Posted by Jeff:
Growing up as a little kid in Pennsylvania, I loved football and everything about it. The uniforms, the personalities and the toughness of the sport made me want to put on pads and a helmet. I loved watching games with my dad on the weekends as we tried to figure out what plays a team might run and who would win or lose from week to week. Following football – both pro and college – at a young age was like a religion.
The next logical thing I could do was actually play the game. As a kid and early in my teen years, I played for our local teams. I never actually had a solid position. I played defensive line positions and linebacker every now and then (the lone interception was a memory I’ll always enjoy). When I wasn’t kicking the ball on special teams, our coach would move me around on offense. I played guard. I played tackle. However, my favorite position to play on offense was tight end. There was no better feeling of running a passing route, turning around and knowing the quarterback was throwing the ball to me. While I didn’t score that often (only a couple touchdowns from my recollection) I wish I had kept stats.
I’ve always been intrigued with the tight end position since I played that position as a kid on the football field.
At the advent of football, it was common for players to be on the field almost constantly. Just about every football player in the 1940’s and 1950’s played on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Wide receivers were known as either “ends” or “flankers.” The end would line up wide at the line of scrimmage and the flanker lining up slightly behind the line usually on the opposite side of the field. Transitions started to take place all over the field, and it became possible for players who did not fit the mold of the traditional positions on offense and defense to fill a particular niche. Proficiency positions were now starting to form. Players who were both good pass catchers and blockers, but were mediocre on defense were now seen as more of an asset instead of a liability. Many of these players were too big to be receivers, yet too small to be offensive linemen. However, coaches began to see the potential of having a larger receiver lined up inside. Hence, the tight end position was formed.
The Eagles have seen dozens and dozens of tight ends come and go over the many years of their existence and it’s interesting to evaluate what they’ve been able to contribute to teams, coaching schemes and the many offenses we’ve witnessed. Here is a list of my top five Eagles players who played the tight end position.
# 5. Chad Lewis (6’6”, 252 pounds) – 2000 and 2001 were undoubtedly Lewis’ best seasons scoring 9 touchdowns and totaling 1,157 yards receiving within those two years. Overall, he was able to get open in the end zone when Andy Reid wanted and needed him to. He ended his Eagles career after 11 seasons with 23 touchdowns and 2,349 yards receiving. An argument can be made that his receiving numbers should have been higher after that many years in the NFL, but the 23 total touchdowns is the reason he made my list. He played the 3nd most games of any tight end in Eagles history at 110. John Spagnola played more with 111 and Pete Retzlaff with 132. He played 9 of his 11 pro football seasons with the Birdgang.
# 4. Keith Jackson (6’2”, 258 pounds) – To me, one word describes Keith Jackson – solid. That’s the kind of skill and play I saw from Jackson year after year growing up as a kid in the 1980’s. Here are his solid career stats: 2,756 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns. He played only 4 out of 9 professional seasons with the Eagles.
# 3. Keith Byars (6’1”, 257 pounds) – By far, Byars was one of the Eagles most versatile players in the history of the franchise. Not only did he play the tight end position where he gained 3,532 yards receiving and scored 13 touchdowns, but he also played the halfback/fullback position where he accumulated an additional 2,672 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Every now and then the coaches wanted him to throw the ball. He had 108 passing yards and 5 touchdowns playing 7 out of 14 seasons with the Birds.
# 2. Brent Celek (6’4”, 255 pounds) – It’s hard to believe he already has 6 years under his belt as a tight end for the Birds. Although the numbers and stats over the past couple of years don’t reflect him getting any better with age, he’s still in my top five and top three all-time great Eagles tight ends. He already has 20 total touchdowns in his career. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had another 5 to 7 this year alone via the Chip Kelly offense. His total receiving yards are currently at 3,473. He’ll never get to the level of my #1 pick, but he’s one of the great tight ends within the contemporary history of the NFL. Celek has been with the team since he was drafted in 2007.
# 1. Pete Retzlaff (6’1”, 211 pounds) – After playing 11 years of professional ball, he is undoubtedly the most dominant tight end to ever play for the Eagles. He totaled 7,412 yards receiving and 47 touchdowns. No question, he is by far, the greatest tight end to have ever played for the Eagles. While it would be great to see, I don’t ever believe these team records for a tight end will be broken any time soon. He holds the record for having played the most games of any Eagles tight end with 132 games.