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Zach Ertz’s Annual Year-End Blowout Sale

Why is the tight end so much more productive in December?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Come one, come all to Zach Ertz’s annual year-end blowout sale! All catches must go! He’s hauling in touchdowns at record frequencies! You won’t find these stats any other time of the year!

Zach Ertz, now in his fourth year with the Eagles, is a solid enough tight end. He’s caught 216 passes in 57 career games, a good-not-great number for a player who was seen as a potential breakout weapon at a position experiencing an offensive golden age when he entered the league.

But if you’ve watched Ertz and the Eagles over the last four years, you’ve probably picked up on a trend: Ertz does most of his heavy lifting in the final month of the season.

If you thought you, and thousands of other Eagles fans, were imagining it? You weren’t. Ertz is a substantially better at football in December.

Here are his per-game numbers:

REC/GAME YDS/GAME TD/GAME
SEPTEMBER 2.6 40.2 0.06
OCTOBER 3 32.8 0.06
NOVEMBER 3.6 35 0.13
DECEMBER 5.8 65 0.46

And here are his total stats:

GAMES RECEPTIONS YARDS TOUCHDOWNS
SEPTEMBER 12 32 483 1
OCTOBER 15 45 492 1
NOVEMBER 15 54 526 2
DECEMBER 15 87 975 7

Taking a look at the tables, we can deduce at least a couple things right away:

  • Ertz has caught seven of his 11 career touchdown passes in December, nearly double the first three months of the season.
  • He makes more catches per game in December than in September and October combined.
  • He only has four touchdowns in 42 games during September, October, and November combined.

The best part of breaking Ertz’s numbers into per-game figures, as we did in the first table above, is that we don’t have to worry about the numbers getting skewed due to weeks or months of his career when he may have missed games due to injuries.

However, what’s interesting about the raw numbers is that, after the Eagles’ Week 13 loss to Cincinnati, he’s played the same number of games (15) in December as in November and October, and...

  • He only has 43 fewer yards receiving in December than in October and November combined.
  • He only has 12 fewer catches in December than in October and November combined.
  • He has four more touchdowns in December than in October and November combined.

So, yeah. There’s a very obvious, statistically-significant trend here. Ertz, largely unproductive for the first few months of the season, kicks it into high-gear during December and finishes with very sturdy statistics by the time the year is out.

The question then becomes, is this normal? Are there other tight ends out there who follow a similar path during the season?

I took a look at five tight ends right around Ertz’s new pay grade for this year. He’s making $8.5 million this season. I checked out one tight end making $500,000 more this season, and four tight ends making up to $1.1 million less.

First, we have this guy:

ROB GRONKOWSKI ($9M)

REC/GAME YDS/GAME TD/GAME
SEPTEMBER 3.8 58.5 0.94
OCTOBER 4.8 72.2 0.5
NOVEMBER 5 75.2 0.82
DECEMBER 4.29 66.5 0.82

Gronkowski, the guy who makes $500K more than Ertz, doesn’t do what Ertz does. The best month of his career is November, when he catches five passes for 75.2 yards per game, and has 19 touchdowns in 23 career games. He historically starts a little slow in September, but by the time October rolls around, he’s basically doing what he’ll be doing for the rest of the season.

Fun fact: Gronkowski caught more September touchdown passes in the first three games of his career than Ertz has in his four-year career.

Next, we have five tight ends who make less than Ertz.

CHARLES CLAY ($7.6M)

REC/GAME YDS/GAME TD/GAME
SEPTEMBER 2.8 29.9 0.15
OCTOBER 3 32.4 0.13
NOVEMBER 3.3 32.5 0.23
DECEMBER 3 36.6 0.27

Charles Clay’s numbers aren’t near the kind of production Ertz has in December, but when you compare Charles Clay’s November (3.3 catches, 32.5 yards, 0.23 touchdowns per game) to any of Ertz’s other months, they’re essentially even. And in Clay’s case, he does the same thing all season long. You know what you’re getting from him every week.

GREG OLSEN ($7.5M)

REC/GAME YDS/GAME TD/GAME
SEPTEMBER 4.1 53.1 0.37
OCTOBER 3.9 50.2 0.36
NOVEMBER 4.1 44.8 0.37
DECEMBER 3.6 39.1 0.25

Greg Olsen is pretty darn consistent for most of the season. He actually tails off in December, historically, which is probably what you’d expect when guys are playing 16 games of a very physical sport: your production might dip a little bit as the season wears on. But his first three months are astoundingly consistent (look at the touchdown averages!), and his December is still better than any of Ertz’s first three months.

JORDAN CAMERON ($7.5M)

REC/GAME YDS/GAME TD/GAME
SEPTEMBER 3.5 43.8 0.37
OCTOBER 2.4 33.4 0.16
NOVEMBER 1.4 9.9 0.15
DECEMBER 2.9 34.8 0.11

Jordan Cameron is a weird case. His September, October, and December are all very consistent, and they match up well with any of Ertz’s first three months of the season. But his November is... awful. I don’t know what’s going on there. If anyone can enlighten me, feel free. And yet! During his woeful Novembers, when he literally averages 9.9 yards per game, Cameron still averages more touchdowns per game than Ertz does from September to November. Sheesh.

JASON WITTEN ($7.4M)

REC/GAME YDS/GAME TD/GAME
SEPTEMBER 4.7 52.6 0.24
OCTOBER 5.2 56.7 0.31
NOVEMBER 4.5 48.2 0.23
DECEMBER 5 56.4 0.27

Ah, yes, Eagles fans’ favorite tight end in the world. Witten has been the picture of consistency over the course of his career. He averages between 4.5 and 5.2 catches per game no matter the month, and keeps his touchdowns per game around 0.25 all season. He is very good.

***

My favorite takeaway from this exercise? Zach Ertz is actually more productive than Greg Olsen and Jason Witten in December:

REC/GAME YDS/GAME TD/GAME
ERTZ 5.8 65 0.46
WITTEN 5 56.4 0.27
OLSEN 3.6 39.1 0.25

And then you go look at the rest of their seasons, and Ertz is notably behind those two:

REC/GAME YDS/GAME TD/GAME
ERTZ 3.1 35.7 0.09
WITTEN 4.8 52.4 0.26
OLSEN 4 49.1 0.37

That explains why Olsen and Witten have one kind of reputation, and Ertz has another entirely.

I can’t tell you why Ertz’s seasons play out this way. I’m sure he can’t, either. But one thing’s for certain: buy Zach Ertz stock in late November. Any other time of the year, it’s pretty much a crap shoot.