Fantasy football leagues are typically won by owners who are able to identify the players who have the biggest return on investment (ROI). ROI, in the context of fantasy football, can be described as how a player performs in comparison to his draft position.
When a fantasy player is ready to break out, there’s typically more than one indicator of a potential statistical leap. These indicators are crucial to identify if you want to maximize your ROI and gain an advantage over other well-informed drafters.
The fantasy community may have been a year early on Zach Ertz, but this season it could create an opportunity to capitalize. Ertz looks like a potential breakout this season because of his age, opportunity, and average draft position.
Age is one of the most important variables when discussing football players. It gives us a good idea of when players break out, peak, and decline.
To find out when tight ends peak, I looked at the ages of every TE since 1990 who had at least 63 receptions for 700 yards and six touchdowns. According to Pro-Football-Reference, the sample size amounted to 56. Each season is listed on the table below:
This is a distribution graph of the ages:
While the average age is 27.1 yards old, the peak year appears to be 25. An astonishing 25 percent of the seasons happened at age 25.
Zach Ertz turns 25 this season.
Arguably no offense in the NFL combines the high scoring potential and need for pass-catchers as well as the Eagles do. Between the departures of Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy, the Eagles have 180 targets to replace. This assumes that Pro Football Focus’ least valuable receiver of 2014 Riley Cooper is targeted another 95 times.
Ertz’s problem last year was he only played 50.3 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps – which many attribute to his blocking. Ertz spent two weeks this offseason working with former Cowboys OL coach Hudson Houck on his blocking. Coach Chip Kelly said he believes Ertz is capable of making a “big jump” in 2015. With targets up for grabs and a low snap percentage last season, Ertz certainly has room to grow.
Ertz was also Nick Foles’ most effective target:
Average Draft Position
For a player who has this many indicators pointing in a favorable direction, you would expect to be forced to pay a hefty price. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Ertz is being selected, on average, with the seventh pick of the 10th round. That puts him as TE11 behind Owen Daniels, Antonio Gates, and Dwayne Allen.
By season’s end it is entirely possible that he outscores those players – and he’s coming at cheaper price.
In MFL10s, where the crowd is a little more astute, Ertz is currently being drafted as the seventh TE off the board. He looks fairly valued but with a small boost in targets, he has room to beat that and deliver excess value.
I took a close look at Ertz and the Eagles offense using the Projection Machine. After seeing 11.2 percent of the Eagles’ targets as a rookie, Ertz received 14 percent last season. Seeing as the Eagles have a plethora of targets to replace and Ertz is entering his peak, it’s fair to expect another jump.
For those familiar with the Projection Machine, I put Ertz’s catch rate and yards per target at his career averages of 66.2 percent and 8.25, respectively. I gave Ertz a bump to 6.7 percent for his touchdown rate for two reasons: his TE similarity scores expect a bump in N+1 season and the Eagles’ lack of proven red zone weapons.
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It appears that his MFL ADP takes into account his potential breakout and expects a small target jump. To finish as TE7 in terms of TE points from 2014, Ertz will need to see roughly 16 percent of the Eagles’ targets. To deliver excess value Ertz will likely need to see around 17 percent of the Eagles’ targets.
Ertz has many indicators pointing to a potential breakout, although some of that is already priced into his ADP. He looks close to fair value at this point but is one of the TEs who could take a statistical leap based on his age and opportunity.