Zach Ertz: 1000-Yard Season Ahead?

Zach Ertz finds his name on the lips of many an expert predicting his breakout. At least early on in 2014, the second-year tight end looks poised to be an irresistible force.

Jimmy Graham's off-season odyssey, wherein he attempted to curry favor with the NFL in identifying himself as a 'wide receiver who just happens to play tight end', didn't exactly go his way. The Saints star still got himself a hefty payday over the summer, but a different interpretation of language could have made him even richer.

Graham's not the only tight end who's practically a receiver. Beginning in 2007, there have been 12 instances where players at the position broke 1000 yards receiving, peaking with Rob Gronkowski's 1327 in 2011, which stands as the all-time record. Graham fell 17 yards short that very year.

Of the top 20 receiving-yardage seasons from tight ends, nine have come since 2004: Gronkowski, Graham twice, Tony Gonzalez twice, Antonio Gates twice, Jason Witten, and Kellen Winslow II. No surprise that quite a few fantasy leagues designate a 'flex player' to be not just a running back or wide out, but a tight end as well. Chances are, Graham may have been a first-rounder in your league. Our own Jimmy Williams here at WarNest took him tenth overall in ours.

As these bulky pass-catchers become quicker, jump higher, and provide increased difficulty for defenders to tackle, 1000-yard, 15-touchdown seasons will become more expected from the position.

Watching Zach Ertz make skillful grabs on sprinting strides, or tied up in traffic, begs the question of whether or not he has thousand-yard capabilties.

Ertz seems to have all of the qualities of just such a tight end: physicality against smaller defenders, deceiving quickness from such a sinewy, elongated body, the tenacious ability to play jump-ball, and an increasing rapport with a quarterback just as young as he.

After Ertz's performance against the Jaguars (three grabs, 77 yards, each catch 25+ yards, and a touchdown), and seeing a defensively-ailing Colts team on the horizon (one that Julius Thomas burned like toast this past Sunday), it's feasible that Ertz has a strong start to the 2014 season, one that could see him cast as the 'next man up' in the tight end crop with flagbearer Graham, rising star Thomas, and injury-riddled Witten and Gronk.

The willful loss of DeSean Jackson was presumed to be the opening for Jeremy Maclin or Riley Cooper to show their wares as a number-one wideout, or for Jordan Matthews to live up to the billing some overzealous Eagles fans have heaped on him. Why not Ertz? If he keeps creating mismatches in coverage, or finding gaping holes in zone, Nick Foles is going to keep throwing his way.

He's very much the most versatile tight end on the team since Pete Retzlaff hauled in over 7400 yards in green (indeed, "The Baron" is the only 1000-yard tight end in Eagles history, totalling 1190 in 1965).

Among the worst teams against tight ends in 2013, four of the bottom eight include the Cardinals (72.25 YPG allowed), Jaguars (63.63 YPG), Cowboys (65.44 YPG), and Titans (57.69 YPG). All of them dot the Birds' 2014 schedule, with the Jaguars the early victim.

As the league puts more stock into its athletic tight ends, Ertz finds himself on the cutting edge, thanks to his own abilities, and an offense that values big-bodied quickness. As it looks now, there's absolutely no telling where Ertz's ceiling rests.

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