James Casey Could Become a Key Offensive Weapon with the Philadelphia Eagles

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMarch 13, 2013

Dec 16, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans fullback James Casey (86) runs on the field against the Indianapolis Colts during the first quarter at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

If Chip Kelly likes unique, versatile weapons, then nobody should be surprised that James Casey was the first player the Philadelphia Eagles signed once free agency began on Tuesday. The former pro baseball player once played seven different positions in one football game. He's a fullback, a tight end and a slot receiver, and maybe more. 

"His versatility is really one of the keys to us acquiring him," Kelly said at a press conference on Wednesday, via a transcription released by the team. "He was a guy we targeted right away when free agency started, a guy that can really come into our program and have a big effect on what we're going to do."

Logic says it's simply harder for defenses to prepare to defend offensive players who can do multiple things. Kelly specifically alluded to what the New England Patriots do with Aaron Hernandez, who often lines up all over the field. 

The Eagles are paying Casey quite handsomely, at least when you consider that he touched the ball only 1.2 times per game during his four years with the Houston Texans. For nearly $5 million per year, that'll change in Philadelphia. 

He won't render Brent Celek useless because the Eagles can utilize both, even at the same time. So now we're moving into Gronkowski/Hernandez territory. 

Since Kelly mentioned Hernandez, here's a look at how the Patriots utilize him as an "f-back." Thanks to Jimmy Kempski from Blogging the Beast for pointing us to a piece from Rafael Vela at Cowboys Nation, which looks at Hernandez's versatility from New England's 2011 season opener against Miami.

First, he's flanking Rob Gronkowski before running a sharp out route from the right side of the line.

Then, he's in the slot before motioning inside to become a blocker.

Then, he's flanking Gronkowski again before running a post. 

There he is in the backfield, next to Brady in the shotgun. He'd become a pass-catcher here.

Next series in the red zone, he's split out wide.

Now, Casey's only run the ball twice during his four-year career, but the Pats weren't afraid to give Hernandez carries on reverses...

As well as in a traditional fashion...

Casey ran for six yards on a lead handoff in Week 7 against Baltimore, but that just wasn't a regular part of the Houston offense.

Kelly also made what seemed to be a tongue-in-cheek remark about Casey potentially throwing some passes, but don't rule anything out. Keep in mind that Casey can throw a 95 mph fastball

There's no questioning his ability as a blocker, but when the Texans did write him into the playbook as a receiving option, Casey delivered. In Week 3 against Tennessee, for example, he made a beautiful cut before getting open over the middle on a first-drive touchdown.

He ended up in the end zone despite the fact first contact was made here...

That was from the slot. Later in that same game, he manhandled Jason McCourty on a standard in route from the tight end spot.

Look at all the space he creates out of his cut.

And when eventually met by two Tennessee defenders after the catch, Casey won this battle and ended up picking up the first down.

The guy can make plays in the open field. In fact, in 2011, only three tight ends who caught at least 15 passes averaged more yards per reception than Casey did (14.4).

On the very next play, he'd get wide open off a play-action fake as a fullback, picking up six yards...

This type of play, which involved a bootleg, would be perfect for the Eagles. Casey has plenty of space and options upon making the catch. 

He's smart, which is important. He's sneaky-fast, which is huge. And he can do a little bit of everything, which could be a game-changer.

You might not have known Casey's name until Tuesday night, but you should probably get used to hearing it in Philadelphia.