Thursday, March 30 2023

The list of the top tight ends in the NFL is usually a short one. It often begins and ends with Travis Kelce. For a time, San Francisco’s George Kittle was there, too.

In Philadelphia, though, the Eagles believe that one more name needs to be added to that list.

“You know, I thought I should be mentioned in that breath ever since I was a rookie,” Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert said this week. “But that’s the self-confidence I have.”

It’s not just his own confidence — it’s what his teammates and coaches believe, too. And they think he was well on his way to proving that to everyone this season before he suffered a fractured shoulder in Week 10. Goedert was even on pace to join Eagles receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith in the 1,000-yard club before he was forced to miss five games late in the season.


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His final numbers were still good — 55 catches, 702 yards, three touchdowns in 12 games — but they don’t fully tell the story of how much Goedert meant to the Eagles, or why he could be the player who makes the difference for them on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game (3 p.m. ET on FOX).

The Eagles have known about Goedert’s potential for a while. The former walk-on at South Dakota State was considered by some to be the best pass-catching tight end in the 2018 draft even though he played at an FCS school. The Eagles traded up in the second round to get him — one pick ahead of the Dallas Cowboys, who were about to lose tight end Jason Witten to his first retirement — even though they already had tight end Zach Ertz.

But they didn’t view Goedert as just a second tight end — the kind that usually stays in to block or run decoy routes. They saw him as another weapon, another dangerous target for then-quarterback Carson Wentz.

That’s the way Goedert has always viewed himself, too, as a weapon in the passing game. He takes it so seriously that when he studies film of other players, he isn’t usually watching other tight ends. He said he studies big receivers like the Chargers’ Keenan Allen and Tampa’s Julio Jones so he can try to mimic their movements. And he said he learns a lot in practice while watching Brown and Smith, too.

“A lot of time we would watch tight ends, but wide receivers seem to be a little bit more fluid, a little bit better at route running,” Goedert said. “I just feel like that benefits me because that’s ultimately what I want to do. When I’m running routes, I want to look like a receiver and when I’m blocking I want to block like an O-lineman.  I feel like watching receivers is more beneficial for me just because their one job is to run routes.”

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It’s worked because he’s one of the best route-running tight ends in the NFL — possibly right behind Kelce. He might never match Kelce’s stats — 110 catches, 1,338 yards, 12 touchdowns this season — because Kelce is the focal point of the Kansas City offense, while Goedert is the third option in the passing game of a Philadelphia offense that prefers to run.

But the Eagles understand that they can go to Goedert any time they want, in any way.

“He’s a special player,” Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said earlier this season. “You can pretty much do whatever you want with Dallas. Obviously, we throw him screens, we throw him verticals, we throw him intermediate routes. We do a lot with him because he’s a special player.”

Defenses know that too, which creates all sorts of problems, especially when quarterback Jalen Hurts is out of the pocket. Defenders can’t leave Goedert to chase Hurts, which opens up running lanes for the quarterback. At 6-5, 256, Goedert is also too big and strong for most safeties and corners to handle, and too fast to be covered by a linebacker, especially if he takes off down the field.

“You don’t have to throw him the ball down the field for him to create a play — a big play,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “You don’t have to throw him the ball down the field 30 yards. You could throw it to him at the line of scrimmage, 5 yards, 15 yards, and he’s going to be able to make a big play.”

That’s what Kelce does, over and over again. It’s what Kittle has done consistently throughout his career too. It’s what everyone has come to expect from a growing list of dangerous receiving tight ends, including Minnesota’s T.J. Hockenson and Baltimore’s Mark Andrews.

Goedert and Kittle are “good friends,” the Eagles tight end said. They work out together in the offseason at the “Tight End University” camp in Nashville, and text and talk during the regular season. Goedert has grown to admire Kittle’s toughness and his “mentality” and the way he plays “super physical” every time he touches the ball.

“He goes out there and he’s not going to let anybody beat you,” Goedert said. “He’s going to run full speed right through your face. Marshawn (Lynch) probably said it best: People just can’t take that over and over again. You keep running through somebody’s face, eventually they’re going to give up. George does a great job of that.”

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Goedert does a great job of that too, even if he hasn’t quite gotten the national recognition for it yet. He probably will soon. He certainly could if he has a big game on Sunday.

For now, though, he said he’s not bitter when he’s not mentioned with Kelce or Kittle. He knows how good he is.

And he knows the Eagles know it, too.

“It doesn’t bother me whether people think it or not,” Goedert said. “I don’t really worry too much about other people’s thoughts. Obviously, the people in this building think very highly of me and that’s ultimately who I’m playing for. That’s what really matters to me.”

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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