The top two tight ends leading up to the 2013 NFL draft were Zach Ertz and Tyler Eifert. They were compared with each other during the pre-draft hoopla, and Ertz said half the teams preferred Eifert and half the teams preferred him.
"Going through the whole process, people were pitting it as me and him," Ertz said. "At the time, you think it's the most important thing to get drafted first. . . .I was drafted where I wanted to be, where I needed to be."
Eifert went first when the Cincinnati Bengals selected him No. 21 in the first round. Ertz waited until the second day, when the Eagles drafted him with the third pick of the second round. They were the first two tight ends in one of the best classes at the position in recent memory - Washington's Jordan Reed and Kansas City's Travis Kelce also went that year.
On Sunday, Ertz and Eifert will play against each other for the first time in the NFL. Ertz has had a more productive career than Eifert, who has been slowed by injuries. Ertz's four years include 207 catches for 2,397 yards and 10 touchdowns in 56 career games. Eifert's totaled 115 catches for 1,409 yards and 17 touchdowns in 34 games. But the touchdowns are where Eifert has the edge, and his 13-touchdown campaign in 2015 is the reason why he's reached a Pro Bowl and Ertz has not.
Fourteen of Eifert's 17 touchdowns have come in the red zone. When Ertz discussed Eifert this week, the red zone effectiveness was part of his praise. But he also mentioned the way Eifert is used in the red zone, and it doesn't take a decoder to read between those lines. Ertz has only been targeted for passes three times in the red zone this season. He's caught one of those passes for a touchdown.
"It's not a matter of not making the most of my opportunities," Ertz said. "You can look at my numbers and say they're disappointing. I think I should be used in the red zone more, but I'm not going to second guess the coaches. I'm not going to second-guess Carson [Wentz]. They've got reads to do, they've got decisions to make. When the ball's in the air, I think I can make the play. And I want to make the play for the team."
Ertz, who signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract extension during the offseason, has not had the standout year expected when he inked his contract. He has only 38 catches for 373 yards and one score this season, and he's not likely to match last season's marks of 75 catches for 853 yards. But the dip is also due to circumstance, because Ertz has caught a career-best 73.1 percent of the passes thrown in his direction this season.
He missed two games because of a displaced rib and had a quiet October, catching only nine passes for 92 yards in four games. The production picked up during a scorching November, with 23 catches for 223 yards in four games. He also had a 57-yard touchdown catch called back against Seattle.
"Obviously on the outside looking in, people say it might be a disappointing year," Ertz said. "But from my perspective, I think I've improved each and every week. I can't control where the ball goes each and every play. All I can focus on is getting open. When I watch the film, I think I'm open. I just might not be the first read. I'm doing my job, which is getting open and making plays when the ball is in the air."
The Eagles need Ertz each week, but his role could be more important on Sunday. Top receiver Jordan Matthews is hampered by an ankle injury, and the Bengals have allowed a touchdown to a tight end in three of their last six games. Against the one tight end drafted ahead of him, Ertz has a chance to show his worth.