All-22: Why Chip Kelly Targeted James Casey

The Eagles’ first free-agent signing was fullback/H-Back/tight end James Casey from the Texans.

Casey has not put up eye-popping numbers in his first four seasons in the league: 66 catches for 752 yards and four touchdowns. So why did Chip Kelly target him?

Here’s a look with the All-22.

Play 1: The first thing you’ll notice is that Casey can line up all over the place: out wide, in the slot, in the backfield and as an in-line tight end. In a Week 4 game against the Titans last year, the Texans’ offense had the ball at the Tennessee 11-yard-line. Casey sets up in a bunch formation to Matt Schaub’s left. He’s going to run an “angle” route, starting outside before cutting back towards the middle of the field.

Casey gets open and makes the grab at the 8, but as you can see, there are four Titans defenders in the vicinity.

Rookie linebacker Zach Brown has a clean shot at him, but Casey (6-3, 240) bounces right off of him and into the end zone.

Don’t get me wrong. This was bad defense. But it’s still encouraging to see Casey fight through contact and pick up yards after the catch.

As you can see, the Titans are left on the ground while Casey celebrates in the end zone after an 11-yard score.

Play 2: Most often last year, Casey lined up in the backfield as a fullback.

Everyone on offense sells the run – except for Casey, who leaks out to the left.

Schaub fakes the handoff and rolls out to his left on the bootleg.

And Casey is wide open for a 6-yard gain on first down.

Play 3: Here, Casey just lines up as a lead blocker for Arian Foster. This was his most common role in 2012. According to Pro Football Focus, Casey was a run blocker 55 percent of the time he was on the field.

He gets his hands on the defensive back and helps open up a lane for Foster, who gains 8 yards.

I wouldn’t describe Casey as a great lead blocker, but he’s certainly adequate. Of course, one of the reasons why he probably chose the Eagles is that Kelly is unlikely to use him in that role a lot.

Play 4: With DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin on the outside, it’s important for the Eagles to complement them with players who can make tough catches in the middle of the field. Along with Jason Avant and Brent Celek, Casey gives them that.

Here, against the Jets, Casey starts in the backfield, but Schaub motions him to the right, creating another bunch look.

Casey shows the ability to catch the ball in traffic. You’ll see that the safety (LaRon Landry) is closing, and Casey has two defenders nearby, but he makes the catch and absorbs the contact.

I was really impressed with Casey’s hands. He only has two drops in the past two seasons, per PFF. And maybe more importantly, he helps out the quarterback by coming down with balls that aren’t always on-target. 79.2 percent of the balls thrown Casey’s way resulted in completions last year.

Play 5: As you might have noticed by now, pre-snap motion is a running theme with Casey. And that will likely continue to be the case with the Eagles. At Oregon, the offense got to the line of scrimmage early, assessed the defense and a made a call accordingly. Assuming the Eagles run some variation of that no-huddle, Casey can be a useful piece in creating mismatches.

Here, he lines up out wide but motions into the backfield.

When the ball is snapped, Casey looks like he’s staying in for pass protection, but then steps back and catches the pass behind the line of scrimmage.

It’s a designed play, as the Texans have their blockers set up in front of Casey. He runs through an arm tackle and picks up 30 yards.

Casey averaged just 9.7 yards per reception last year and had three catches of 20+ yards. At least part of that was because of how he was used. He’s not necessarily a “big-play” guy, but Casey flashes that ability on occasion.

Play 6: Often times, Casey lined up as a lead blocker, the Texans ran play-action, and he leaked out into his route. But this one play in the postseason against the Bengals stood out.

He meets 6-foot-5, 240-pound linebacker Manny Lawson in the hole, and you see who gets the better of the collision.

Casey leaks out into his route, while Lawson’s left on the ground. After making the catch, it looks like Casey will run down the sideline until he’s pushed out of bounds.

But Casey must have enjoyed the first hit because he sought out more contact, barreling into Rey Maualuga to finish the play.

I’m guessing Eagles fans are going to appreciate this kind of effort.

Play 7: And finally, wide receiver screens. Thanks to State of the Texans for pointing this play out. It’s from a 2011 game against the Saints. Again, the play begins with pre-snap motion. Casey starts off as the lone running back, but motions to the slot.

It’s 3rd-and-14, and the Texans call a screen to wide receiver Andre Johnson. Casey’s job is to block the cornerback.

Which he does flawlessly, helping to create a lane for Johnson, who picks up 15.

Think we might see one or two of these to Jackson and Maclin?

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

It’s easy to see why Kelly values Casey. And once again, the key word is versatility. He can line up all over the place, create mismatches pre-snap, catch the ball, block and play special teams.

Signing with the Eagles makes sense for Casey too. Remember, this is someone who had 111 catches in his final college season at Rice. In Philadelphia, he won’t be used as a traditional fullback much and should get plenty of opportunities as a receiver.

Just how much Casey will be used will depend on what the team’s offensive personnel looks like when the season starts, but Kelly will find a way to make use of his new toy in 2013.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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