Ertz has Already Arrived
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - For so many who follow the Philadelphia Eagles, the conversation over when Zach Ertz will arrive has become an annual thing.
If they just took a breath and looked up, however, they might be surprised to notice the talented tight end already landed at a different gate than expected.
No, Ertz isn't the Jimmy Graham-like basketball player in the slot who gives opposing defensive coordinators nightmares trying to envision ways to match up. Nor is he the traditional Y-Back who can dominate in both phases like Rob Gronkowski.
What he is, however, is a really accomplished pass-catching tight end, one on the best in the NFL in fact. Ertz is coming off a 78-catch season despite struggling through the first month with a rib injury that basically wiped out his summer. Meanwhile, through his first four campaigns, Ertz has 247 receptions for 2,840 yards, an average of nearly 62 receptions per season.
Look around the NFL and find the comps for that kind of production early in one's career. Only five TEs -- Kansas City's Travis Kelce, Dennis Pitta in Baltimore, Kyle Rudolph of Minnesota and Greg Olsen of Carolina saw more traffic than Ertz in 2016.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-5 Ertz is now just 26 and entering the prime of his career with an ascending young quarterback entering his second season in Carson Wentz. And that continuity is not lost on the former Stanford star.
"I think it's finally nice to have the same quarterback, getting on the same page as him," Ertz admitted this offseason. "It's been a roller coaster the last couple years, not really knowing who's going to be your quarterback."
Space Mountain has finally stopped with Ertz serving as the security blanket for Wentz due to his ability to work the middle of the field and his freakish catching radius.
"I made a lot of steps getting on the same page [with Wentz]," Ertz said when discussing last season. "That's the kind of thing that stuck out, is that he's seeing the game the same way I'm seeing it. ...It's something I'm definitely working on with Carson — the red zone, being more efficient when the ball is in the air. Getting the target numbers up in the red zone is something I need to make happen and I'm working hard each and every day to do that. I need to get it done."
The chemistry should only improve between the two in 2017 but there are a lot of new pass catchers Ertz has to co-exist with, starting with the two free agents on the outside, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.
Over the past years, Ertz and Jordan Matthews have been the volume guys in the Eagles' offense but know that production needs to be spread around a bit more in order to develop a more well-rounded offense.
Ertz, though, remains a big key.
"Zach is a big part of what we do," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "We can move him around the formation, which he did quite a bit last year, and he can help us create matchups. We want to get the ball to Zach. Good things happen when he has the football in his hands."
Ertz, meanwhile, is setting some lofty personal goals, namely become the best tight end in Eagles history, a tall task with players like Pete Retzlaff, Charlie Young and Keith Jackson part of the team's lore.
"Pete Retzlaff has got all of [the TE receiving records]," Ertz said. "I know he was about 6-feet, 210 pounds, so a little different tight end. But when I end my career, that's definitely one of the goals I have marked on the goal sheet — by the time I'm done here to have all the tight end records."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen