Including the wild card game againt Dallas, Brent Celek ended last season with 79 receptions for 1027 yards and 8 touchdowns. Celek lead the team in receptions, and was second in touchdowns, yards, and targets. It was, in every way, an exceptional season for the third year pro.
You can see in the following graph (which shows the percentage of pass targets by player per year) that Celek became the most integral tight end in the history of the Andy Reid offense last year (see wide receiver analysis here). In fact, he had more balls thrown his way by Donovan McNabb than tight ends in total had in any season during the last ten years. Impressive.
Yet the question (as always in the NFL) is how good will he be this year?
The answer comes down to what you think about his football relationship with new quarterback Kevin Kolb. In the two games Kolb started last year, Brent Celek amassed 18 targets, 16 receptions, 208 yards, and one touchdown. If Kolb and Celek connected at that rate for an entire season, we'd witness an historical season for Celek: 144 targets, 128 catches, 1664 yards, and 8 touchdowns.
The players have some serious chemistry. But it is rather unlikely that Celek would rack up those type of numbers — they would be by far the best for a tight end in league history, and one of the best for any receiver. Even if Kolb throws to Celek a lot in 2010, defenses will eventually game plan to try to take him away.
However, I don't agree with Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders, who told Sheil Kapadia that guys like LeSean McCoy and Cornelius Ingram would steal targets from the starting tight end. The Football Outsiders Almanac actually predicted Celek's statistics would drop in 2010. While McCoy could make a leap, neither Ingram or 2010 draft pick Clay Harbor look ready to challenge Celek for tight end repetitions.
I look at it basically this way: by virtue of his great rapport with Kolb, Brent should exceed his great 2009 season — any numbers that suggest Celek will be worse don't take into account the facts. Yet expanding his numbers without Donovan McNabb is too simplistic and overestimates his potential. Which brings me to this final chart, to which I added my actual projection for Celek in 2010: Jason Witten circa 2007.
Witten's pass targets during Tony Romo's first full year as a starter jumped by almost 50 percent, as Romo (even with Terrell Owens on the outside) looked to his reliable tight end again and again. However, his receptions and yards, while making a sizable jump into the top 5-10 TE seasons of all time, were not astronomical.
Assuming he doesn't suffere any injuries (*fingers crossed*), that is where I project Celek's upcoming season: 90-100 receptions, 1000-1200 yards, 7-10 TDs. As Kolb's new favorite target and consistent safety valve, Celek's season should be one of the best for a tight end in recent NFL history.