When tight end Zach Ertz was just establishing himself with the Eagles, expectations were high for the second-round pick in the 2013 draft, but no one was ready to assume he would definitely have a better career than Brent Celek, the veteran who had been on the team for six years and started the previous four seasons.
Aside from Pete Retzlaff, who played multiple positions but is listed as a tight end by the Eagles, Celek had more receptions than any tight end in team history and a record of consistent performance. Surpassing Celek would be an accomplishment for Ertz.
Well, that happened and pretty quickly. Ertz passed Celek in career receptions in 2018, his sixth NFL season, and finished among the top three tight ends in the league for catches and receiving yards.
There’s no reason to question whether Ertz is among the best active tight ends in professional football. But the more you watch the Eagles practice, and the more you watch second-year tight end Dallas Goedert display his combination of blocking strength and receiving skill, the more another question does arise: Is Zach Ertz the second-best tight end on the Eagles?
OK, it seems a little premature, but not necessarily. Ertz is a phenomenally talented receiver for his size; an imposing but slippery route-runner; and a favorite of quarterback Carson Wentz. The Eagles often like to use him as a big slot receiver, spread slightly from the offensive line, and good luck to the defensive back or linebacker who gets that assignment.
Goedert, however, brings even more physicality to the field, and is a trench warrior when called upon to pass-protect or run-block, neither of which is an Ertz specialty. He’s also got good speed and soft hands, and poses the same problems for defenders.
As he enters his second season – coming off a rookie year with 33 catches and 334 yards (Ertz had 36 catches as a rookie) – Goedert is expected to make a leap in his development, even if he’s not sure exactly what form that will take.
“It’s kind of a tough question with this offense,” Goedert said. “Obviously, I’d like to be the number one tight end, but with Zach, that’s not likely. I’d like more targets, but then we’ve acquired DeSean [Jackson] and all that. I’m just excited to keep building on my game, and being on the field more.”
The Eagles like to use two tight ends at the same time, and the complementary strengths of Ertz and Goedert allow them to do that more often than many teams. But they also have a lot of mouths to feed at the wide receiver and slot positions. It will be interesting to see how head coach Doug Pederson balances that, and keeps everyone happy.
“It depends on the mindset of everyone on the team,” Goedert said. “There’s going to be games where Alshon [Jeffery] gets 10 balls, and games DJack [DeSean Jackson] gets 10 balls, and Nellie [Agholor] gets 10, and Zach gets 10. Not everybody can get 10 each game. It’s about finding the hot hand, see what’s working, see what the defense is giving you. Any time you have depth, it’s not a bad thing.”
So, will there be games in which Goedert gets 10 targets?
“I hope so. I think so,” he said. “I hope it’s a lot. Hopefully, they’ll double everybody else and leave me wide open. That would be perfect.”
What Goedert provides when he’s on the field is versatility for the offense. It doesn’t lose anything when he’s used as a blocker, and, although 33 career receptions is a short sample, he appears to be a receiver who can potentially carry a heavy load. With both tight ends on the field, it gives opposing defenses a lot to think about.
“We can keep defenses on their heels,” Goedert said. “If they go nickel, we can run the ball. If they use base defense, we can throw the ball. They’re going to have to put a safety on me or Zach and I think our coaches like those matchups.”
Goedert spent the offseason working out in California, and the lifting was mostly speed work, designed for flexibility and explosiveness. It was the same regimen he used before the draft combine the previous year, and helped convince pro scouts that the FCS All-American from South Dakota State could compete at the highest level of the game.
Those questions are gone now. The ones that remain are about just how good Dallas Goedert can become, and, to be honest, just how good he already is.
On how many NFL teams would Goedert be the number one tight end right now?
“Hmm, that kind of puts me on the spot,” Goedert said. “But I’d say 29.”
Twenty-nine out of 32.
“Yeah, I haven’t beat out Zach yet. And I’ll give it to [Kansas City’s] Travis Kelce for being Travis Kelce. And I’ll give it to [San Francisco’s George] Kittle. What he did last year was pretty impressive. I’m not saying I’m not better than him, but he had a pretty good year,” Goedert said.
“Those are three pretty good tight ends. Just put me at number four and I’ll be content.”
For now, he will. But keep watching. Next summer, the list might be different.