After the Eagles' first preseason game against the Ravens, Michael Vick singled out tight end Brent Celek as a player he wanted to get the ball to more in 2011.
"I think this season is going to be a great year for Brent," Vick said. "He's worked extremely hard in the offseason and had a great training camp and we've been connecting a lot over the last couple of weeks. I told him that he just needs to trust me and that I'm going to get the ball to him."
After signing an eight-year deal during the 2009 season, Celek's numbers dipped across the board in 2010.
Many have made the point that the Eagles kept him in to block more, and that's true, but it wasn't the only reason he saw a dropoff in production.
Below is a detailed look at why he struggled in 2010, along with some thoughts on how he might be used in 2011.
HOW CELEK WAS USED
Thanks to Pro Football Focus, we have numbers on exactly how Celek has been used in the past two seasons.
Here's how his offensive snaps broke down as a receiver, a pass blocker and a run blocker. Celek was on the field for 935 plays in 2009 and 964 in 2010.
|Receiver||Pass Blocker||Run Blocker|
|2009|| 492 (51%)
|2010||445 (48%)||131 (14%)
In 2009, Celek was used as a blocker on about 49 percent of the plays he was on the field. In 2010, that number went up to 52 percent.
But the numbers are more telling when we take the run plays out of the equation and focus only on how Celek was used on pass plays. In other words, plays where a decision was made to either keep Celek in to block or send him out into his pass route:
|Receiver||Blocker (pass plays)
|2009||492 (86%)||81 (14%)|
|2010||445 (77%)||131 (23%)|
There was a 9 percent swing in terms of how he was used in 2010.
To Celek's credit, he's certainly improved as a blocker, although he's still inconsistent - both in pass protection and on run plays.
LOOKING FOR CELEK
When Celek did go out into his pass routes, how often did Vick (and Kevin Kolb) look for him?
Here's how the targets stacked up in 2009 and 2010:
The first two columns here are self-explanatory. Celek got about 1.8 fewer looks per game from the Eagles' quarterbacks last season.
Part of that can be attributed to the fact that he didn't go into his routes as often. But the third column simply measures how often Celek was targeted when he did go into his pass routes. And as you can see, he was targeted 5.3 percent less on plays where his role was to be a receiver.
In 2009, only DeSean Jackson was targeted more than Celek among Eagles. Last season, Jeremy Maclin, Jackson and LeSean McCoy were targeted more. Jason Avant had only two fewer targets than Celek in 2010.
WHEN THE BALL WENT HIS WAY
Here are Celek's overall numbers from the past two seasons:
Obviously, stats are down across the board, although yards per catch were only down slightly.
I also looked at yards after the catch (YAC), and Celek stayed consistent there. He averaged just about 5.5 yards per catch both in 2009 and 2010.
The touchdowns being down is key. In 2009, Celek established himself as a red-zone threat. Inside the 20, he had 10 catches for 86 yards and six scores.
In 2010? Just four catches for 16 yards and two scores. The Eagles need to get back to finding Celek in the red zone.
Another metric that Football Outsiders uses is catch rate. It measures how often a catch was made when a player was targeted. Celek's catch rate in 2009 was 68 percent. That number dropped to 53 percent in 2010. I've mentioned this before, but catch rate can be attributed to a number of different things: the quarterback, the receiver, the defense, etc. But it does show the Eagles' dropoff in success when throwing in Celek's direction.
One individual stat worth noting is drops. Again, it's a subjective stat. I had Celek down for seven drops, tied for the team-lead with Jackson.
Pro Football Focus had him down for five.
And STATS.com had him down for eight, which was the most among NFL tight ends.
In 2009, he had a reported 12 drops.
Just from re-watching every game, it's clear that Celek needs to hold onto the ball better when it is thrown his way.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2011
So, do we believe Vick? Is Celek primed for a bounce-back year? Is the quarterback going to look his way more?
Vick brought up the name of Alge Crumpler, his former tight end in Atlanta, when discussing Celek. In 2006, Crumpler was the Falcons' most-targeted receiver (101) and leading receiver (56 catches, 780 yards). He was Atlanta's leading receiver in 2005 (65 catches, 877 yards) and 2004 (48 catches, 774 yards) too.
Of course, those Falcons teams did not have Jackson and Maclin on the outside, either.
Celek can definitely be a weapon for Vick and the Eagles. With downfield threats like Jackson and Maclin, Celek and Avant should be able to work the middle of the field. And now, they've added Steve Smith to the mix too.
But there's only one ball to go around. Last year, per Football Outsiders, the Eagles lined up in 4-WR sets on 12 percent of their offensive plays (sixth-most in the league). If Smith and Maclin are healthy, that number could very well increase. In those formations, either McCoy or Celek would have to come off the field. Last year, the Eagles' primary fourth receiver, Riley Cooper, averaged just about 1.2 targets per game (not counting Week 17 against Dallas). Smith is clearly going to be used more than that, although we don't know when he'll get on the field.
So I'm not so sure Celek is going to be see a big increase in targets in 2011. If teams continue to blitz Vick, which is expected, he might be called on to stay in and block just as much.
But the Eagles can certainly do a better job when they throw the ball in his direction. If Celek repeated his 2009 catch rate in 2010, he would have ended up with 53 catches for 647 yards.
And I think they have to use him in the red zone, where he had so much success in 2009. Celek had a wrist injury in 2010, although only he knows how much it affected his play.
Assuming he's 100 percent, Celek is capable of adding another dimension to the Eagles' offense in 2011.