Philadelphia Eagles: Sadly, Zach Ertz just can’t YAC it

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

While Zach Ertz is among the best tight ends in the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles’ top receiver has a serious problem picking up yards after the catch.

In 2018, Zach Ertz turned in the highest volume receiving season of any tight end in NFL history.

Rightfully cast as Carson Wentz‘s security blanket, Ertz hauled in 116 catches for 1163 yards and eight touchdowns, giving the Philadelphia Eagles their first 1,000 yard receivers since Jeremy Maclin accomplished the feat back in 2014.

Historically that’s the most catches any tight end has ever caught in a single regular-season in NFL history, but when you dig into the numbers, things get a bit murkier and a whole lot more concerning.

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While Ertz’s total catches were the most of any tight ends in 2018 – and the second-most of any pass catcher in the league – his yards-per-catch average (YAC) ranked far lower.

Now granted, that’s not a huge deal, as tight ends typically aren’t catching 50 or 60-yard touchdowns, but you’d have to assume a player of Ertz’s caliber is at least getting some additional yards after generating contact – he is 6-foot-5, 250 pounds after all.

That would be a no.

Of the 1,163 yards Ertz hauled in last season, only 363 came after the catch, the 36th highest mark in the league behind players like Austin Ekeler, Tyler Boyd, and T.J. Yeldon.

Again, some of that has to do with the trappings of playing tight end, and specifically being schemes as Wentz’s emergency check down target when under pressure, but after catching that many passes, one would have to assume his yards after the catch would be higher just on volume alone – that’s how averages work, right?

Need proof? Look no further than San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle, who racked up the second most YAC (784) in the league on 28 fewer touches.

Conversely, on the 2018 season, Ertz had exactly zero catches of over 50 yards and zero over 40 yards. Despite catching 116 balls, Ertz’s longest catch only went for 34 yards.

Just for context, 172 other players had a longer longest catch in 2018, including obvious candidates like Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews, and Alshon Jeffery, but also questionable options like Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles, and Shelton Gibson – who only had one catch on the entire season.

But hey, maybe we’re all being a bit too hard on Mr. Ertz.

Maybe focusing on 2018, where he was far and away the team’s most-used offensive weapon, is short-changing this potential effectiveness when paired with a collection of bolstered playmakers.

Good news, we now have two games worth of numbers to dissect from 2019, where Ertz has been far from the team’s top target, and so far, the results haven’t been all that much better.

Over the first two games of the year, Ertz has caught 13 passes on 23 targets for 126 yards and no touchdowns.

While Ertz is only on pace for 104 catches for 1,008 yards, his yards per catch have dipped even lower to a potentially career-low 9.7 – the first time he’s averaged less than 10 yards a catch as a pro.

Ertz’s lack of fight for additional yards has already come back to bite Philly and actually cost them a game – Week 2 to be exact.

On a, no, the crucial fourth down with the game on the line, Wentz fired a rocket to Ertz on what should have been a conversion, but the receiver’s lack of spatial awareness, when mixed with an inability to fight through contact, left the ex-Stanford Cardinal with a seven-yard gain on fourth and eight – turning the ball over and costing Philly a potentially crucial win.

Now we may he never quite known who was at fault for the blown execution, for all we know, Wentz may have thrown the ball a tad early, but historically, tight ends are the biggest pass-catcher on the field and should at least be able to fight for one extra yard with the game on the line.

Despite being relatively close to the sidelines, Ertz didn’t even attempt to extend his arms to pick up the yard needed to keep the game going until it was too late, a brutal sight only made worse by constant replays.

Next. Inside Nelson Agholor’s bizarre 100-yard game. dark

To put it simply, Zach Ertz is a finesse player. While he looks every bit the part of a big-bodied bruiser, he plays the game more like a 5-foot-10 possession receiver uninterested in fighting for additional yards. Can a team win with these limitations in mind? Totally, as the Philadelphia Eagles literally won a Super Bowl with Ertz as their top receiving option, but unless he can strengthen his body, and resolve, Julie’s husband will continue to struggle when is team needs him most.