EAGLES TIGHT END BRENT CELEK CAN'T WAIT FOR THE 2010 SEASON TO BEGIN. WITH LONGTIME PHILLY PILLARS DONOVAN McNABB AND BRIAN WESTBROOK EXILED during the off-season, Celek, 25, is now one of the leaders of the NFL's youngest offense. "Everyone's pretty much the same age, within two or three years," he says of a roster without a single skill player older than 30, "and we've been given a big opportunity."
So have fantasy owners. Last season, Celek's first as the full-time starter, was one of the greatest by a tight end in franchise history. His receiving yards (971) and touchdowns (eight) were second only to Pete Retzlaff's team records (1,190 and 10), set in 1965. Celek led the Eagles in catches (76) while placing among the league leaders at his position in nearly every major statistical category, prompting management to reward the former fifth-round pick with a six-year, $33 million contract extension.
Most notably, with Kevin Kolb filling in for McNabb in Weeks 2 and 3, Celek became the first Eagles tight end in more than four decades to have back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. Now that Kolb is the starter, Celek figures to be a go-to guy every week. "We learned the offense together," Celek says of his fellow '07 draftee. "When he's running it, we're on the same page. I understand where he's looking, and he's got a good feel for where I'm going to be." Kolb will often find Celek in the red zone, where last year the 6' 4", 255-pound tight end had a team-high 24 targets, more than smallish receivers DeSean Jackson (nine) and Jeremy Maclin (seven) combined.
The Kolb-Celek relationship should elevate Celek into one of the most exclusive groups in fantasy football, that of the elite tight ends, which for most of the past decade has included only Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten—remarkable for a player who had been repeatedly overlooked and underestimated by teams, fans and fantasy players alike. Celek was not invited to the NFL scouting combine as a prospect; was drafted 162nd, after lesser tight ends Scott Chandler, Martrez Milner and Matt Spaeth; has endured calls from fans for Philly to trade for Gonzalez; and was selected on average 166th in '09 fantasy drafts. Yet he's persevered to become a team leader at a young age. "You've got to show by example," he says. "I'm not real big on talking a lot. I just work extremely hard, and it's contagious."
That intensity shows itself statistically in Celek's ability to break tackles. He was second only to Gates among tight ends in average yards gained after the catch in '09, an ability which paid off for both the Eagles and Celek's fantasy owners—a group he fully supports. "I haven't played fantasy football yet, but my friends are always trying to get me to join their leagues," he says. "I've had teammates come up to me and tell me they needed me to have a big game because I was in their lineup."
And what about fans who come up to him to talk about their teams?
"I think it's cool, especially when they yell across the street at me that I helped them win," he says. "Now I always yell back that they should pick me again, because I'm going to have even more points this year."
You should believe him.