Replacing DeSean: More Zach Ertz, please

Replacing DeSean: More Zach Ertz, please

82 receptions, 1,332 yards receiving, nine touchdowns; that’s what the Philadelphia Eagles must replace in the NFL’s No. 2 offense after the release of DeSean Jackson. Where’s it supposed to come from? Not necessarily from any one player. In this four part series, we examine whose roles will increase as a result of the move. [ Part 1: Jeremy Maclin ][ Part 2: Darren Sproles ]

There was a lot of talk about how prevalent the tight end position was going to be in Chip Kelly’s offense when the head coach first arrived in Philadelphia. The Eagles quickly signed James Casey to a free-agent contract, then proceeded to spend the 35th overall pick on Zach Ertz out of Stanford.

We even saw a formation that put as many as four tight ends on the field at one time in a preseason game.

Once the regular season got underway though, Kelly didn’t go as heavy on tight ends as many presumed he would. The Eagles used 11 personnel—one back, one tight end, three wide receivers—roughly 75 percent of the time in 2013, often more than that earlier in the year.

It’s safe to say there should be an increase in the use of tight ends moving forward, if for no other reason than out of necessity. The Birds will surely draft a receiver, but there’s no telling how much a rookie will be ready to contribute from day one, and while there are some viable No. 3 candidates already on the roster, likely nobody that absolutely must be on the field.

Of course, the expansion of the tight ends’ role in Kelly’s offense should also be organic to an extent. The simple fact of the matter is Ertz demands more playing time based on his performance down the stretch last season.

In nine games from November on through the playoffs, Ertz was a beast, pulling down 25 receptions for 290 yards (11.6 AVG) and five touchdowns. Bear in mind he was still playing fewer than 50 percent of the offensive snaps, while games such as the Snow Bowl and a 54-11 blowout of the Chicago Bears naturally made for fewer opportunities to have an impact.

Ertz’s emergence in the second half came as no surprise. He’s an obvious matchup problem at 6’5”, 250 pounds with 4.68 speed—a smooth route-runner as well, particularly for a first-year player.

There’s no limit to what Kelly can do with Ertz in his offense. He can line up as a traditional in-line tight end or in the slot, as has become popular around the league. There were even instances where Ertz was lined up outside the numbers.

The key is getting Ertz on the field, only not necessarily at the expense of Brent Celek. While the seven-year veteran experienced a dramatic dip in overall production, he made his presence felt as one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, particularly in the running game.

And although Celek’s 32 receptions and 502 yards were his lowest since taking over as starter, it wasn’t apparent that was due to any decline in his ability. 15.7 yards per reception was a personal best by over two yards, six touchdowns the second-highest total of his career.

With Jackson out of the picture, and no clear-cut No. 3 receiver, there is definitely room for both Celek and Ertz in the offense going forward.

Ertz wound up finishing the ’13 campaign with 36 catches, 469 yards and four touchdowns, which is better than all but a handful of active tight ends can say for their rookie seasons. Those numbers compare favorably and in most cases are better than the likes of Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten and Vernon Davis when they were pups, to name a few.

Not bad company. Not bad at all.

To be fair, it’s impossible to project exactly what Ertz’s ceiling is or exactly what type of figures he’ll post next season. Just because a player had a better rookie year than some multi-time Pro Bowlers/Hall of Fame types doesn’t guarantee he’ll ascend to that level himself.

That being said, if last season was any indication, Ertz has the potential to make a push for the 1,000-yard mark and/or double-digit touchdowns. All he needs is the opportunity, which it seems obvious he’ll have… and then some.

Nerlens Noel to undergo minor surgery on left knee

Nerlens Noel to undergo minor surgery on left knee

The Sixers on Friday announced that center Nerlens Noel will undergo a minor surgical procedure on his left knee to address an inflamed plica. 

Noel appeared in the Sixers' first preaseason game, but has been sidelined since Oct. 6 because of a left groin strain. 

While undergoing treatment, Noel reported left knee soreness, which led to the discovery of the inflamed plica.

Noel's status for the season opener on Oct. 26 was already in question, and knee surgery should officially rule him out. There is no timetable for his return.

No surgery for Bayless
The Sixers also announced that Jerryd Bayless' left wrist ligament injury will not require surgery.

Bayless, who has been a limited participant in training camp, will be reevaluated in two weeks.

Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel among Bovada's favorites to be traded this season

Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel among Bovada's favorites to be traded this season

The logam at the center position has dominated talk surrounding the Sixers as they approach the start of the 2016-17 season.

While a trade has yet to be made, Bovada believes there's a good chance two of the team's three young centers won't be in Philadelphia by season's end. 

Bovada released their NBA player props for the upcoming NBA season Tuesday, listing Nerlens Noel (5/7) and Jahlil Okafor (8/5) as two of the league's favorites to be dealt before February's trade deadline. On the other hand, Noel's odds to not be dealt are even, while Okafor's odds to remain a Sixer past this season are 4/9.

Kings swingman Rudy Gay was between Noel and Okafor with the second-best odds to be traded at 5/9. Gay's teammate DeMarcus Cousins had the fourth-best odds at 3/1. 

Bovada's over/under player props featured bets involving six different Sixers. Joel Embiid's rookie stat line was set at 13.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. In five preseason games, Embiid has averaged 11.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in just 14.4 minutes of action. If his limited preseason action is any indication, Embiid could certainly reach Bovada's averages once his minutes restriction comes off. 

Here are the rest of the Sixers' over/under prop bets: 

  • Jahlil Okafor: 15 points, 6.5 rebounds
  • Nerlens Noel: 9.5 points, 7.5 rebounds
  • Gerald Henderson: 10.5 points
  • Robert Covington: 12.5 points
  • Dario Saric: 5.0 rebounds