Eagles under the radar: Linebacker Najee Goode

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Eagles under the radar: Linebacker Najee Goode

In a five-part series from Monday to Friday, Eagles insider Geoff Mosher and columnist Reuben Frank preview five Eagles flying “under the radar” as the team heads into training camp and the 2014 season. These unsung Eagles have a chance to make a bigger impact this season than people may expect. Camp opens July 25.

Najee Goode
Position: Inside linebacker
Height/weight: 6-0/244
Acquired: Free agent (2013)

Background
The Eagles claimed Goode, a former West Virginia standout, off waivers before the start of 2013 and after the final roster cutdown date. He played 14 games in the regular season, starting one in place of an injured Mychal Kendricks. The week before his first start, he played well after Kendricks left the game, helping to hold Green Bay to just 99 rushing yards and an average of 3.3 yards per carry in a 27-13 win at Lambeau. Goode also sacked Robert Griffin III for his first and only career sack and returned a botched long snap against the Giants for a touchdown.

Geoff's take
Fans were initially ticked off when the Eagles acquired Goode and cut Emmanuel Acho after Acho performed well in the preseason and Goode had just been let go by the Buccaneers. But the staff liked Goode’s coverage abilities and believed he offered more on special teams and in sub packages than Acho (who came back to the practice squad later in the season). Goode looked really good against the Packers, coming in after Kendricks left with a knee injury and joining a defense that held Eddie Lacy to just 73 yards. Now that he’s had a whole year and his first offseason in Chip Kelly’s program, Goode is primed for an expanded role. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis already said he’s looking to scale down snaps for DeMeco Ryans, who played the most snaps of any NFL defensive player last year. In certain nickel downs, Davis can substitute Goode for Ryans and get a little quicker and more athletic across the middle, which is where the Eagles were picked apart last year.

Roob's take
He can really run, and that’s the one edge Goode has on the Eagles' other linebackers, and that’s why Davis and Rick Minter will find ways to get Goode onto the field situationally on defense this year. Goode opened some eyes with the way he played against the Packers in his first NFL start last year, but the thing about Goode is that he wasn’t even with the Eagles during the offseason or training camp, so Davis and the other coaches expect a big jump in what will be his first full year in this defense. Goode’s dad played in the NFL in the mid-1980s -- they’re actually the first father-son combo in Eagles history -- and Najee has that intelligence and savvy of a kid who grew up around the game. Will he ever be an every-down linebacker? Tough to tell. But he’s smart, fast, physical and has good size at 6-4, 244 pounds. Ryans played more snaps than any defensive player in the NFL last year, and Davis has already promised those numbers will go down. Most of those snaps should go to Goode.

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

The Eagles need cornerbacks. Plural. 

It's not a secret that the team's biggest weakness heading into next week's draft is at the cornerback position. So it would stand to reason that their best bet might be to simply take the best one off the board when they're on the clock at 14.

But NFL Network's Mike Mayock, on his annual pre-draft conference call marathon extravaganza Friday, said he thinks they should take a different approach. 

Looking at the top corners in the draft, Mayock is convinced Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore will be off the board well before the Eagles are on the clock at 14. His next rated corner is Gareon Conley. After that, Mayock has Marlon Humphrey but pointed out his major flaw of struggling to find the football in the air. 

So if Conley makes it to 14, the Eagles should pick him, right? 

Not so fast. 

"So I look at it this way, if Conley's on the board at 14, you have to compare him to the best playmaker on offense on your board," Mayock said. "Because I'm not convinced the Eagles should go defense, to be honest with you. 

"If Conley's not there, I think you want to go get your corner in the second or third round and I think they need two corners. But my perspective is, you drafted Carson Wentz. You better support him. You signed two wideouts in free agency (Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith) who are both effectively one-year contracts. Your slot receiver, (Jordan) Matthews is in the final year of his deal. (Brent) Celek, the tight end, is 32 years old. 

"So you might sit there and go, 'This year looks OK,' but get a running back. Get a (Christian) McCaffrey or a Dalvin Cook. Get a tight end, O.J. Howard. Get weapons. Get one of those wideouts you like. So I would be comparing Conley to the highest playmaker you have on the board offensively. And I might be leaning towards offense if it was me." 

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Cam Newton and Greg Olsen. 

When Zach Ertz looks at the recent history of great quarterback-tight end duos in the NFL, he can't help but notice one thing stands out. 

"Those guys have been together for a long time," Ertz said Thursday afternoon. 

Brady and Gronk have been together for seven seasons. Cam and Olsen have been together for six. And Brees and Graham were together for five. 

"And I think just having that, where you're on the same page regardless of the coverage," Ertz continued. "If they give you this coverage, you know exactly what you're going to do. If they give you that coverage, he knows exactly what I'm going to do. When to expect the ball vs. certain coverages, it might be a little earlier, it might be a little later. So it's just that constant camaraderie where we're able to know what the other person is thinking without thinking about it."

Ertz hopes that's the kind of relationship he can forge with Carson Wentz, who will enter his second NFL season in 2017. 

Ertz and Wentz spend a lot of time together in the facility and away from it. A group of Eagles went to Ertz's wedding earlier this offseason, and of course, Wentz was present. If it seems like Ertz is going to great lengths to build a rapport with his quarterback, he is. 

After going through Mike Vick and Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford, the Eagles' starting tight end finally has a quarterback that isn't going anywhere for a while.  

"It's going to be huge," Ertz said about playing with Wentz for a second straight year. "I think when Carson was drafted, from the receivers and tight ends, that was the one thing we were really excited about. That we knew for the next five, 10, 20 years, hopefully, in Philadelphia, we knew who our quarterback was going to be."

Since he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Stanford, Ertz has been an extremely productive player. But that has set up huge expectations as fans wait for a "breakout year." Zach Ertz might never be Rob Gronkowski, but the numbers are hard to argue. 

In the first four years of his career, Ertz has 247 catches for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns. Since 2013, here's the list of tight ends who have more catches and yards than Ertz: Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, Antonio Gates. 

Ertz and Jeremy Maclin are the only two players in Eagles history to put up those numbers in their first four seasons. 

The argument often heard about Ertz's numbers is that they come in garbage time. Ertz has historically been an absolute beast in December. In the last few years, that hasn't meant much to a struggling Eagles franchise, but if they're in the playoff hunt in upcoming years, they'll probably want that trend to continue. 

The one statistic that doesn't seem to match the others: touchdowns. While Ertz has been among top tight ends in the league in receptions and yards, his 13 touchdowns rank 17th among tight ends since 2013. (It's not a stat, but for what it's worth, Ertz would likely be among the league leaders in touchdowns called back for penalties in the last few years.)

"I want to be the guy in the red zone, believe me," Ertz said. "For the first four years in my career, I think the most touchdowns I had in a year was four. So this year, we didn't have a lot of red zone touchdowns and that falls on us as players to get it down when we get down there, make plays when the ball's in the air. That's something I do pride myself on, making those tough and contested catches, whether it be in the red zone or third down. I want to be more of a go-to guy in the red zone, but I've got to earn that this spring and summer, earn that trust of the quarterback as well as Doug (Pederson). It's going to be a process, but when you look at the great tight ends in the league, the first thing that stands out is touchdowns."