Up next on my Philadelphia Eagles Breakout Candidate mini series is tight end Zach Ertz. In this mini series, I’ll discuss each player that has a chance to breakout next season and give my thoughts on whether I think they will breakout or not. An average player may breakout by earning substantial playing time and taking his opportunity whereas a good player may breakout by becoming great.
I have previously looked at Josh Huff, Marcus Smith, Brandon Graham and Sam Bradford and you can find them here. This time I’ll look at tight end Zach Ertz who didn’t quite have his breakout season that everyone (myself included) thought he would have last year. Ertz went from having 469 yards in his rookie year to 702 yards but he also had one less touchdown. The 115 yards in week 16 make his stats seem better than his season was too. I don’t blame Ertz for this though, I blame the head coach.
Why he will breakout:
Zach Ertz could be the best pass catcher on the Eagles roster right now. He’s incredibly talented and people sometimes forget this because he hasn’t been used enough. The Eagles lost Jeremy Maclin in free agency, meaning that someone will have to step up and replace him. Per Pro Football Focus, Maclin was targeted 140 times last season. I can almost guarantee Nelson Agholor won’t get all those targets by himself, Ertz should benefit from the loss of Maclin.
With the loss of Maclin, I expect the Eagles to run a lot more two tight end sets as they attempt to run the ball a lot. Playing more two tight end sets will benefit Ertz and I expect him to split out wide and play in the slot to prevent the defense from making substitutions and using their nickel package. This should allow Ertz to get matched up on linebackers and he should have no problem beating them. Early reports from OTAs stated that Sam Bradford was targeting Ertz a lot too.
Last year Ertz was behind Brent Celek in the depth chart but surely this can’t happen again. Chip is very stubborn with the depth chart and hates to change it during the season, this was proven last year as Bradley Fletcher started all 16 games and Trent Cole started over Brandon Graham. Celek played 827 snaps last year and Ertz played 603, I expect him to play a lot more next year and he should take advantage of it as he is a very good player.
Why he won’t breakout:
Chip Kelly. The Eagles head coach is the only thing holding Ertz back currently as prefers to play Celek as the veteran is such a dominant blocker. Ertz will never be as good as Celek at blocking. But Celek is an exceptional blocker for a tight end, Ertz is a good blocker he just isn’t as dominant. If Kelly really does want his number one tight end to be an exceptional blocker then maybe Ertz’ role won’t increase.
If Ertz playing time doesn’t increase, I don’t expect him to do a lot better than he did last year. There is a chance that the Eagles will run the ball a lot more than they throw it next year and this could make Celek a lot more valuable because of his blocking. Ertz needs Chip to trust his blocking and use him as the teams number one tight end throughout the season.
Ertz playing time could also suffer if Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor look really good early on in the season. We know Chip is a huge fan of Huff and I expect Agholor to contribute straight away. If Huff plays a lot better than I expect he will, the Eagles could use a lot more 3 wide receiver sets than I expect them to. This could lead to Huff and Agholor replacing the majority of Maclins 140 targets and Ertz not benefitting from the loss of Maclin.
I would be shocked if Ertz doesn’t breakout. I think he should get more than 850 yards and 6 touchdowns and I expect he’ll be second in receiving yards behind Jordan Matthews. When I looked at Josh Huff and Marcus Smith I predicted they wouldn’t breakout because they aren’t talented enough. Ertz is different, he is talented enough. I think he proved how good he was last year when he was on the field, catching 67% of his targets with an average of 12.1 yards per reception and he only dropped 3 passes.
Ertz only played more than 55 snaps in one game last year, in week 16 he played 70 snaps against the Redskins. In that game, he caught 15 of his 18 targets for 115 yards. Obviously if he starts next year he won’t do that every game but it highlights just how good he can be if giving the opportunity. He also showed off his talent with a 35 yard touchdown catch against the Seahawks when the offense couldn’t move the football. I think Ertz should be a top 10 tight end in the NFL after next season.
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