By David F. Cohen
As Coby Fleener’s replacement at Stanford in 2012, Zach Ertz scattered Chip Kelly’s Oregon defense with 11 catches for 106 yards and one game-changing touchdown grab that cost the Ducks a shot at the national title.
“They used him all over the place,” Kelly said. “You couldn’t isolate him in one certain spot.”
Five months later, Kelly’s Eagles tabbed Ertz with a first-round grade but sweated it out until the second round to land the versatile pass-catcher Philly feared would wind up with the 49ers.
After increasing his production each year at Stanford, Ertz played in just 24 percent of Eagles snaps over his first three NFL appearances. He bloomed from there, though, taking the field for 47 percent of downs over his final 11 games.
“You saw in the second half of the season what kind of went on,” Ertz said. “I was used all over the field.”
Watching all of Ertz’s targets, I left impressed with his ability to puncture coverage and give his quarterback a window to throw to. He doesn’t possess blazing speed, but Ertz is a physical after-the-catch receiver with the ability to punish smaller cover men.
He’s certainly helped by playing in an offense that wears down opponents with tempo, but Ertz helps the Eagles with his ability to high-point receptions and win battles in coverage. While watching his rookie tape, I couldn’t help but think: He’s just getting started.
“There are three players that I told that they would be great players in this league,” Michael Vick told Philadelphia magazine in December. “I always told Alge Crumpler that he was going to be great, I always told Shady McCoy that he was going to be a great player in this league, and I always told Roddy White. And now I’m saying Zach Ertz.”
While Ertz is often compared with Jason Witten, I agree with Doug Farrar, who saw Kyle Rudolph in Ertz’s play.
In Kelly’s innovative-offensive machine, Philly’s young tight end has the potential to move beyond comparisons into territory of his own.
Ertz must improve his in-line blocking. He lost too many snaps last season to Brent Celek and James Casey, especially when the Eagles leaned heavily on dual tight end sets to power the ground game.
Knowing that Philly’s offense moves too fast to sub its tight ends, Ertz has cited better blocking technique as a primary offseason goal. He’s gotten bigger, too, with general manager Howie Roseman confirming that Ertz has packed on muscle.
Through the air, Ertz logged just three games with five-plus receptions. It’s not a knock, but he lacks the explosion and speed of a Jimmy Graham on film. This is a player who must continue to craft his game and learn to win battles for the tough yards.
The Eagles want to see a complete player before handing Ertz a starring role.
“I think Zach can have a huge role,” Kelly said in May, per the Inquirer.
That was Chip’s answer when asked who might fill the void left by DeSean Jackson.
Second-year NFL campaigns have been kind to tight ends like Graham, Witten, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates. Year 3 saw Jordan Cameron explode onto the scene in Cleveland.
At 6-feet-5 and 250 pounds, Ertz has the physical tools to make a larger contribution in the passing game. Generating a 36/469/4 line off fewer than half of Philly’s snaps, he’s a solid bet to reach 60 grabs for 850 yards and eight touchdowns.
Ertz will make fantasy owners quite content come September.