PHILADELPHIA -- Zach Ertz was the living, breathing evidence that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman meant what he said. The Eagles would draft the best player on their board, regardless of their perceived need at a given position.
Going into the 2013 draft, the Eagles desperately needed talent on defense. They already had tight end Brent Celek and had added James Casey in free agency. Nevertheless, with the third pick of the second round, they took Ertz, a tight end from Stanford.
There were rumblings the Eagles tried to trade Celek, but nothing came of that. During the preseason, new coach Chip Kelly teased fans (and opposing defensive coordinators) by showing some formations with three tight ends. It was assumed that the selection of Ertz would be more than justified when Kelly unleashed his versatile group of tight ends on the rest of the league.
It didn't really happen that way. The Eagles lined up with three wide receivers and one tight end some 70 percent of the time during the 2013 season. Celek, the guy who was there all along, started 16 of 17 games, including the playoff loss to New Orleans.
With his dedication to blocking as well as his pass-catching skills, Celek was virtually indispensable. He was on the field for 77 percent of the offensive snaps. Celek caught 32 passes, his fewest since becoming the fulltime starter in 2009. But he was as adept at cutting back across the line to take out a defensive end as he was at picking up yards after the catch.
Casey, signed away from Houston for $12 million over three years, played only 14 percent of the offensive snaps and caught only three passes. To his credit, Casey didn't complain and devoted himself to his special teams responsibilities. But his lack of playing time underscored the puzzlement caused by the drafting of yet another tight end in the second round.
This would be the part where we conclude it was a mistake to draft Ertz, but that is not the case. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound rookie made that impossible with his promising performance -- 36 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns. In a league where athletic tight ends are in vogue, Ertz's basketball-honed ball skills and smart route running give Kelly plenty to work with in the coming years.
If they had it to do over again, the Eagles and Casey probably would have made different decisions in free agency. But there are no regrets about drafting Ertz.
Going into 2014, Celek is still the more complete tight end. Ertz figures to add a little strength in order to improve his blocking. His playing time will grow accordingly.
It will be intriguing to see how Kelly approaches the position in the future. His wide receiver corps could look very different next season. Celek, Ertz and Casey could give him some alternatives to the three-wideout sets Kelly relied on so much in his first season.
The Eagles certainly seem set at the tight end position. It does not appear to be an area they will have to address in either free agency or the draft. But as we learned when they drafted Ertz last April, you never know.