past two seasons. The numbers indicate percentage of snaps in each role:

  Receiver Pass Blocker Run Blocker
2009 51% 8% 41%
2010 48% 14% 38%
2011 43% 18% 39%

This starts to tell the story. As you can see, Celek is being used as a pass blocker more than ever before. But the numbers are more helpful when we look at just how Celek's been used on pass plays, taking the run blocking out of the equation.

  Receiver Blocker (pass plays)
2009 86% 14%
2010 77% 23%
2011 70% 30%

These numbers tell more of the story on how Celek is being used. On pass plays where he's on the field, he's going out into his pass routes 70 percent of the time and staying in to block 30 percent of the time - more than last year, and much more than 2009.

Celek's targets are down also. He averaged 7 targets per game in 2009; 5.2 in 2010; and 4.8 so far in 2011. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and LeSean McCoy have all been targeted more than Celek.

When Vick has looked Celek's way, he hasn't been too successful. Here's a look at catch rate (from Football Outsiders) and yards per catch, again, compared to the past two seasons:

  Yds./catch Catch rate
2009 12.8 68%
2010 12.2 53%
2011 8.8 43%

Even when Celek is catching the ball, he's not picking up as much yardage as in previous years. He has just two catches of 20+ yards in six games.

And Celek's catch rate (the percentage of catches he makes when targeted) is just 43 percent. Now, keep in mind, that stat reflects the Vick-Celek connection, not just the play of the Eagles' tight end. Celek has three drops on the season, but Vick has forced the ball to him in traffic on multiple occasions.

In 2009, Celek was a red-zone weapon, catching 10 balls for 86 yards and six scores inside the opponents' 20. Last year, he had just four catches for 16 yards and two touchdowns in the red zone. This year, he has three catches for 18 yards and a score.

When the Eagles signed Steve Smith, I thought Celek might see fewer snaps. But that has not been the case. In fact, he's playing more than ever before. Celek's played 392 snaps; that's more than any of the Eagles' running backs or wide receivers, and fourth-most among tight ends. Celek's been on the field for over 90 percent of the team's offensive plays, which is more than last year (85.4 percent). And keep in mind, Clay Harbor is playing more too (about 21 snaps per game), meaning the Eagles are going with more two tight-end sets than 2010.

Despite his numbers being down, I'd argue that Celek's contributions have been underrated this year. He has shown great improvement as a blocker, and as I described in Man Up, Celek was a key factor in several of the Eagles' big plays (both in the run game and the pass game) last week against the Redskins.

The truth is, given how the Eagles' wide receivers are playing, they probably don't need Celek to catch a lot of balls. He can still be valuable working the middle of the field and in the red zone, but ultimately, his biggest contributions this season might be protecting Vick and helping to open up running lanes for McCoy.

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