With Kelly at the helm of the Eagles, Zach found himself in a familiar offense, ready to help change the pace of the NFL game. There was no redshirt season in the pros. No. 86 was thrust right into the action, playing in all 16 regular season games for the Eagles as a rookie, and catching passes in all but two of them.
In Week 9 of the 2013 season, Zach had his biggest game of his young career back home in Northern California. Against the Oakland Raiders, Zach hauled in five passes for 42 yards — including his first NFL touchdown — in a 49-20 Philadelphia win.
Three weeks later, Zach tied his career mark with five receptions, including two more touchdowns, in a win over Arizona. He was a crucial element in the Eagles offense down the stretch of his rookie season, and Philadelphia won seven of its final eight regular season game, clinching the NFC East crown and a playoff berth.
Zach finished the year with 36 receptions for 469 yards and four touchdowns. He added three catches for 22 yards in a Wild Card round shootout with the Saints, the last of which — a three-yard touchdown pass with under five minutes remaining — briefly staked Philadelphia to a one-point lead. Unfortunately, New Orleans came back and kicked a field goal as time expired to end the Eagles’ season.
But experiencing the playoff atmosphere in Philly as a rookie made Zach even more determined to accomplish more with the Eagles in subsequent seasons.
“It was an unbelievable experience. It was a great feeling to go to the playoffs for a city like Philly that is just so passionate about football,” he said. “I love Philadelphia. The fans here are honest with you. If you’re playing poorly they’re going to let you know you’re playing poorly. If you’re playing great they’re going to let you know you’re playing great. I think it’s that honesty and that blue-collar mentality that has attracted me and allowed me to gravitate to such a great city.”
Both Zach and the Eagles entered his second season with high aspirations, and year got off to a great start. Zach had a touchdown catch in the season opening win over Jacksonville, and again hauled in passes in all but one game for the team. Philly ran out to a 9-3 record entering the month of December with another NFC East crown in their sights. But three straight losses knocked them out of the playoff picture.
Zach noted that the disappointing finish to the season made him appreciate the hard work needed to reach the postseason in the NFL.
“I think I’ve learned more in this year by not going to the playoffs than I did as a rookie. It made me appreciate how good that feeling of going to the playoffs is. At Stanford, we were always playing in big bowl games. So I think just the disappointment of this year looking back on not having the opportunity to go to the playoffs has really stuck a needle in my side.”
There was also plenty to build on. In the second to last game of the season, No. 86 had the best game of his young career, hauling in an Eagles record 15 passes for 115 yards. He finished the season with 58 catches for 702 yards and three touchdowns, one of the best receiving seasons among tight ends in the league.
The 2015 season began with a setback for No. 86. He underwent an operation to repair a groin injury during the offseason and missed valuable time building a rapport with Philly’s new quarterback, Sam Bradford. Zach returned for the start of the season and began to hit his stride midway through the year—only to suffer another scary setback. While trying to hurdle a defender for first-down yardage against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ZE was upended and landed on his head and neck, sustaining a concussion that sidelined him for the remainder of that game and the following week.
But when Zach returned, he picked up right where he left off, hauling in his first touchdown of the season in a monumental win over the New England Patriots. A 98-yard performance followed in a win over Buffalo, and he carried that forward with 78-yard effort while pulling down another scoring reception against the Arizona Cardinals. ZE then broke his career-high with 122 receiving yards—but the big week was spoiled by a loss to the Washington Redskins that ended Philly’s chances at the playoffs. But even though the Eagles were left out of the postseason, they finished the regular season strong. Zach again shattered his career-high amassing 152 yards on nine receptions. Behind ZE’s outstanding day, Philly beat the New York Giants 35-30 to close the regular season.
It all boiled down to another step up for No. 86. Zach made strides in his pass blocking, which resulted in his snap count skyrocketing. His targets went up to a career-high 112. His receptions: a career-high 75. He ended the year with 853 receiving yards and more than 2,000 in his three-year career. The Eagles took notice. On Jan. 25, Zach signed a five-year contract extension to keep him right where he wants to be: in Philadelphia.
“When people think of great tight ends in Philly, I want to be the guy that they think of,” Zach said. “I look at (Brian) Dawkins, I look at Donovan (McNabb), I look at (Brian) Westbrook. These guys left lasting legacies in the city. Those are the guys I want to be mentioned with.”
Then in 2016, the Eagles drafted quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick in the NFL Draft, and ZE continued his impressive play on Sundays. Zach led the Eagles with 78 receptions that season, which was also a career-high for No. 86, and he compiled 816 yards and four touchdowns while developing chemistry with his new rookie signal caller.
Zach finished 2016 strong, racking up 75 or more receiving yards in four of his final five games, including his best performance of the year in Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys. No. 86 caught 13 of 16 targets for 139 yards and two touchdowns in a late season effort that would help him carry some momentum into the off-season.
The following season in 2017, ZE cemented himself as one of the NFL’s premier tight ends as the Eagles dominated their regular season competition on the way to a 13-3 record under head coach Doug Pederson.
For the third straight season, Zach racked up over 70 catches and 800 yards through the air, but in 2017, he doubled his previous touchdown total by reaching the endzone eight times in 14 games. The chemistry and growth between Wentz and No. 86 was evident as Zach became a reliable third-down target as the season progressed toward the postseason.
After Wentz suffered a season-ending injury in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams, many questioned whether Philadelphia would be able to sustain their Super Bowl-caliber play. They closed the season with two more wins and a loss to the Cowboys in Week 17 as they rested many starters with a first-round bye already secured.
In the Divisional Round, the Eagles hosted the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons and prevailed in a 15-10 slug fest. Zach managed 32 receiving yards in a game that didn’t feature much offense.
The following week, Philadelphia routed the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game and romped to the Super Bowl with a 38-7 victory. No. 86 led the game in receiving yards with 93 on eight receptions while Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith caught touchdown passes from Nick Foles. And LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement ran through a stout Vikings defense with some physical run-blocking from Zach and the offensive line.
Two weeks later, the Eagles would face off against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, winners of five Super Bowls since 2002. ZE rose to the occasion and stepped up when his team needed it most. Throughout the game, No. 86 made a number of crucial third- and fourth-down receptions that moved the chains and kept drives alive. But the biggest moment came in the waning moments of the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LII.
With the Eagles trailing 32-33 with just over two minutes to play in the game, the Eagles faced a third-and-seven. Foles hit Zach on a slant route and No. 86 took care of the rest. Zach beat Devin McCourty on the play and dove across the goal line to put the Eagles ahead for good and claim the city’s first ever Super Bowl title.