1. a variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.
Google defines an X-factor as such. I define a Y-factor as a tight end that can impact a game in multiple ways. With the great debate going on right now over the franchise tag designation of New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, it’s appropriate to to acknowledge the importance of having a flexible weapon at that position. We are witnessing a changing of the guard of the flex-y, as future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez has retired, and several others from that first wave of hybrid tight end/wide receivers near the end of their careers as well. Former Indianapolis Colts TE Dallas Clark, San Diego Chargers TE Antonio Gates, and even the Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten have all paved the way for the next generation of “tweeners”. The Philadelphia Eagles may have found their own version in second year TE Zach Ertz.
The increased use of tempo and no-huddle attacks put a premium on players that are dynamic and able to perform different tasks without substitution. If you can limit the defense from its own substitutions, you can dictate match-up mismatches and hone your offensive attack to that weakness. Being able to flex the Y position is the most obvious way to exploit this tactic. If the defense stays in base personnel, a hybrid TE is too fast for a linebacker to cover him. If the defense is caught in a sub package like nickel or dime, then that same TE is now too big and strong for the defensive back that’s covering him. Not to mention that even if these players aren’t road graders as in-line blockers, they still have an advantage in the run game when the defense gets caught in a bad match-up.
Ertz had 36 receptions for 469 yards last year after being selected as the 35th overall pick in the draft. Even though those numbers weren’t overwhelming, the fact is he only started two games. He added four touchdowns to a resume that showed growth and potential as the year progressed. Even in a limited role he impressed, as he is listed as one of the NFL’s top 5 undervalued TE’s by Pro Football Focus. His comfort level should increase in the 2nd year in head coach Chip Kelly’s offense, and his playing time should increase accordingly.
Even though the Eagles aim to play at a frenetic pace, it’s imperative that the game slows down mentally for Ertz. This will allow his natural playmaking ability to be utilized to cause various damage. Ertz has the potential to be lined up anywhere, and can be an extremely important chess piece for an offense that will be re-distributing former Eagles WR DeSean Jackson’s targets.
Although Eagles starter Brent Celek had some moments last season, and is clearly the better blocker of the two (which can be vitally important as Philadelphia has the league’s best running game), one can imagine that the plan is to eventually have Ertz as a central weapon in the passing attack. Former Eagles quarterback Michael Vick raved about the potential of Ertz so it’s only a matter of time before we see that evolve into substantial production. With Kelly’s experimental offense, and being surrounded by other useful weapons, Ertz could be the Y-factor that dictates success for the Eagles in 2014.