Examining the NFC East: Tight Ends
Our daily series examining the NFC East from a positional perspective with the help of league personnel sources tackles tight end and 12 personnel next, arguably the strongest position in Philadelphia with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert giving the Eagles a credible argument for the best tandem in the league.
In a weird way, however, that’s turned into its own issue at times in the modern spread-and-shred NFL.
That's why Philadelphia has worked so hard to add speed at the wide receiver position, assembling the track team of Jalen Reagor, Marquise Goodwin, John Hightower and Quez Watkins to further complement the returning DeSean Jackson.
When Jackson left the lineup last season with his core-muscle injury Philadelphia lost the ability to stretch the field and shifted gears offensively, playing two tight end sets (the aforementioned 12 personnel) 49 percent of the time, according to Sports Info Solutions.
That number was easily tops in the NFL and miles ahead of No. 2, the run-heavy Minnesota Vikings, who used the grouping 35 percent of the time.
The goal this time is to have enough speed options to stretch things vertically and horizontally to allow Ertz and Goedert to dominate the middle of the field while they are out there and the 35 percent number the Vikings had in 2019 is probably a more comfortable traffic pattern for Doug Pederson.
“As good as (Ertz and Goedert) are it got a little clunky at times,” a former AFC personnel executive told SI.com when discussing the Eagles’ TE situation. “Less can be more. Both could be making more impactful plays if there is more balance outside.”
The rest of the NFC East is obviously looking up at the Eagles at the position:
No. 4 - Washington Redskins - The Jordan Reed era is over inside the Beltway, a very promising career as one of the best pass-catching TEs in football derailed by concussions. Reed and veteran Vernon Davis played just four games combined in 2019 so it was time to turn the page.
The result, though, is uncertainty with former Eagles third-string TE Richard Rodgers among a cast of 1000s searching for playing time. Others in the mix are Jeremy Sprinkle, Logan Thomas, once a star QB in college at Virginia Tech, Caleb Wilson, the son of former Eagles D-Line coach Chris Wilson, and Thaddeus Moss, the son of Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss.
“There’s not much there at this point so they will be looking for competent options who can do the little things,” a former NFC scout said. “Rodgers has a chance to play if he’s healthy.”
No. 3 - Dallas Cowboys - The Jason Witten era is over for the second time in Dallas with the future Hall of Famer set to finish up in Las Vegas with the Raiders instead of the broadcast booth. That means Blake Jarwin ascends to the top of the depth chart. Jarwin is a solid two-way TE but lacks the explosiveness to be a top-tier playmaker.
Dalton Schultz, a 2018 fourth-round pick from Tight End U Stanford, is also a two-way TE as the backup and has solid skills, so maybe the top trait with the Cowboys is the old-school Y-versatility of the top two options.
Depth is on hand in the form of Blake Bell, the former Bell-dozing QB at Oklahoma, as well as a movement type in Cole Hikutini.
“It’s not going to scare teams but Dallas doesn’t necessarily need a receiving threat at TE,” said a former AFC personnel executive. “With all the weapons they have I think they are comfortable with Jarwin.”
No. 2 - New York Giants - If Evan Engram can stay healthy (he played in only eight games in 2019) he’s a very dangerous weapon in the passing game but he’s also really a glorified flex receiver and isn’t going to help much when it comes to blocking.
The top in-line option, Rhett Ellison, called it a career but the Giants brought in a top-tier blocker in Levine Toilolo to replace him. Kaden Smith also showed off some receiving skills after being claimed off waivers from San Francisco last season.
“Engram is as athletic as it gets and Levine can handle the blocking part. The setup makes sense on paper,” said an NFC scout.
No. 1 - Philadelphia Eagles - It’s now fair to call Ertz one of the better pass-catching TEs ever, a marvel when it comes to feel and setting up defenders with his route-running ability. Ertz also has an immense catching radius and sure hands, serving as the ultimate security blanket for his good friend Carson Wentz.
Ertz has also improved and works hard on his blocking but that’s just never going to be the strength of his game.
If anything, Goedert is more well-rounded than Ertz. Even the Eagles were surprised by how quickly Goedert took to blocking because he simply wasn’t asked to do it in college at South Dakota State because he was such a good receiving threat. Goedert is also more athletic than Ertz but the latter sets himself apart with his consistency and route running.
The new roster rules may enable Philadelphia to jockey back and forth at the third TE between Josh Perkins, once a WR in college at Washington before bulking up, and Alex Ellis, a movement type who can play in-line, flex and even line up at fullback.
“You can’t get much better at TE than Philly,” said a former NFC scout.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen