This is the cover story for the December 9 issue ofGameday Magazine,which can be found at the Lincoln Financial Field Pro Shop as well as Philadelphia-area ACME supermarkets this weekend.
In 2018, Zach Ertz led all NFL tight ends in receptions with 116, the most by any tight end in a single season in league history as well as a franchise record. He was also third among all NFL tight ends with a career-high 1,163 receiving yards.
In 2019, Ertz leads all NFL tight ends once again, with 70 receptions. Not quite the record-setting pace of 2018, but Ertz could still finish with the second-most receptions by an Eagle in team history. He's also, yes, third among all NFL tight ends with 736 receiving yards. Last season, the Eagles hosted the New York Giants after a disappointing loss on the road against the New Orleans Saints. After posting just two catches for 15 yards against the Saints, Ertz rebounded with seven catches for 91 yards and a touchdown.
The Eagles won five of their final six games to make the playoffs for a second straight season. His monster performance in a Week 16 win over Houston, where Ertz hauled in 12 catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns, helped position the Eagles to capitalize on a Wild Card spot in Week 17.
What's in store for the end of 2019? The Eagles are coming off a crushing loss on the road to the Miami Dolphins. On Monday night, they host the New York Giants to kick off the final quarter of the regular season. All four games are against division rivals. Four straight wins will punch another playoff ticket.
Don't be shocked if Ertz, who says he needs to play better after an uncharacteristic three-catch, 24-yard outing in Miami, steps up once again. He set a career-high with 152 receiving yards against New York at the end of the 2016 season. He's scored at least one touchdown against the Giants in four consecutive meetings.
"I think I've said it since I got here six years ago, surprisingly. I want to be the guy on third down. I want to be the guy in the red zone. I want to be the guy when our backs are up against the wall. I want to be the guy they go to," Ertz says. "I just try always to make the most of my opportunities. It's not going to be perfect. There are plays I want to have back."
The team's second-round pick in 2013, Ertz has already put together one of the most productive careers by a pass catcher in franchise history. He is second to only Harold Carmichael (589) for most catches ever by an Eagle with 507. In fact, Ertz eclipsed the 500-catch plateau in 102 regular-season games, the second-fastest mark by a tight end in NFL history. Ertz's 5,563 receiving yards rank sixth in the team's record book. In addition to the single-season team mark for receptions, he holds the single-game one as well with 15.
Ertz is also durable with just five missed games in his six-plus NFL seasons. He battled through a hamstring injury against Miami. Prior to last Sunday, Ertz had 30 receptions for 288 yards and a touchdown in the previous three games.
To top it all off, Ertz has the only Super Bowl-winning catch in Eagles history. But relishing in the team's success of that amazing 2017 season was much more fulfilling than last year's historic individual accolades for Ertz.
"It's all about winning," Ertz says. "This is such a short chapter of your life that I'm putting everything I have into this basket right now whether it'd be on the field or off the field, in the weight room or on the practice field, so when I'm done, I can look back and say I put everything into that. I have no regrets. There's nothing I could have done more to further my career or make me a better player."
|NFL Receptions Leaders Among Tight Ends||Column 2|
|Zach Ertz, Eagles||70|
|Travis Kelce, Chiefs||68|
|Darren Waller, Raiders||66|
Ertz's position coach Justin Peelle, who enjoyed a 10-year career as an NFL tight end, marvels at Ertz because his actions mirror his words.
"His greatest attribute is his willingness to work and wanting to be the best. A lot of guys say it, but he backs it up," Peelle says. "All of the little things that people don't see, he does. He's extremely intelligent."
Peelle joined the Eagles' coaching staff as the assistant tight ends coach in Ertz's rookie season before taking over the position group two years later.
"To see where he's at now, it's fun for me to watch," Peelle adds. "The demeanor and how much it means to him and how hard he works and how important it is and all of those things that you wouldn't necessarily see unless you're with him throughout the season. He does a fantastic job. It's been a blast."
Not only is Ertz respected inside the Eagles' locker room, but by his peers all across the league. After his second straight Pro Bowl campaign in 2018, Ertz was ranked No. 40 on the NFL's Top 100 Players of 2019. Before his brief foray into broadcasting, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten exchanged jerseys just once in his career. And it was with Ertz.
"Being consistent is the ultimate sign of respect in the National Football League and certainly for the tight end position. You can do a lot of things formationally to get catches or get yards. But it's hard to be a guy who can play every down. He is that and has been that for a number of years," Witten said of Ertz.
"When you look at him as a pure route runner, I don't think there's a guy in the National Football League at the tight end position that runs routes better than him. He can attack vertically. He can attack intermediate. He does the RPO game where he just gets open on third-and-short or fourth-and-short. His game is in that tier of the top tight ends. He has certain traits that show me he's going to be here for a while because his game can evolve as it goes, and it has. He's gone from one system to another. He's had multiple quarterbacks."
Three-time Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins appreciates the challenges that the 6-5, 250-pound Ertz brings in the pass game.
"He's not the fastest tight end, but he understands route concepts. He understands spacing. So, I think he does that better than anybody when it comes to even if you're covered, he'll work away from you or to the soft spot in zone," Jenkins says. "He just knows how to get open."
This is Zach Ertz's time of the year. Six of his 12 career 100-yard performances have come in the final four games of the regular season. If the Eagles are going to rebound and make a postseason appearance, they will need the man who will have a heckuva case to one day be named the best tight end in franchise history to shoulder the load once again.