This is the fourth part of a 10-part preview of the Eagles’ 90-man roster leading up to training camp:
- No offseason practice means Eagles rookies will struggle to play key roles in team’s plans this season
- Channeling Freddie Mitchell: Eagles to propose 4th-and-26-like onside-kick alternative at virtual league meeting
- Gadget guy or legitimate NFL quarterback? A look at what Jalen Hurts can do for the Eagles.
The Eagles wouldn’t have made the playoffs last season without their outstanding tight-end tandem of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. With their top three wide receivers – DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, and Nelson Agholor – missing a combined 24 games because of injuries, Ertz and Goedert were Carson Wentz’s main pass-catching weapons, combining for 146 catches, 1,523 yards, and 11 touchdowns. The Eagles used multiple-tight-end personnel packages 57% of the time last season, which was one of the highest rates in the league, and far and away the highest in Doug Pederson’s four years as head coach.
Who’s back: Ertz, Goedert, Josh Perkins, and Alex Ellis.
Ertz followed his record-setting 116-catch performance in 2018 with a solid but slightly less Superman-ish effort last season. He finished with 88 receptions for 916 yards and six touchdowns. The lack of production on the outside from the wide-receiver position allowed defenses to play Ertz tighter. His catch rate dropped from 74.4% in ’18 to 65.25% last year. He averaged just 6.8 yards per target, which was the lowest average of his career.
He had made improving his yards-after-the-catch average a top priority last offseason after finishing 32nd among tight ends in that category in 2018. But the tight coverage he faced wasn’t conducive to many big runs after the catch. He averaged just 3.1 YAC, which was lower than the year before (3.2). Ertz and Wentz had special chemistry in the red zone in 2018 when Ertz caught 16 passes inside the 20, including seven for touchdowns. Last year, he had just eight red-zone catches, five for TDs. He also saw his third-down numbers drop, from 23 catches and 17 first downs to 18 and 15.
In just two seasons, Goedert has established himself as one of the league’s better all-around tight ends. He has quickly developed into a dominant in-line blocker, which freed up Ertz to line up outside or in the slot more. Pro Football Focus gave Goedert the second-best run-blocking grade in the league among tight ends last year (79.9). Arizona’s Maxx Williams was first (84.7). The 49ers’ George Kittle, a first-team All-Pro selection last season, was third (76.2).
But Goedert also is an outstanding pass catcher, as he proved in Week 15 against Washington with that memorable one-handed grab for a 20-yard gain on the Eagles’ game-winning touchdown drive. The South Dakota State product had 58 receptions for 607 yards and five touchdowns last year, up from 33-334-4 the year before. He averaged an impressive 6.1 yards and became one of the Eagles’ most dangerous screen weapons. He was targeted 19 times by Wentz on third down last season and had 10 catches, all for first downs. He had eight catches and four TDs in the red zone.
This could be Ertz and Goedert’s final season together. Both have two years left on their contracts. Assuming Goedert continues to improve, both are going to be looking for deals that put them among the league’s highest-paid tight ends. Given the money the Eagles have invested in Wentz and their offensive and defensive lines, having two of the league’s five or six highest-paid tight ends likely is a luxury they can’t afford. Particularly if some of their young wide receivers pan out. The odd man out would be Ertz, who is four years older than Goedert and doesn’t have the blocking ability that his younger teammate brings to the table.
The 6-foot-3, 223-pound Perkins is a converted wide receiver. The Eagles went with just two tight ends for much of last season. So Perkins spent the first 11 games on the practice squad. But he played 132 snaps in the last four regular-season games. He finished with a career-high nine catches, including five in a critical Week 14 overtime win over the Giants. He also had a touchdown catch in the Eagles’ playoff-clinching Week 17 win over the Giants.
The Eagles were Ellis’ fifth team in five years. He played in three of the first four games but suffered a knee injury in Week 4 and spent the rest of the year on injured reserve.
Who’s gone: Richard Rodgers.
Rodgers, who caught 58 passes for the Packers in 2015, was hurt for most of his two seasons with the Eagles. A knee injury limited him to seven games in 2018. Last year, he was placed on injured reserve in late August with a foot injury. He was activated in late December and played five offensive snaps in the Eagles’ Week 17 overtime win over the Giants and three snaps in their playoff loss to Seattle. He signed with Washington in April.
Who’s new: Noah Togiai.
Togiai is a 6-4, 247-pound undrafted free agent out of Oregon State. The good news is he’s an athletic tight end with sub-4.7 speed and good hands. The bad news is he can’t block a lick. He’s an effective zone receiver but didn’t face much press coverage in the Pac-12. That’s not going to be the case at this level. Best-case 2020 scenario for him is the expanded practice squad.