- Which tight ends should you target in DFS in Week 11?
- Matthew Freedman breaks down the best options, including Zach Ertz.
The 2018 NFL season is still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 24.1 points per game per team. The action continues with a 10-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at the tight ends at the top of the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
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Model Tight Ends
This week, there are five tight ends at the top of our individual Pro Models. The two who warrant the most consideration are Zach Ertz and Eric Ebron.
Zach Ertz: Philadelphia Eagles (-7.5) vs. New Orleans Saints, 56 Over/Under
- $6,600 DraftKings; $7,600 FanDuel
UPDATE (11/18): Right tackle Lane Johnson (knee) is probable. Running back Darren Sproles (hamstring) is out. Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (toe) is out.
The spread opened at -9 but has since moved toward the Eagles even though they have gotten only 39% of the tickets as of writing (see live data here), which means that the Eagles are on the right side of reverse line movement. Translation: There’s significant sharp money on them.
On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, we talked about Ertz as a cash-game play. Relative to the slate’s other options, Ertz is in a tier of his own. With apologies to Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce, Ertz is the best tight end in the league right now.
Among all players (not just tight ends), Ertz is sixth in the league with 100 targets. He’s third with 75 receptions. He’s top-six with 17 red-zone targets. He’s the team leader with 789 yards receiving, 746 air yards and five touchdowns and second with 219 yards after the catch. Ertz leads all tight ends with 16.3 FanDuel points per game. He’s the modern-day prototype, capable of playing snaps inline (269), in the slot (251) and out wide (83).
Even with the return of No. 1 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in Week 4, Ertz has dominated the team’s aerial usage. In truth, he’s the team’s clear top receiving option.
- Ertz (Weeks 4-10): 19.1 FanDuel points per game, 67 targets, 54-574-5 receiving
- Jeffery (Weeks 4-10): 13.2 FanDuel points per game, 52 targets, 33-389-4 receiving
It’s possible that wide receiver Golden Tate could eventually steal slot targets from Ertz once Tate becomes a more consistent contributor within the offense, but he’s been on the team since only Week 9, and in his Eagles’ debut last week he played just 18 offensive snaps and ran only 15 routes. He’s unlikely to impact Ertz’s target volume anytime soon.
Ertz theoretically has a poor matchup against the Saints, who have held tight ends to a bottom-five mark of 7.0 FanDuel points per game. After all, they are the No. 1 team in The Action Network Power Rankings. The Saints are fifth in pass defense against tight ends with their -26.5% mark in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
But Ertz is a matchup-proof player, the Eagles will likely need to throw the ball as big road dogs and the Saints defense is a significant pass funnel, ranking third against the rush (-21.7% DVOA) but 28th against the pass (24.3%)
On top of that, it’s possible that the Saints have looked better at defending tight ends than they really are. They haven’t played a truly elite tight end this season, and on defense they have definite weaknesses. Kurt Coleman and Vonn Bell rotate at strong safety: They’ve allowed a 77.4% catch rate. Free safety Marcus Williams has allowed three touchdowns and seven receptions on the 11 targets in his coverage. A.J. Klein and Demario Davis are the team’s primary coverage linebackers: They’ve allowed a combined 84.4% completion rate.
Without question, this defense can be exploited by a tight end. Not one person likely to spend more than a couple of snaps defending Ertz has a Pro Football Focus coverage grade of even 70.
It’s less than ideal for the Eagles to be on the road, but there’s really no better place in the league to play than at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, or the Coors Field of fantasy football.
An incredibly fantasy-friendly venue, the Superdome has an A-graded 58-40-2 over/under record with quarterback Drew Brees, good for a 15.8% return on investment for over bettors since 2006, when Brees joined the Saints (per Bet Labs). The Saints-Eagles game easily has the highest over/under on the slate.
On Sunday morning, I might look to bet the over on Ertz’s yardage prop. The Saints are 28th with a 59.1 PFF coverage grade, and I expect a high-scoring, pass-heavy contest.
To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 183-87-7, good for a 66% win rate. Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Ertz leads all tight ends with his median and ceiling projections on FanDuel, where he has a position-high 67% Bargain Rating and is the No. 1 option in the Levitan, Koerner and Freedman Models.
Eric Ebron: Indianapolis Colts (-1) vs. Tennessee Titans, 51 O/U
- $4,300 DraftKings; $6,000 FanDuel
UPDATE (11/18): Backup tight end Erik Swoope (knee) is out. Titans edge rusher Derrick Morgan (shoulder) is in.
As absurd as this might sound, Ebron is the No. 2 fantasy tight end with 14.0 FanDuel points per game.
From a salary-adjusted perspective, Ebron leads the position with a +7.16 FanDuel Plus/Minus. And after putting up 26.6 FanDuel points in Week 10, Ebron is now tied with wide receiver Antonio Brown among all non-running backs with a league-high 10 scrimmage touchdowns (nine receiving, one rushing). For the season, Ebron leads the Colts with 65 targets, 39 receptions, 463 yards receiving and 444 air yards.
Of course, some of that production came with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle out of the lineup, and both are now back. Ebron’s per-game usage splits based on Doyle’s availability are quite telling.
- Without Doyle (five games): 73.1% snaps played, 37.8 routes, 10 targets
- With Doyle (four games): 33.0% snaps played, 14 routes, 3.8 targets
Of course, usage is not always the same as production, and Ebron has amazingly been more productive with Doyle than without him.
- Without Doyle (five games): 13.0 FanDuel points, 60% Consistency Rating, 5.2 receptions, 0.2 rushes, 55.8 yards, 0.8 touchdowns
- With Doyle (four games): 15.3 FanDuel points, 100% Consistency Rating, 3.25 receptions, 0.25 rushes, 46.3 yards, 1.5 touchdowns
On the one hand, Ebron’s production is not sustainable. On the other hand — it might be sustainable, especially if the Colts start to use more sets with two tight ends, which they would be smart to do.
But even if they don’t, Ebron could still produce, because he’s the tight end version of a high-end, early-2000s goal-line vulture back. Regardless of whether Doyle is active, when the Colts get near the end zone, they are clearly looking for Ebron, who even had a two-yard rushing touchdown last week.
Ebron’s production might be a little fluky, but his high-leverage usage certainly is not. Ebron is first among all players (not just tight ends) with seven touchdowns on passes into the end zone. He trails only Brown with his 13 end-zone targets. He’s second with seven red-zone touchdowns (not counting his recent rushing score). And he’s top-eight with 16 red-zone targets.
On top of that he’s being used as a downfield weapon. Ebron trails only Ertz and Kelce with his 444 air yards, and his 9.9-yard average depth of target (aDOT) suggests that he’s more of a big-bodied slot receiver and less of a tight end. And the numbers back that up. Of all fantasy-viable tight ends, Ebron has run a league-high 64.1% of his routes from the slot. He’s also lined up out wide on 13.4% of his snaps.
Because of his goal-line usage alone, Ebron is in play for guaranteed prize pools.
But his matchup is tough. Under former All-Pro linebacker and defensive-minded head coach Mike Vrabel, the Titans have held tight ends to a league-low 5.1 FanDuel points per game. The Titans have an imposing safety duo of All-Pro (and Deion Sanders fan) Kevin Byard and free-agent addition Kenny Vaccaro.
They also have a strong duo of interior linebackers with stalwart Wesley Woodyard and first-rounder Rashaan Evans. In Week 4, Ertz had a 10-112-0 performance against the Titans on 14 targets. Besides him, not one tight end they’ve faced has scored more than 3.3 FanDuel points.
The Titans are the only team in the league yet to allow a touchdown to a tight end. If Ebron can’t score a touchdown in this game, what is he good for?
In general, the Titans are an undesirable team to play. They’re first in the league with just 16.8 points allowed per game. They’ve prevented opposing teams from hitting their implied totals an NFL-best seven times. And on a per-game basis, they’ve held opponents to a total that is a league-low 5.94 points below their Vegas-based expectations. I have my own personal doubts about the Titans’ defense-first formula for success, but to this point in the season no one can deny that their stop unit has been very good.
This is a classic case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.
If you think that the guy who scores lots of touchdowns but does little else will actually hit pay dirt against the team with a tight end-repellent end zone, then roster him: We’re projecting Ebron for an ownership rate of less than 5%. If Ebron’s low snap, route and target numbers have you worried, then stay away.
For what it’s worth, there’s a high non-zero chance that I’ll be betting on Ebron’s touchdown prop on Sunday.
Ebron has a position-high eight Pro Trends on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 tight end in the CSURAM88 Model.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 11 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.