It’s been a rollercoaster era for Doug Pederson. From Super Bowl highs and three playoff appearances in a row, to anonymous sources and Orlando Scandrick, Eagles fans have quite literally seen it all. A lot has changed since Pederson first took the coaching reins in 2016, and perhaps one of the more underlying switch-ups has been at the Tight End position.
It became clear early on that having three tight ends around worked wonders for Pederson, who wanted to use the ground game to take the weight off of his rookie quarterback. In fact, keeping four around had long been the Eagles way.
Zach Ertz was partnered by Brent Celek and former UDFA Trey Burton in 2016, giving the Eagles a trio of able pass-catchers, with pass-catching being the focus.
In Carson Wentz’s rookie season, the Eagles were successful on just 36% of pass attempts out of 12 personnel, as opposed to the whopping 64% when targeting tight ends. They also targeted WR’s during 70% of the non-RB targets that year, which is probably what prompted the whole ‘Zach Ertz safety blanket’ mentality.
If we fast forward to 2017, Zach Ertz and Trey Burton combined for 1,254 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Burton’s breakout during the Super Bowl campaign led him to a new in Chicago, and it pushed the Eagles to draft Dallas…in Dallas.
The arrival of Goedert was met with open arms. Brent Celek had decided to retire and with Trey Burton now gone, Zach Ertz was suddenly not only the leader of the pack, but he was a lone-wolf.
Despite a few bumps and bruises early on, the Eagles soon found their groove when using their beastly new rookie tight end. Goedert’s physicality as a blocker pushed the Eagles to use more 12-personnel sets. In fact, the snap percentage in that formation jumped substantially from 2018-2019:
12 – 54%
13 – 4%
12 – 39%
When you look at the depth chart behind the leading tandem in 2019, that’s where things become sticky. The Eagles lost Zach Ertz for week 17 after he lacerated his kidney against the Cowboys. It looked as though it could’ve been more. Somehow, the franchise tight end battled his way back from that and was able to play in the playoffs, but Dallas Goedert held his own as the leading tight end. However, it did highlight a weakness.
Joshua Perkins had 37 receiving yards in that week 17 matchup against the Giants, including a prominent 13-yard reception in overtime, but outside of that and a bizarre breakout against the Bucs last season, he’s largely been a non-factor.
Richard Rodgers has signed prove-it deals with the Eagles in back-to-back-seasons but ended up on IR on both occasions, and you could argue that he would’ve been a great blocking addition, giving the Eagles that ‘Brent Celek’ mold that allows Ertz and Goedert to fly.
The Eagles have missed Trey Burton since his departure and it’s limited their ability to play 13 personnel and created some worrying knock-on effects if Ertz or Goedert go down.
Ertz has come on leaps and bounds as a run-blocker over the last two years, and Goedert has continued to build on what is now a very solid blocking foundation. To be great at blocking and so dominant through the air is a combination that’s rare to find…let alone twice on the same team.
They’ve tried on several occasions to find that leaky pass-catcher. Billy Brown was thought to be the next of kin at one stage. A UDFA who was built at 6’3, 235 lbs, and prided himself on versatility, Brown, like Alex Ellis, was unable to stick onto the final roster.
I’m not saying the Eagles should take a tight end at pick 21, but the window to substantially invest in developmental talent (round 4 and later) could well be upon us. Last season acted as a premonition of what could become reality if one of the tight ends does go down with an injury, and while Dallas Goedert was fantastic, it’s far from ideal or stable.
Having two great tight ends is one thing, but being able to implement a third and keep defenses honest when mixing personnel could be one of the most underrated cogs of the offseason. Especially if the Birds are going to go all-in on adding dynamic receiving threats, it will help to create matchup nightmares all over the field and even more so down inside the opposing 20-yard line.
Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports