Truth Ertz: Eagles' TE on Pace for 1300 Yards

After two outstanding performances to begin the 2014 season, the Stanford alum looks like everything he's been hyped up to be, and perhaps more.

Less than a week ago, I raised the question of whether or not Zach Ertz was capable of producing a 1000-yard receiving season with the Eagles.

Response was somewhat divided. The optimistic Eagles fans that predicted 55 touchdowns and three picks from Nick Foles this season felt, "Hell, why not 2000 receiving yards?" Some naysayers felt that Ertz would be too handcuffed within a spread-the-ball offense, and that 1000 yards wouldn't be feasible.

At the time I wrote the article, Ertz was coming off of a three-catch, 77-yard day against the Jaguars, complete with a touchdown. All three grabs went for either 25 or 26 yards, casting light on his downfield capabilities, particularly his speed in beating linebackers and safeties.

Headed into a game with Indianapolis, a team that struggled to cover Julius Thomas in Week One, and would be without linebacker Jerrell Freeman, I forecasted a big night from Ertz. Sure enough, Foles' biggest target hauled in four passes for 86 yards, including a big grab on an out-route to set up the winning Cody Parkey field goal. If not for micro-machine Darren Sproles leaving bigger defenders in his wake like driftwood, Ertz's great efforts would have been recognized most on Monday night.

Through two games, Ertz sits at 163 receiving yards. That's a simple average of 81.5 yards a game, currently fifth among tight ends behind Jimmy Graham, Niles Paul, Delanie Walker, and Antonio Gates. Keeping up 81.5 YPG for any tight end is a daunting task for an entire season, but given Foles' reliance on Ertz to make grabs when wide receivers haven't, this is an average that could mostly hold up.

In theory, a tight end is a set of big hands you dump the ball into in order to bulldoze for the first down when it's third-and-seven. Modern tight ends have evolved into broad-shouldered gazelles, equal parts defender-crushing might and awing athleticism.

If Ertz is good for at least two big grabs a game, say of the 25-yard variety, that's easily another 700 yards to be added to his totals. Once thought of as the ideal red-zone target, Ertz is proving more dangerous as an uncoverable streaker. Before our eyes, he may be becoming a slightly-more compact Graham, requiring a cornerback to drape him instead of some poor wheezing linebacker or undersized safety.

If the Graham comparison seems a tad early to make, consider this: corners and safeties that play against Sproles have to be on their toes for the 'Lightning Bug' in the flat and up the gut. Graham benefited from an offense that had the mini-speedster at its disposal, because it allowed Graham to draw more favorable one-on-ones. Having Sproles and LeSean McCoy flying out of the backfield? A fluid Eagles offense creates match-up nightmares like few others.

The Saints' rotation at primary back never boasted someone like McCoy. What could Graham have done if Drew Brees had Sproles and McCoy both flanking his back?

The backs only enhance Ertz's chances of making big catches. It is he, not Jeremy Maclin or Riley Cooper, that is the Eagles most deadly downfield target, for the reasons stated above. Watching the Colts game, seeing Ertz make his grabs, you could almost sense the 'how do we cover this guy?' vibe from frustrated Indy defenders, especially on the final snag.

1000 yards isn't guaranteed, but I feel more confident about it after seeing two games than just one.

At Ertz's current pace of 163 yards following two games, he would reach 1304 for the season. That would rank him third all-time behind Rob Gronkowski's 1327 and Graham's 1310, both from the 2011 season.

Sure, he'll have games where he drops off, but what if the 86 yards against the Colts aren't the ceiling? Are there any defenses on the docket, aside from the Seahawks, that can keep Ertz, McCoy, and Sproles all in check for 60 minutes? Even the Cardinals, tough defense as they may have, failed to cover Ertz adequately last season, and he hadn't even scratched the surface of his capabilities yet. The October 26 match-up in the desert looks a little more favorable with this in mind.

Shannon Sharpe hauled in 12 passes for 214 yards against the Chiefs in 2002, so you can't say a tight end hitting 200 yards is impossible. A young Jackie Smith caught nine balls for 212 yards against the Steelers in 1963.

There has been no indication of where Ertz's ceiling lies, because there has yet to be a team that's definitively shown how to neutralize his blend of body and talent.

Until that day comes, Ertz will only continue to make his case as one of the best tight ends in today's game.

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