If this article seems a tad rushed to you that’s because it is. I do apologize in advance; sometimes you feel the need to share your thoughts before they slip from your mind. At least I do, maybe that’s due to my advancing age, receding hairline, dad bod…wait what are we talking about. Oh, sorry about that, Zach Ertz. Yes, buy Zach Ertz today, do not wait until he plays Kansas City this Sunday, it may be too late at that point.
I have been guilty of undervaluing Zach Ertz, both from a real football and fantasy football perspective. Today I wish to atone for my insolence. Native Philadelphian that I am, I am taught that if you’re not tough, scrappy, or an underdog than I can not root for you. And what Ertz does below is entirely unforgivable. This is Philadelphia!
— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroCSN) December 5, 2016
Before Ertz, Brent Celek was the starting Tight end for the Eagles. Celek is tough as a bag of hammers, once playing through a torn labrum and a sports hernia. Celek is one of the greatest blocking Tight ends in the history of the game, and an above average receiving Tight end in his prime. Did I mention Celek was tough? Just watch his Eagles highlight reel here if you don’t believe me.
Real Football Ertz
Maybe it’s the “olé” of Vontaze Burfict or the perception that Ertz, in general, is a soft player. On a personal note before doing some digging into Ertz, I perceived him as being injury prone. Ertz is an improving blocker, but will never be on Celek’s level and will never be as “tough” as Brent Celek. And you know what? That’s okay. They are different players. Where Ertz dwarfs Celek, and most Tight ends in the NFL, is his receiving prowess. He is a legitimate weapon in the passing game and could be in line for the best season of his career.
Through four seasons Ertz has put up impressive stats. His 247 receptions ranked 8th all-time for a TE through their first four seasons. With 2,840 yards he ranked 11th-highest all-time for a TE through their first four seasons. Far from being injury prone Ertz has proven to be very durable. As you can see below, via Pro-Football-Reference, Ertz has played at least 14 games every season of his career. As for his “toughness,” in last season’s opener Ertz displaced a couple of ribs in the 1st quarter and played the entire game. I’d saying playing through displaced ribs qualifies someone as being tough.
Fantasy Ertz so far
I’m not going to rehash that Ertz is an outstanding real-life football Tight end, if you disagree with that assessment then I can not help you. I will just repeat myself: “His 247 receptions ranked 8th all-time for a TE through their first four seasons. With 2,840 yards he ranked 11th-highest all-time for a TE through their first four seasons”. (Yep just quoted myself in my own article, so what, fight me). In 14 games last season he put up 184 fantasy points, good enough for 6th most overall at the Tight end position. But here’s the rub. Take out Week 17’s monster 39 point performance, and let’s be honest you should not be playing in Week 17 in fantasy, and Ertz drops down all the way to 11th on the season. That is still a TE1.
Fantasy Ertz to come
The Eagles jettisoned every receiver of note from last season. The coup de grace being the trade of Jordan Matthews to the Bills for Ronald Darby. The departure of Matthews leaves behind 116 targets that need a home now. Following the Matthews trade, the widely accepted narrative was that Nelson Agholor would assume the WR2 role on the Eagles. While this may be true in form, it doesn’t necessarily hold in practice.
Agholor is decidedly the 2nd WR option, but he is not the player who will benefit most from Matthews departure. Week 1 ended with Agholor and Ertz seeing 8 targets a piece. Agholor was also able to reach the end-zone while Ertz, was unable to do so. If one were to simply glance at the box score, you’d think that Agholor might even be the play going forward. Six receptions for 86 yards and a TD are the things that WR1’s are made of. But Agholor production was built off the back of a broken play that resulted in a 58-yard touchdown that had much more to do with Carson Wentz than anything Agholor did on the play.
Is 5 for 28 yards something you’re interested in? Because without that broken play that would have been Agholor’s stat line. Yes, all fantasy points count but you can’t predict fluke plays on a week to week basis. Until Agholor can string together a few weeks of production color me skeptical of him. This is the same player who had to be given a week off to get his mind straight less than a year ago.
The Rise of Ertz
What I’ve neglected to mention thus far is why we should expect a Zach Ertz breakout. On a per game average, Ertz has seen 7.5 targets per game over the last two seasons, 107 per season. Last week against Washington Ertz had 8 targets. A one-game sample is about as useful as no sample, so we can’t read too much into it, but even an increase of 1 target per game would buoy Ertz’s fantasy scoring. As noted earlier, the departure of Matthews provides additional opportunity for targets, 116 targets to be exact. Certainly, some of those targets will be distributed between Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and other pass catchers.
Not all targets are created equal. Though Ertz has never posted more than 4 touchdowns in a season yet, he’s a surprisingly effective red-zone weapon. Looking at red-zone target distribution from 2016 via NFLsavant.com we can see that Ertz converted 16 red zone targets into 4 touchdowns. Note Nelson Agholor converted exactly 0 of 17 red zone targets into touchdowns. Matthews saw 12 targets in the red-zone converting 3 into touchdowns. Not to belabor the point but these targets have to go somewhere now. If you’re Carson Wentz who would you continue to target between Ertz and Agholor inside the red-zone, the player who turned a 25% of his targets into touchdowns or the guy who converted 0%?
Another area where Ertz is the best option of all Eagles pass catchers is efficiency. Looking at Carson Wentz’s AYA we see below that among pass catchers who have seen at least 7 targets from Wentz his AYA when throwing to Ertz is his 4th highest. If you remove Ryan Matthews(13 targets) and Paul Turner(14) targets from this grouping it comes in at 2nd highest. Throwing to Ertz Wentz’s AYA is 2.2 yards greater than throwing to Agholor. It’s also 1.7 yards greater than when throwing to Jeffery, but again small sample size and all.
What about Alshon
I’m sure you’ve noticed that I spent quite a bit of space pointing out that Ertz has been and should continue to be higher in the pecking order than Nelson Agholor and little to none on discussing Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery has a long history of soft tissue injuries and has only played all 16 games twice in his 1st five seasons. He averages 12.6 games played a season. Even in those roughly 13 games, he plays per year, as anyone that has owned him in dynasty can attest, he’s utterly useless at least twice a year due to being limited. In 64 career games played, Jeffery has 11 games with 2 or fewer receptions, a smidge above 17%. To recap. Jeffery can be expected to miss 3 games a season, and to provide little production in 17% of the games he does play.
Buy Zach Ertz now
Zach Ertz has had a history of disappearing for stretches of the season then exploding sometime around December every season. This is the season he will produce consistently on a week to basis. Jordan Matthews was Carson Wentz’s favorite target prior to being shipped out, but in the games without Matthews in the lineup in 2016 Ertz went nuclear.
Matthews is gone. Nelson Agholor is not as efficient as Ertz, and won’t be targeted more than Ertz, nor is he the red zone weapon that Ertz is. Alshon Jeffery, uber talent that he is, can’t remain healthy enough to play the true WR1 role. The Eagles also have no commitment to Jeffery beyond this season, Ertz is signed through 2020 and couldn’t even be cut for salary cap reasons until after the 2018 season. Playing with his 5th quarterback of what in now his 5th season Ertz finally has the same starting QB for two seasons in a row. Ertz has a rapport with Wentz, and both players are cornerstones of the Eagles offense for the foreseeable future. Coming off another 100+ target season(his 2nd in a row) I see nothing in the way of Ertz setting career highs in targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns.
Ertz’s is a 6’5″ target monster who is effective in the red zone who’s overall lack of touchdowns screams regression. If you don’t buy him today, not tomorrow but today, you may not be able to afford him come Monday. With the Eric Berry-less Chiefs next on the schedule I fully expect Ertz to continue his long-discussed “breakout” season.
Thank you for reading and you can find me on Twitter @DFF_Shane.