Ertz has increased his receptions three years running, but he's never been big on touchdowns. Last year's four spikes tied for a career high. The low touchdown count wasn't for a lack of trying; he saw 17 red-zone targets but only caught six and turned three into scores. He also had the lowest YPC of his career, and now there's a bit more competition for the ball, as the additions of veteran wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith was offset by the August trade of Jordan Matthews to the Bills. Pass-catching back Darren Sproles is still around to fight with Ertz for short targets, but development from Carson Wentz could provide more overall production to go around. Ertz gets the check mark for durability; he's only missed three games in his four-year pro career. And he's always been seen as an intuitive and intelligent player, dating to his days at Stanford. We're comfortable projecting Ertz for another 70-plus catches and a yardage total around 800, but if he were going to become a big touchdown scorer, it probably would have happened by now. There's no shame in this being as good as it gets for Ertz -- he's the type of player you can draft with a good sense of what's likely to come, and that's a reassuring thing. Just don't start dreaming of a new level to climb.
After sharing the tight end job for two years with Brent Celek, the younger, more talented Ertz emerged last season as the top tight end option in the Philadelphia passing game, finishing sixth at the position in targets. He was limited early in the year by a groin injury, but as he got healthier, his output got better, and he finished with two touchdowns and two 100-yard games (narrowly missing a third) in the last five weeks. Unfortunately, those were his only scores and triple-digit games of the season. He was often targeted downfield, but his 20-plus catches (11), YPC and YPT were middling. However, Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense is gone, and in its place is new coach Doug Pederson's version of the West Coast Offense. Pederson oversaw Kansas City's offense the last three seasons, the last two of which saw tight end Travis Kelce excel. Except, in some ways, Kelce excelled in spite of a conservative Chiefs offense that limited his use downfield and in the red zone. Celek is still around, too, and will be used in two TE sets, but shouldn't take too many targets from Ertz. How it all shakes out and what it means for Ertz fantasy value remains to be seen. Kelce finished 8th in tight end fantasy scoring last season; Ertz was 10th. So, the room for growth looks small.
No question Ertz has more upside than 30-year-old Brent Celek, but Ertz still can't get on the field enough to break out. Ertz played just half of the Eagles' snaps last season (up from 40.8 percent as a rookie) while the sure-handed Celek, who is also valued for his blocking, played 69.3 percent of snaps. After splitting targets in 2013, Ertz had nearly 40 more than Celek last season, but that was only enough to barely make him a top-15 fantasy tight end, as he caught just three of 12 red-zone targets for one score. At 6-5, 250, with 4.76 speed, Ertz has the physical tools to be a playmaker, but he might not realize it until he improves as a blocker to keep Celek sidelined. A blocking tight end might be even more needed this year with the additions of workhorse running back DeMarco Murray and injury-prone quarterback Sam Bradford. And even with Jeremy Maclin's departure, targets likely won't be more plentiful. Jordan Matthews will soak up a lot of Maclin's 143 targets from last year, as will rookie Nelson Agholor and a backfield of Murray, Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews.
A second-round draft pick last season, Ertz lived up to his billing, garnering slightly more targets than veteran Brent Celek (56-51). Ertz proved too quick for linebackers, and when teams covered him with defensive backs, the physical receiver used his 6-5, 250, frame to outwork them for the ball. A good route runner with nice hands, Ertz was limited to 428 snaps last year (Celek had 791) mostly because of his unrefined blocking. While he likely will improve that skill, he was drafted to catch passes, and this season he should have even more opportunities. Even if Celek has another 50 targets, Ertz could pad his targets with a large share of the 126 DeSean Jackson had last season. Jeremy Maclin is back after missing last season with a knee injury, and the Eagles drafted wideout Jordan Matthews in the second round, but the team hopes Ertz will become a primary receiver in the passing game. He likely will be split wide often this season after being used in tight and in the slot last year, as coach Chip Kelly looks to create mismatches in the passing game. Improved play from quarterback Nick Foles will help, too.
A second-round pick in this year's draft, Ertz finds himself behind Brent Celek and probably James Casey as well. Not known for his blocking, Ertz has enough athleticism to be a threat down the seam. As with most rookie tight ends, he's a long shot to be anything more than an occasional contributor in the offense, however.