What is Celek's ceiling?

Brent Celek enjoyed a breakout season in 2009. (Michael S. Wirtz / Staff File Photo)

At this time last year, the Eagles' tight-end situation was considered a question mark.

L.J. Smith was let go after six seasons here. And the Eagles did not select a tight end in the draft until the fifth round when they picked up Cornelius Ingram.

That meant the Eagles were going into the 2009 season with Brent Celek in the starting lineup. A fifth-round pick in 2007, Celek was coming off a 2008 campaign where he started seven games and totaled 27 catches for 318 yards (not including a strong showing in the postseason).

All Celek did in his first full season as a starter was pile up 76 catches for 971 yards and eight touchdowns, while averaging 12.8 yards per catch.

At 24 years old, he's now turned the Eagles' tight end situation from question mark to pretty much a sure thing.

I wanted to take a closer look at Celek's receiving performance in '09 to see how it compared to some of the game's elite tight ends.

First, the numbers. Here are the top 10 tight ends in terms of receiving yards last season:

  Rec. Yds. YPC TDs Plays of 20+
Antonio Gates 79 1,157 14.6 8 18
Dallas Clark 100 1,106 11.1 10 11
Jason Witten 94 1,030 11.0 2 11
Brent Celek 76 971 12.8 8 16
Vernon Davis 78 965 12.4 13 13
Kellen Winslow 77 884 11.5 5 5
Tony Gonzalez 83 867 10.4 6 4
Zach Miller 66 805 12.2 3 9
Heath Miller 76 789 10.4 6 8
JerMichael Finley 55 676 12.3 5 9

I chose the categories I did to show that Celek is not the kind of tight end you might remember growing up, or even the kind of tight end we saw earlier in the Andy Reid era. He's a big-play threat. Among the top 10 tight ends, only Gates averaged more yards per catch. Celek's eight touchdowns were tied for third in the NFC and fourth overall among tight ends.

And he had 16 catches of 20 yards or more. Think about that. On average, you could count on Celek to make a play of at least 20 yards once a game during the regular season. What a luxury to be able to get that type of big-play production from the tight end. Only Gates had more (18) plays of 20 yards or more.

In terms of yards after the catch, I found some conflicting stats. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Celek averaged 6.0 yards after the catch, which put him at second among tight ends who had at least 50 receptions (behind Gates).

But according to Yahoo Sports, Celek averaged 5.1 yards after the catch.

The other aspect I wanted to look at was Celek's third-year numbers compared to third-year numbers of some of the other tight ends mentioned above. Here's how those stack up:

  Rec. Yds. YPC TDs
Brent Celek 76 971 12.8 8
Tony Gonzalez 76 849 11.2 11
Antonio Gates 89 1,101 12.4 10
Jason Witten 66 757 11.5 6
Dallas Clark 37 488 13.2 4

Not bad, huh? More yards than Gonzalez in his third season. A higher average per catch than Gates. More receptions than Witten.

And keep in mind that Celek had only 11 starts under his belt going into his third season. Gonzalez had 16; Gates 26; Witten 22; and Clark 23.

So what's the point of all this? To show just how impressive Celek's growth has been. Celek, the Birds' personnel staff and the coaches deserve a lot of credit for that.

The Eagles were wise to lock him up to an eight-year, $34M deal last season. Granted, he's only done it for one year, and he has to stay healthy and continue to improve, but it's not a stretch to suggest that Celek could  finish his career as the best tight end in modern (Super Bowl era) Eagles history.

You can follow Moving the Chains on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook.