Michael Florio shares some interesting stats regarding two elite tight ends, plus the reason Matt Ryan may struggle under a new OC… or not.
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Zach Ertz Even Better with Carson Wentz?
Zach Ertz set the tight end record for catches last season with 116 on 156 targets. What makes that even more impressive is the fact that he did it with two different QBs. If you remember, Nick Foles started the first two and final three games of the 2018 season for the Eagles. Carson Wentz returned from a knee injury to play Weeks 3-14, before his season was cut short with another injury, this time to his back. However, the question fantasy owners should be wondering is how do Ertz’s numbers with Wentz compare to those Foles.
With Wentz last year Ertz averaged 9.6 targets per game, 7.5 receptions and 79.5 yards per game. In fact, Wentz targeted Ertz on 106 of his 401 passing attempts, which equates to 26 percent of his passes. Alshon Jeffery and his 74 targets were the second most by Wentz, and the only other Eagles player with more than 60 targets from the franchise QB. Wentz also had a 77.4 percent completion percentage when going Ertz’s way, the highest of any receiver he threw to in 2018 (min. 20 targets). The duo also teamed up for a 112.3 passer rating when Wentz threw to Ertz.
With Foles, Ertz actually averaged slightly more targets per game, at 10. However, he averaged fewer catches and yards, with 6.8 catches per game and 57.8 yards per game. It is worth mentioning that Foles threw to Ertz 50 times last year, more than any other player. The two combined for a 68 percent completion percentage and a 70.2 passer rating.
Ertz was clearly better with Wentz, so even if he sees his targets decrease from the massively-high 156 targets he saw last year, the per target production should improve, since he should have five more games with Wentz this season, if he could stay healthy. The 156 targets he saw last year was the most ever by a tight end since targets became a stat in 1992. In fact, the only other tight ends with 150+ targets in a season were Travis Kelce (150 in 2018) and Tony Gonzalez, who did it three times. Perhaps the Eagles continue to pepper Ertz with targets, but even a 20-target decrease can be minimized if Wentz plays 16 games.
Using those 2018 numbers with each QB, five addition games with Wentz would lead to two fewer targets, but 3.5 more catches and 108.5 more yards. Ertz continues to go off the board as a Top-3 tight end, as he should, but know that there is room for him to grow on the yards from last year with a healthy Wentz.
Is George Kittle Better Without Jimmy G?
In case you forgot, the QB position was a revolving door for the 49ers last year. Jimmy Garoppolo started the year after signing a mega-contract but tore his ACL in Week 3, which opened things up for C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens. Kittle did most of his damage with Mullens at the helm. Here are his numbers when targeted by all three QBs:
Jimmy Garoppolo: 12-for-20, 191 yards, 0 TD. 60.0 completion percent, 91.9 passer rating
C.J. Beathard: 25-for-37, 393 yards, 2 TD. 67.6 completion percent, 109.4 passer rating
Nick Mullens: 51-for-79, 793 yards, 3 TD. 64.6 completion percent, 99.8 passer rating
Mullens clearly benefits from the volume, but Jimmy G also had the lowest completion percentage and passer rating when targeting Kittle. It does scare me a tad, but not enough to devalue him on draft day. Why? Because he was the top target for each of those three QBs. Even with the added weapons around him, I still trust that he will be the top target.
Kittle finished with just six touchdowns last year, by far the fewest of the top tight ends last year. However, that could be blamed on the fact that he had just three red zone targets from Garoppolo, while nine of his 18 came from Mullens. He had just two touchdowns inside the red zone last year and that is an obvious area where he can improve this season. I have been targeting Kittle often this year, as I feel comfortable he will be the top target again, and even if his yards decrease, he did have the most ever in a season by a tight end, the touchdowns should increase.
Matt Ryan With New OCs
By now, you may have heard that Matt Ryan struggles with new offensive coordinators. In 2015, his first season with Kyle Shanahan as his OC, Matt Ryan threw for 4,591 yards, with just 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He finished that season as the QB19. The next season he went on to win the MVP and nearly the Super Bowl. After Shanahan left, Steve Sarkisian took over in 2017 and led Ryan to throw for 4,095 yards, his fewest since 2010. Ryan also threw for just 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Ryan finished as the QB15 that season. Last year, in Ryan’s second year in that system, he bounced back to throw for 4,924 yards, 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions, en route to finishing as the QB2.
Ryan is a really tough one for me to gauge in fantasy this year. He will be with a new OC, but not really, as he previously worked with Dirk Koetter in 2013 and 2014. Here is how he finished each of those seasons:
2013- 4,515 passing yards, 26 TD, 17 INT, QB15
2014- 4,694 passing yards, 28 TD, 14 INT, QB7
As you can see, even with Koetter, Ryan was better in year two. This is now a trend with his last three OC’s, but perhaps there is no lull in production since he has worked with Koetter. However, we should state that he never had a season as successful as his 2016 or 2018 under Koetter, and was more of a middling QB at best.
Another aspect to worry about with Ryan is his touchdown rate has fluctuated like no other in recent years. In the past four seasons his TD% has gone as followed: 3.4%, 7.1%, 3.8%, 5.8%. To put that into perspective, his career average is 4.8 percent and the 7.1 in 2016 is a career best, while the 5.8 percent last year is his second highest yet. Under Koetter, he sat at 4.0 and 4.5 percent, respectively. I would imagine he settles this year somewhere between 4 and five percent, as that is both in range with his career norm and the two years he has with Koetter. Ryan’s yardage comes into question for me as well, as his 4,924 was his second most ever, behind only 2016.
Additionally, there is one aspect of Ryan’s 2018 season that you should be expecting regression, regardless of the OC and that is his rushing touchdowns. Ryan rushed for three touchdowns in 2018, after rushing for zero in his previous five seasons combined. In fact, from 2010-2017, he had three rushing touchdowns total. It is not like he had more rushing attempts or yards last year, just more touchdowns.
Of the QBs that go off the board in the Top 10, on average, Ryan is easily the toughest (non-injury related) one to figure out. His performance has fluctuated so much in recent years that it is possible he finishes anywhere from QB2 to QB15 and I would not be surprised.
The QB position is so deep this season with many players falling into one of two categories: safe, proven commodity, or high upside pick. Ryan, somehow, is a hybrid between the two.
You can get more fun stats like this by following me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.
For more great analysis from Michael check out his full archive.
Michael Florio is the winner of the 2018 FSWA Baseball Article of the Year and was a finalist for the 2017 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year. He has hosted video/radio shows, written for a number of print and web publications including the AP, NY Daily News and much more!
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