When the Philadelphia Eagles released Desean Jackson, they did so with confidence in the rest of their playmakers. Jeremy Maclin is returning from ACL surgery, and Riley Cooper just had a career year. In addition to one of the best running backs in the league, the Eagles acquired the dynamic Darren Sproles. However, it’s second-year tight end Zach Ertz who I am expecting very big things from next season.
In the 2013 draft, the Eagles made a surprise move by taking Ertz early in the second round. No disrespect to Ertz, but the Eagles just had much bigger needs on the defensive side of the ball. They were wise, however, to go for talent over need, as Ertz showed great improvement over the course of the 2013 season. He recorded more receptions than veteran TE Brent Celek and scored all of his touchdowns in the second half of the season.
An athletic TE, Ertz is the nightmare matchup problem Chip Kelly covets in his offense. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Ertz moves incredibly well for his size. He has great speed for the position and is a very good route runner. In just his first season, Ertz ranked as the 8th best TE in the NFL last year according to Pro Football Focus. Having developed great chemistry with QB Nick Foles down the stretch and having one season under his belt, expect Ertz to move up their rankings next season.
Nobody doubts Ertz’s ability as a playmaker. However, in order to stay on the field more in Kelly’s offense, he will have to improve his run blocking. While proving to be a superior receiver last year, Celek earned more playing time due to his run blocking. In an offense so heavily reliant on the running game, tight ends coach Ted Williams says being a good blocker at tight end is a necessity.
Without last year’s No. 1 receiver, the Eagles have a lot of production to make up for. Maclin is the incumbent No. 1 receiver, but he has never had a 1000-yard season and will be coming back from a major injury. Cooper developed great chemistry with Foles, but he won’t have the benefit of Jackson spreading the field. The Eagles love what they see from second-round pick Jordan Matthews, but they can’t heavily rely on him while he is still learning Kelly’s playbook.
A weak WR corps comes with one of, if not the strongest running back tandem in the league. Big things are expected from rushing champion LeSean McCoy, and Sproles adds another dimension to the passing game. Sproles’ production has declined the past three seasons, and at 31 years old, they can’t expect him to be the same player he was in 2011 when he had 86 catches. With Celek being more frequently used as a run blocker, this puts more pressure on Ertz to produce. I am expecting big things from the TE and so are the Eagles. I just hope when he is a free agent there isn’t a debate if he is a TE or WR.