It’s a well-known trope that tight ends typically take several years to develop into productive members of the fantasy football community. There are outliers to this truism such as Gronk, Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Greg Olsen, who just happen to be the four greatest tight ends to play during my lifetime. They all broke out within their first 2 seasons in the league. With that in mind, I’d like to look at a few tight ends who came into the league with high expectations based on where they were drafted.
Zach Ertz, 6’5” 250 lbs., 25 years old, Philadelphia Eagles
Based on Zach Ertz’s PlayerProfiler metrics his closest comp on PlayerProfiler.com is Heath Miller. Miller much was a much better real life NFL player than a fantasy football asset and the hope when Ertz was drafted was assuredly set much higher than Miller level production. More known for his receiving prowess at Stanford, it was widely known that Ertz would need to improve upon his pass pro and run blocking in order to become a full-time starting tight end when he entered the league in 2013. After working on it, and Eagles’ fans reading article after article about it, Ertz did improve as a blocker enough to finally overtake Brent Celek in snaps played per game last season. Along with improving his blocking, Ertz’s receptions and yards have increased every season he’s been in the league. Last season, Ertz totaled 75 receptions and 835 yards. But as has been a consistent issue throughout his career Ertz only scored two touchdowns. In fact, Ertz’s career high is 4 touchdowns, set in his rookie season. Another aspect that seems to haunt Ertz is the fact that he disappears for weeks at a time. Of his 75 receptions last season, 35 were accrued over a 4 week period from weeks 14-17. I’m not a scientist but that means in 11 games prior to that monster four-week stretch Ertz only accounted for 40 catches. And not for nothing, I play in a lot of leagues and I can not think of one that plays into week 17. Just to drive the point home even further Ertz only cracked 10 fantasy points in 7 games last season and yep 4 of those weeks were weeks 14-17. So I guess what I’m saying is that Ertz is inconsistent.
But, and there is a but, I do like Ertz going forward. While Ertz is still young, he’ll turn 26 this November, he’s a seasoned pro in the midst of his 4th year in the league. He’s shown an aptitude for being able to approve his game. The Eagles think enough of Ertz’s blocking acumen to keep him home weeks 6 and 7 to help rookie right tackle H. Vaitai in the absence of normal starter Lane Johnson (drugs are bad).
As mentioned earlier, Ertz has also increased his receptions and yardage totals every season (and obviously his targets and target share as well). Even though I’ve mildly disparaged his 4-week rampage last season, he still did produce one of the most productive 4-week stretches of any tight end in recent memory. His lack of scoring can be looked at one of two ways. You can make the assumption that he’ll never be much of a goal line threat, or you can choose to believe that he is due for regression based on the amount of targets he’s likely to receive. Ertz is also more athletic than I believe he’s often credited for, sometimes even lining up out wide as a receiver in certain offensive sets. Even though Ertz has been inconsistent it’s important to examine why that is. Under his previous coaches, a premium was placed on blocking and Ertz just so happened to be saddled playing with one of the most accomplished blocking tight ends in the league in Brent Celek. Ertz is also now on his 2nd head coach and 4th quarterback of his career – Foles, Vick, Bradford, Wentz (not exactly a who’s who’s at the position). With the addition of Carson Wentz as the franchise quarterback (savior?), Ertz finally should have a quarterback that he’ll have the time to develop chemistry with. I’d be willing to part with a low 2017 2nd round or 3rd round rookie pick to add Ertz to my roster.
Eric Ebron, 6’4” 253 lbs., 23 years old, Detroit Lions
Ebron was the 10th overall selection of the 2014 draft, which is an insanely high investment in a tight end in case you wondering. Physically, he’s everything you could want in a receiving tight end. He’s big, fast, athletic, runs excellent routes and has excellent hands. Seriously, if you have some free time take a peek at his scouting reports prior to the 2014 draft. Every last superlative you’d want a player to have is attached to his scouting reports. Phrases like “matchup nightmare” are bandied about when describing Ebron’s game. In short, Ebron has a chance to be a special tight end of the Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Gronk ilk. I do have minor concerns surrounding Ebron’s durability as he’s already missed 8 games in his 2 ½ years in the league, which includes 3 games this season. But when healthy, Ebron is a problem for any defense to contend with. After missing the three prior weeks due to ankle and knee injuries, Ebron returned in Week 8 to the tune of 7 receptions and 79 yards and 14.90 fantasy points. In fact, in three out five games Ebron has played this season he’s eclipsed 11.90 fantasy points.
Besides being an athletic tight end, Ebron also has the benefit of playing for the Detroit Lions. He has an excellent, some might even say elite, quarterback in Matt Stafford who has shown in the past he can feed a monster with as many targets as he can stand. Stafford has already shown a willingness to make Ebron his new monster targeting him 7 times a game this season. The Lions defense also just so happens to be a trash heap every season so I think we can reasonably assume his target shares will at least remain constant if not increase in the foreseeable future. With his physical skills, the draft capital invested in him and from what I’ve seen when he’s on the field, I’d happily part with an end of 1st round rookie draft pick to acquire Ebron. It’s my belief that Ebron should enter into the TE1 conversation on a weekly basis in short order.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, 6’6” 265 lbs., 25 years old, Houston Texans
In the off-season, I penned a “Buy/Sell” piece on the Houston Texans and of C.J. Fiedorowicz I had this to say: “I love buying TE’s in bulk and both C.J. and Griffin fit the profile of TE’s I like to take a chance on. Both are big with decent speed and can be had for pennies on the dollar.” So yeah, not exactly a ringing endorsement, but an endorsement nonetheless. I may have actually undersold Fiedorowicz’s athleticism based on his SPARQ-x score of 119.8. For a player that could have been had basically free up until 4 weeks ago, Fiedorowicz is having a stellar season. With 26 receptions, 269 yards, and 3 touchdowns so far this season, Fiedorowicz has already bested his career totals coming into the season. His first two seasons in the league produced 21 receptions and 195 yards with 2 scoring plays combined. Largely used as a blocker his first two seasons Fiedorowicz impressed Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien in the offseason with his improved route running and receiving skills. “He’s actually improved a lot in the passing game and in the intermediate passing game. We’ve done some things down the field with him. He’s in really good shape. He’s healthy. He has made a lot of improvement,” the HC was quoted on 8/19/16 when discussing his tight end. The signing of Brock Osweiler has also been a boon for Fied, either due to lack of arm strength or not being confident in his understanding of the offense Os is often too scared to throw outside the hashes and has ended up heavily targeting his tight ends. Fied, and to a lesser extent Ryan Griffin, have been the beneficiaries of these increased targets. Although I like Fiedorowicz’s athleticism and his current situation I’m not going out of my way to add him to my rosters. I’d look to add Fied as a secondary piece in a trade or give up a 4th round rookie pick to acquire him. There are plenty of tight ends available who can provide similar production.
In my next look at the tight end position, I’m going to dissect the 2016 draft class which I’m pretty high on. As always feel free to holler at me @DFF_Shane if you want to discuss tight ends or any other matter related to dynasty.