When the Eagles drafted tight end Zach Ertz in 2013, they already had the 27-year-old Brent Celek and had just signed free agent James Casey.
Chip Kelly, then the Eagles coach, was asked how he would be able to get all three on the field.
“You go like that,” Kelly said as he held three fingers up in the air, “and three tight ends go in the game. … If they go three linebackers, we spread them out and if they go [with defensive backs], we smash you. So, pick your poison.”
While Kelly didn’t exactly use his three-tight end personnel package very much, the decision to expend a second-round selection on Ertz was a sound one. Two years prior, the Patriots had shown the NFL how having two dynamic pass-catching tight ends could create mismatch nightmares and the Eagles, to a lesser extent, would piggy back on this trend.
Ertz would develop into one of the preeminent tight ends in the league as Celek adopted more a blocking role, and while Casey didn’t pan out, the Eagles found another downfield threat in the undrafted Trey Burton.
Five years later, the Eagles’ circumstances were similar. They had an existing starting tight end in the 27-year-old Ertz, and while they lacked depth after Celek was released and Burton left via free agency, the need to draft a tight end – at least with their first pick – wasn’t great.
The Super Bowl champions didn’t necessarily have any pressing holes to fill. They could effectively take the best player on their board. The Eagles didn’t exactly take that route in the second round Friday night, trading up three spots, but drafting South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert showed that they wouldn’t be swayed by the existing talent on their roster.
But getting another potential receiving threat also illustrated the changing dynamic of tight ends in the NFL. They’re almost always pass catchers first and if they’re built as big as Ertz and Goedert and if they’re as fast and elusive, they’re difficult to defend in the passing game.
“It creates matchups. If he’s an athletic guy like a Zach Ertz,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of Goedert, “we can move him around, we can spread him out, he’s good in space, he understands spatial awareness. He’s great in man coverage because he can separate at the top of the route. Those become big bodies on smaller bodies.”
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Goedert, like many of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL over the last decade, has a basketball pedigree. It was his No. 1 sport in high school, and he had higher aspirations, but with his mother’s help, was convinced to favor football because there aren’t many 6-5 big men in the pros.
“Beating man coverage is a lot like driving to the hole, doing a crossover to get by somebody,” Goedert said. “And then any time you’re in the red zone using your body like you’re boxing out, go up and catch a fade ball like high-pointing a rebound.”
Goedert jokingly compared himself to LeBron James when asked for a basketball comparison, but his football analogies – Ertz and the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce — made more sense. Both Pro Bowl tight ends routinely beat linebackers down the seam and out-muscle safeties on shorter routes.
“I compare myself to the best in the league and Zach Ertz is one of the best in the league,” Goedert said. “And I like a lot of things that he does and I think I can do well. Using his leverage, finding soft spots in zones.”
— Zach Ertz (@ZERTZ_86) April 28, 2018
The questions about Goedert, at least as a receiver, relate more to his level of competition than to his skills. He was productive at the FCS level, catching 164 passes for 2,404 yards and 18 touchdowns over his last two seasons.
But when he faced the 13th-ranked TCU as a junior, he caught 5 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. And when he competed against mostly Division I-A prospects at the Senior Bowl, according to Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas, Goedert more than held his own.
A hamstring injury ended his Senior Bowl week and kept him from running the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and his Pro Day, but Douglas said there was more than enough on tape to make an accurate evaluation of his speed.
“Just on the tape you can see a guy that can separate at the top of the routes,” Douglas said, “and a guy that’s going to be a friend to the quarterback.”
Carson Wentz seemed happy after the pick. He tweeted out congratulations to his fellow Dakotan and sent him several text messages. Wentz and Goedert share an agent and when the latter was at the NovaCare Complex earlier this month for a pre-draft visit they met.
A fellow Missouri Valley Alum hailing from the lesser Dakota ��…. @goedert33 welcome to the squad bro! Big things comin. We gotta represent the FCS, MVFC, and the Dakotas well my man. Let’s go!
— Carson Wentz (@cj_wentz) April 28, 2018
“He’s a guy that obviously Carson was familiar with,” Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. “He’s been around the building talking to us about him a little bit. He’s excited, just from the texts some of us have gotten, the conversations. The quarterbacks are excited.”
The Eagles don’t ask their tight ends to pass block much, but Goedert will be asked to carry his share of the load in the run game. Both Celek and Ertz weren’t known as proficient blockers in college, but both had the want-to and developed into solid blockers – and in Celek’s case, a very good one.
Just last week, Ertz had spoken about the complexities of learning the tight end position in the Eagles’ system.
“It’s a unique position because there’s run and pass involved,” Pederson said. “There’s route running and there’s blocking schemes. We’ll begin slow. He’s a smart kid. He’s going to learn fast.”
There will be growing pains despite his early confidence.
“They don’t think there’s really going to be very much of a learning curve,” Goedert said of the Eagles. “They definitely don’t think I’m a finished product, but they think that I can go up there and make an impact right away.”
The Eagles apparently don’t have to worry about Goedert’s work ethic. He’s prototypically Midwestern disciplined, according to many evaluators. And what he lacks in experience, his natural ability should compensate.
“Dallas is a blue-collar kid that works extremely hard,” Douglas said.
It could be only a matter of time before he contributes. The Eagles are likely salivating over the possibilities with both Ertz and Goedert on the field together.
“I think both him and I can be put anywhere on the field so the offense can have the best mismatch available,” Goedert said. “And I think the coaching staff is going to do an incredible job to put us in the best situations to win.”