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Is Dallas Goedert a top tight end?

Goedert once called himself the fourth-best TE in the league. Two years later, he might have an opportunity to prove it.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Do y’all remember this?

“Yeah, I haven’t beat out Zach yet. And I’ll give it to [Kansas City’s] Travis Kelce for being Travis Kelce. And I’ll give it to [San Francisco’s George] Kittle. What he did last year was pretty impressive. I’m not saying I’m not better than him, but he had a pretty good year,” Goedert said.

“Those are three pretty good tight ends. Just put me at number four and I’ll be content.”

It was during the 2019 preseason that Dallas Goedert said he was the fourth-best TE in the NFL, and could have been the starter on 29 of 32 NFL teams. Zach Ertz was still rightfully TE1 on the depth chart. Goedert was expecting to contend not only with Ertz, but with Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson, for targets. Those guys aren’t there anymore — as is the guy who’d be throwing those targets. How times have changed.

But Goedert’s want for an expanded role has been answered. With Ertz’s play fallen off a cliff and his future in Philadelphia seemingly decided, Goedert is the unquestioned TE1 coming into camp. There are no vets behind him on the depth chart, no early-drafted rookies to contend for snaps. He is the guy.

But is he ready? Since that 2019 quote, Goedert is 23rd among tight ends with 50+ targets with only 10.88 yards/reception; 22nd with 7.44 yards/target. That puts him behind guys like Ryan Griffin, Will Dissly, and Jordan Akins — hardly the caliber of player that Goedert listed as his superiors two years ago. Kelce and Kittle are Top-10 in both measures.

But Goedert’s arrow is pointing up, even if it feels like nothing was right with the Eagles’ offense last season. Goedert’s yards/reception was 8th among tight ends just for the 2020 season; his yards/target was 9th. We see this improved explosiveness reflected in Goedert’s depth of target, which jumped massively last season with only a small drop-off in catch rate.

Dallas Goedert Target Change: 2019 to 2020

Stat 2019 2020
Stat 2019 2020
Yards/Reception 10.47 11.39
Yards/Target 6.98 8.06
Depth of Target 6.3 9.1
Catch Rate 74.4% 71.9%

It’s excellent to see Goedert’s target distribution change over the 2020 season to reflect that of a top tight end. When Ertz was effective, Goedert was used heavily as a screen receiver on misdirection plays. 17% of his targets in 2019 came behind the line of scrimmage; that number dropped to 8% this past season. Goedert’s a fun athlete after the catch — a rumbling tackle-breaker with better acceleration than folks realize — but that’s simply not how you want to use your tight end. It’s a nice garnish, but it can’t be the meat and potatoes.

What is Goedert’s meat and potatoes? Blocking. Always has been. It’s not tough to immediately beat out Zach Ertz as a blocker — even in his prime, that wasn’t Ertz’s game. But there was a rampant, mistaken belief during Goedert’s pre-Draft process that he was a poor blocker, and that followed him to his rookie season at Philadelphia. But Goedert has been one of best blocking tight ends in the NFL, especially when you filter for players who have at least some receiving ability. Tight ends are becoming increasingly specialized, but Goedert can do both jobs — block and catch — at a high level.

We’ve talked largely about receiving stats to this point, but Goedert’s ability as a blocker is integral to the diversity of the Eagles’ running game under running game coordinator Jeff Stoutland. The Eagles will run zone and try to hit backside behind a Goedert double-team, work their trap game off of his wham block on the interior, and used him as a lead blocker heavily with Jalen Hurts’ QB run game. That’s something he brings to the table that other Tier 2 and Tier 3 TEs like Hunter Henry, Robert Tonyan, and Logan Thomas don’t bring, and he’s a better player than Austin Hooper and Hayden Hurst at their own, well-rounded games games.

Goedert’s beat all three of those guys in efficiency metrics last season, and with more volume, should be able to cleanly out-produce them as receivers. But he doesn’t have the natural speed of a Noah Fant or the natural receiver movement of Mark Andrews, let alone the sheer dominance of players like Darren Waller and Rob Gronkowski. Even if Goedert brings more as a blocker than those players, it’s tough to crowbar him into that tier, as he simply hasn’t shown that level of receiving ability just yet.

So Goedert’s somewhere at the top of the third tier of tight ends. He’s a growing young player like Fant and Andrews, but he’s behind them in terms of volume and dynamic playmaking ability. A sudden surge of targets could unlock some big plays from Goedert, who’s always seemed to have more in the tank than Ertz allowed him to show, but to this point, we can’t call him that player. Goedert isn’t a top tight end yet.

That doesn’t preclude Goedert from having a 700 yard or 100 target season next year. T.J. Hockenson had 100 targets; Mike Gesicki had 703 yards. Goedert is a better player than both. A fourth-year breakout is not unreasonable for a slow-developing position like tight end, especially when you consider how many reps Ertz has taken from him. If Hurts becomes more comfortable throwing to the middle of the field in his second year, he’ll rely on Goedert more than perhaps any other receiver on the roster.

Goedert’s a Top-10 TE at this time, and with a contract year coming up, is in line for a nice extension this offseason. But the difference between Austin Hooper money and Hunter Henry money rests in his ability to deliver on long-apparent potential now in a prominent, and even dominant role. If he does, then perhaps we can revisit his bold prediction of a Top-5 TE seating.

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