How Much Fantasy Football Upside Does Zach Ertz Have?

Jun 15, 2022
How Much Fantasy Football Upside Does Zach Ertz Have?

After eight extremely productive years as a Philadelphia Eagle, it was clear that the team and Zach Ertz were ready for a change, and that change came halfway through the 2021 season. Though the team did give him a nice going-away present —a first-quarter end zone target that would be his final touchdown in an Eagles uniform— Philadelphia would trade Ertz away just a few days after their Week 6 game, shipping him over to Arizona for cornerback Tay Gowan and a fifth-round pick.

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Ertz didn’t miss a beat with his new team, accruing fantasy points regardless of whether it was Kyler Murray or Colt McCoy manning the quarterback position. Below we will break down his transition year and look forward to what we can expect from him in fantasy football during the 2022 season.

Two Birds, One Year

With the writing on the wall about a change of direction at the tight end position in Philadelphia, fantasy owners rejoiced when they learned of a change of scenery for Zach Ertz. Though the 30-year-old vet had a couple of usable fantasy weeks to begin the year, he paired them with two weeks in which he failed to log double-digit receiving yards; his production ceiling capped while sharing the depth chart with Dallas Goedert. In contrast, he would begin to produce immediately upon arriving in Arizona, scoring a 47-yard touchdown in the third quarter of his very first game with the team.

Though his production would wax and wane a little bit while the Cardinals dealt with a hobbled Kyler Murray, Ertz’s increased usage in his new home would translate to plenty of useful fantasy weeks.

Zach Ertz 2021 Usage Before/After Trade
Timeframe Targets (Rank) Receptions (Rank) Yards (Rank) YPRR (Rank)
Weeks 1-6 31 (10th) 18 (15th) 189 (19th) 1.4 (33rd)
Weeks 7-18 80 (3rd) 55 (2nd) 559 (7th) 1.7 (24th)

Kyler Murray’s new safety blanket basically went from a middle-of-the-road tight end to a premiere-usage option in a matter of 10 days, performing as fantasy’s TE7 with 9.4 half-PPR points per game from the time of the trade until the end of the season. The only other tight end who saw any reasonable amount of on-field action last season was Maxx Williams (16-193-1), and he wouldn’t see another snap after Week 5.

Disappointingly for the team, Ertz would not often share a field with both Kyler Murray and playmaker DeAndre Hopkins, with Hopkins and Ertz only playing three full games together on the year. When looking back on the tight end’s splits with and without Hopkins, it’s worth noting that he averaged 3.3 receptions and 31 yards on 4.3 targets per game while Nuk was on the field and 5.6 receptions and 57 yards on 8.1 targets per game when Nuk was off the field. We’re obviously working with some small sample sizes here, but the fact that DeAndre Hopkins is suspended for the first six games of the year could open up some early-season usage for the Cardinals’ TE.

That is, of course, dependent on how some new offensive pieces figure into the passing game.

Hollywood McBride

Drawing a direct line from last year’s usage into a 2022 fantasy projection would be easy enough, but Arizona’s offseason makes things a little more difficult than that. Likely spawned by Hopkins’ upcoming suspension and furthered along by Kyler Murray’s unrest, the team went out and got Murray’s old college teammate, Marquise Brown (and a third-rounder) for the price of the 23rd-overall pick. In addition, the team also drafted 2021’s Mackey Award winner Trey McBride of Colorado State with their second-round selection.

While Brown and Hopkins don’t operate in the same manner, it would be reasonable to assume that the newly-acquired receiver can fill in for most of Hopkins’ presumptive target share, if only because of his familiarity with his old quarterback. For a full dive into Brown’s fit on his new team, I suggest taking a look at this article written by Chris Allen immediately following the trade. Though I do agree that there will be plenty of balls to go around for Hollywood, I think Hopkin's time away from the field will be just as, if not more, beneficial to Zach Ertz. Remember that last season he averaged two more catches and 25+ more yards when DeAndre Hopkins was off the field, and he still provides a big-bodied receiver for Kyler Murray, particularly in the red zone. Ertz accounted for 29% of the team’s targets and 23% of the team’s receptions from inside of the opponent’s 20-yard line succeeding the trade, with no other tight end accounting for even one single target.

This brings us to Trey McBride, who caught 90 balls for over 1,100 yards in his final year in college, two marks that are unheard of in the collegiate ranks. Historical rookie tight end trends would have us believe that McBride will have to be a unicorn of an outlier if he’s going to eat into Zach Ertz’s production in any meaningful way this season though.

History tells us that rookie tight ends generally start very slow and judging by the referenced numbers above, they don’t typically finish necessarily strong either. That said, with McBride possibly rounding into shape by the end of year one, and DeAndre Hopkins returning by Week 7, target competition could become very real for Zach Ertz in the second half of the season, which will be working against his season-ending numbers.

Bottom Line

  • With a lack of large-bodied receivers —particularly in the first six weeks of the season— available to Kyler Murray, Zach Ertz provides a lot of touchdown equity in fantasy football.
  • If DeAndre Hopkins returns to the field in Week 7 as his usual self, he is assuredly going to immediately limit Zach Ertz’s upside, just as he did in 2021.
  • In Underdog drafts, Ertz is currently coming off the board as the TE10 at the beginning of the 10th round. Though it’s a reasonable price to try to secure a top-10 tight end, I think it’s a poor idea to target him in large-field tournaments where there is so much emphasis on high scores late in the calendar year. This will be his 10th year in the league, and even if he stays healthy for the entire season, Hopkins will be well back by then, Marquise Brown will have the lay of the offense, and Trey McBride may even become involved by then.
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