You would never know it, but compared to the best veteran tight ends around the league, Zach Ertz had a great rookie season. In the NFL, there are some positions in which it is common for rookies to have immediate success. Other positions take far longer to master.
For example, Packers rookie RB Eddie Lacy ran for 1178 yards and 11 TDs. He finished 8th in the NFL in rushing yards. That was a year after Redskins rookie RB Alfred Morris ran for 1613 yards and 13 TDs (2nd in the NFL) and the Bucs' Doug Martin ran for 1454 yards and 11 TDs (5th in the NFL). Running back would be an obvious example of a position in which rookies put up big numbers. Rookie tight ends typically do not have anywhere near the same kind of early success.
In 2013, Ertz had 36 catches for 469 yards and 4 TDs. On the surface, those look like "OK" numbers for a rookie, but they're much better than most might think. Below is a list of the top 15 tight ends in receiving yardage in 2013. The statistics in the chart show what they did during their rookie seasons in the NFL. If you plug in Ertz (who was not among the top 15 TEs in receiving yards in 2013), he would rank second in rookie receiving yardage. There are a lot of tremendous players here:
"Each player coming out of college likes to think they can make a difference in this league, whether it’s true or not, but I think I kinda showed this year that I can make a difference and affect the team outcome," said Ertz. "I think I had a good rookie year, but at the end of the day I want to be one of the best tight ends ever to play, and I’m going to set my standard for that, and work toward that goal."
Ertz's rookie season did not get off to a great start. It wasn't until the second half of the season that Ertz began to make significant contributions in the offense.
"I think I was utilized more in the gameplan (in the second half of the season)," said Ertz. "One of the big things was that I was used out wide, in the slot, in the 3-point, obviously. I think the game just kind of slowed down as well. I think the coaches did a heck of a job with me personally as the season progressed, learning my role, since I wasn’t here for OTAs. That a big thing that I’ll have this offseason that I didn’t have last offseason."
Why didn't Ertz play more early? Ertz explained, "To end the preseason camp, I didn’t have the best last two preseason games, and I think that’s one of the things that kind of steered them toward the 3-WR sets, especially at the beginning. As the season progressed, I think I built more trust in myself and hopefully that continues next year.
"I just had some drops, and that’s uncharacteristic of me. I rarely drop the ball, and hopefully that trend continues."
Expect Ertz to have a much bigger role in 2014, possibly as a starter.
(H/t to the great Noah Becker and his fascination with TE statistics.)