Zach Ertz Is Shaping Up to Be a Great Fantasy Football Value
Think of all the changes the Philadelphia Eagles offense has underwent in the last four years.
One of the few constants for Philadelphia has been tight end Zach Ertz, who has caught 247 passes for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns since being drafted in the second round in 2013. In this time, he is 12th at his position in standard fantasy points and was 8th in 2016 alone, along with being 6th in PPR leagues last season. He was somewhat more valuable in terms of real-world production, though -- he ranked sixth among tight ends in our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which is how we track efficiency, showing the expected points lost or gained on every play throughout the season.
This shouldn't be shocking, given that Ertz was fifth at his position in receiving yards (816) and was efficient, hauling in 78 of his 106 targets for a 73.6% catch rate. His fantasy value would have been higher if not for the fact that he collected just four touchdowns.
Looking ahead to 2017, Ertz seems like the big winner of Friday’s Jordan Matthews trade, as he was the only Eagle to get more targets than Ertz last year. What else can we expect from a player that currently has an Average Draft Position (ADP) of 125 and isn't finding a home until the 11th round in standard 12-team leagues?
The Short Game
Playing with rookie signal-caller Carson Wentz, Ertz had his best season in terms of NEP (69.69, which would probably make Rob Gronkowski smile) and catch rate, while also averaging 7.7 yards per target.
He also posted the lowest yards per catch total of his career (10.5), which was a significant difference to what his average was heading into the season (12.0). But this makes sense in the context of head coach Doug Pederson’s West Coast offense and Wentz’s style, as he ranked 27th in yards per completion (10.0). As the numbers suggest, this suited Ertz well.
According to Pro Football Reference, 91 of the tight end's targets were marked as “short,” meaning the pass traveled less than 15 yards in the air. He was incredibly efficient on these passes, catching nearly 77% of them while gaining 6.9 yards per target (passers completed 69.2% of their throws and gained 6.3 yards per attempt on short passes).
Ertz had not been this good on short passes in his first three seasons, but was still solid -- he posted a 69.7% catch rate while gaining 6.3 yards per pass from 2013 to 2015 (the league averages were 68.5% and 6.3, respectively).
The sheer volume of receptions veteran tight end should be rack up naturally makes him attractive to PPR owners.
Ertz’s numbers in 2016 were also helped by the fact that Wentz frankly did not have many other quality receiving options.
While the since-departed Matthews was the only Eagle to see more passes thrown his way, Ertz saw 32 more targets than his next-highest teammate, Dorial Green-Beckham. Running back Darren Sproles was next on the team in targets with 71, putting him two ahead of receiver Nelson Agholor.
And of this group, it's pretty clear who was the most dependable.
|Players||Targets||Catch Rate||Yards Per Catch||Yards Per Target|
|All Wentz throws||607||62.4%||10.0||6.2|
As the chart shows, Philadelphia was considerably better with Ertz getting targeted. It helps that he's a solid player, but we also have to keep the struggles of Green-Beckham and Agholor in mind. If you are only going to catch half the passes thrown your way, it'd be necessary to perform better than they did.
Matthews and Green-Beckham are gone, but Agholor is still around and will be pushed down the depth chart with the acquisitions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Jeffrey has missed some time with injuries over the past two seasons, but has still been solid when on the field, averaging 8.7 yards per target during this span (he averaged 8.6 in his first three seasons). Smith is a deep threat the offense could use, with a yards per catch average of 17.0 for his career. Although his production declined last year (13.4 yards per catch, 40.8% catch rate), at least some of this could be the result of subpar quarterback play in San Francisco.
In any case, the Eagles receiving corps will almost surely be better than it was last year, though this is admittedly a low benchmark to hit.
In terms of how this relates to Ertz, having other competent receivers running routes with him will probably mean some drop-off in targets. Then again, perhaps some of this will be offset by an improved offense creating more opportunities for everyone (the idea of a rising tide lifting all boats). With the aforementioned ADP of 125 and being the 12th tight end going off the board, he's an incredibly good value -- even though he'll likely see his stock rise from the recent trade. That value goes even higher in PPR leagues, where he was the sixth-highest scoring tight end last year.
He might not be the sexiest pick in your fantasy football draft, but if he continues going this late, grabbing him could be a winning move.