The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by B.J. VanderWoude
Earlier this offseason, the Eagles locked up Zach Ertz with a five year, 42.5 million dollar contract extension that will run through the 2020-21 NFL season. The extension was a testament to Ertz's production in 2015, specifically the final eight games where he recorded 51 catches for 583 yards and two touchdowns. In the final two games of the season Ertz was given the opportunity to be the focal point of the offense, and did not disappoint. In week 16 against the Redskins, Ertz had 13 catches for 122 yards. He backed that up with a fantastic week 17 performance, where he torched the Giants to the tune of 9 catches for 152 yards. Ertz finished the year with 75 catches for 853 yards and two touchdowns, while improving on his catches and yards for the second straight season.
Ertz finished as the 9th ranked fantasy tight end in 2015 (ppr scoring), however given the fact that the Eagles featured him to close out the season and signed him to a lucrative contract extension, it is easy to see Ertz improving on his final ranking. If there is one knock on his game, it would be his lack of touchdowns. He's scored only nine times through his first three seasons. That could be attributed to playing in Chip Kelly's offense, as there is no reason why the 6'5, 249 pound Ertz shouldn't be a force in the red zone. In his three years at Stanford, Ertz scored a touchdown every 7.4 receptions. In his three years in the NFL, he's scored a touchdown every 18.7 receptions. He may never be a double digit touchdown threat, but 6-7 touchdowns is not out of the realm of possibility, and would move him into the top six at his position.
The good news for Ertz is that he now has Doug Pederson as his head coach. Pederson is a disciple of former Eagles coach Andy Reid, working under him in Philadelphia and Kansas City for the last seven seasons. Pederson will institute a version of Reid's West Coast offense, which can only mean good things for Ertz. While serving as the offensive coordinator in Kansas City, Pederson relied heavily on non-wide receivers in the passing game. Tight end Travis Kelce—who has a similar build to Ertz at 6-6, 250 pounds—averaged 69.5 receptions for 868.5 yards and five touchdowns in his first two seasons. More importantly, Kelce saw 13 targets in the red zone in 2015, as opposed to only nine for Ertz. This looks to be the baseline for Ertz this season, but it is certainly possible for him to exceed those numbers. Ertz is currently the 10th tight end to come off the board (ADP: 96), making him a very safe option with upside to boot.
Low Side by Will Grant
Zach Ertz had 75 receptions and 854 yards receiving last season, and has improved in each of his first three years. Great. Imagine how much better he'll be this year right? Not so fast. Let's think about how much has changed in Philly before we start looking at Ertz as a great value play.
The Eagles drafted Carson Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick. This prompted Sam Bradford to throw a temper tantrum and demand a trade that nobody, including the Eagles, was interested in making. He's settled down now, but it's clear that Bradford knows his time is ending. Questions at quarterback mean questions for the entire passing game and that doesn't sit well for a tight end like Ertz who can't seem to shake Brent Celek from the lineup. It's still early in training camp, but so far Wentz has been inconsistent, meaning Bradford will likely be the starter and could lose his job to Wentz sometime during the regular season.
The running game lost their marquee player DeMarco Murray this offseason. Murray didn't exactly blow up the world in the Eagle backfield, but neither did the assumed 2016 starter Ryan Mathews. To be fair, the running game wasn't the focus last year, and Mathews has put up solid numbers in the past (1450 yards from scrimmage in 2013 in San Diego), but he's never been a guy that you can count on for a full 16 games. So does Ertz become the dump of guy who catches a bunch of five-yard check downs? Does he have to stay in and block more to help bolster the running game? It's too early to tell now, but it seems unlikely he's going to step into a Travis Kelce type role that many are hoping for until the running game settles down.
And there's the biggest change of all: replacing Chip Kelly with Doug Peterson at head coach. Kelly's crazy offense didn't last long, and the Eagles want a more consistent passing game from their team this season. Peterson's offense turned Kelce into a top ten fantasy tight end. Can it do the same for Ertz? The problem is, he might already be there. People tend to think of Kelce as this superstar tight end because he's had a few big games, but over his first two seasons, Kelce has been remarkably consistent with about 870 receiving yards and five touchdowns in both seasons. That's not much better than Ertz did last season under Kelly. Reaching the end zone a few more times is definitely a good thing, but it's not enough to make you think Ertz will suddenly become a fantasy stud.
Don't buy into all the hype. Ertz is low-end TE1 in most fantasy leagues. A guy you can feel comfortable drafting a little alter if you wait on a tight end, but he's not someone who is going to suddenly explode into this great fantasy surprise this season.