+Good route runner
+Can create yards after the catch
-Awful, awful run blocker
-Effort is poor, especially as a run blocker
-Poor on field awareness as a run blocker
-Can’t make catches in traffic
-May be a product of favorable matchups (more on that later)
Stanford tight end Zach Ertz is one of the most overrated prospects of this draft. Even if he turns into an above average pass catcher in the NFL (a definite possibility) he is such an awful run blocker that I believe the best case scenario for Ertz is that his pass catching cancels out his blocking, neither making him a net positive nor a net negative. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a tight end block as poorly as Ertz, and it renders him unplayable on many rushing downs.
Ertz has good measurables. He has good height at 6’6, solid bulk at 252lbs, and solid speed with a 4.79 40 yard dash, per nfldraftscout.com. I expect him to run a little faster at the combine, though. He’s clearly a good athlete on film, who, according to my eye, probably runs in the mid 4.6′s.
Ertz has good stats. In 2012, he had 69 catches for 898 yards and 6 touchdowns. Those stats are as good as those of any other tight end in the nation. He does an excellent job of stretching the field and is a major part of Stanford’s passing game.
Ertz might be the worst blocking tight end I’ve ever seen. No one is going to disagree with me when I say that blocking isn’t Ertz’s strong suit. But I will admit I criticize him more here than most. I’ve never seen such a poor blocking tight end in my life. His strength is awful. He doesn’t get any kind of initial punch at all. His effort is just plain bad. He really doesn’t try. He can’t sustain blocks to save his life. He can’t engage in blocks to save his life. He doesn’t create a wide base. He has poor balance. He lacks the quickness and flexibility to block smaller linebackers. He doesn’t know how to use his length. He constantly finds himself in terrible position. He frequently allows opponents to make tackles in traffic. His on field awareness as a run blocker is poor. He’s not even an every down player at the college level since Stanford takes him off the field for about half of their run plays. If he is on the field for a run play, he’s either lined up out wide on an inside run or blocking on the backside. In the latter scenario, Stanford simply prays that he slows his opponent down just enough so he can’t make a tackle from the other side of the field. Sometimes he can’t even succeed at this. That’s inexcusable. If you’re so bad as a run blocker who are lined up toward the outside of the field on the backside to make tackles, you have some problems. Some horrible problems. I would definitely say, though, the thing that’s most striking about his run blocking is his effort, or lack thereof. I’ve never seen him block anyone with the least bit of conviction. He is just so apathetic as a run blocker. Incredibly passive. It’s just so disappointing.
Ertz has good hands. He never traps passes against his frame, he’s a good leaper, he’s very coordinated with the ball in the air, he doesn’t drop passes, and he is always in position to make the catch. However, he can be tentative running over the middle, and he lacks strength, so he really struggles to fight in traffic.
Ertz has solid separation skills. He accelerates quickly off the snap and is pretty good when changing directions. One thing of note; when changing directions, he usually makes Baltimore Ravens style cuts. As opposed to sharply planting his foot and cutting at a 90 degree angle, he usually gradually turns his hips and makes cuts without breaking stride. These kinds of cuts take longer to complete, but, in many cases, can be done without having the route runner having to slow down and chop his feet before making the cut. The worry is that, in the NFL, if he goes to a team that asks him to make more traditional cuts, he may not succeed. Still, the cuts he makes are pretty solid for a tight end. He has above average speed, he can be deceptive with his eyes, and he can find holes in the zone. Still, there is a red flag here. I feel like Ertz might be a product of all the favorable matchups he receives. The fact is, Stanford is loaded with tight ends and other big pass catchers. With Ertz, Levine Toilolo, and even fullback Ryan Hewitt (a viable option as a pass catcher) on the field for most pass plays, you’ve only got so many linebackers big enough to cover these guys. Given that Ertz is often lined up wide/in the slot while Toilolo is in a 3 point stance on the line of scrimmage, or Hewitt is in the backfield, Ertz is often covered by corners or nickelbacks, while Toilolo deals with the strongside linebacker. He frequently will have a 7 inch, 60 pound size advantage over the people who cover him, and he can take advantage of this just about every time. Yet, given his lack of strength, I occasionally see him struggle when strongside linebackers try to jam him on the line of scrimmage, and I can’t help but wonder if he will succeed in the NFL unless he’s getting the size mismatches he so desperately needs. That being said, he can shred zone coverage, given the fact that no one tries to jam his release, he’s a good route runner, and he really knows how to find holes in the zone. He’s also really good at creating yards after the catch, given his athleticism and balance. He’ll even flash power with the ball in his hands, but I still wish that would carry over into his run blocking.
In my mind, Ertz is overrated. There’s no way around it. His blocking is so bad that he won’t be an above average starter unless he’s racking up 1200 receiving yards a year, and his lack of strength and inability to make catches in traffic make me question whether or not he will be able to make catches when he doesn’t have a tremendous size advantage over the man who is covering him. I think he’ll be a bust.
NFL Comparison: Jermaine Gresham. I’m a Cincinnati native, and I believe Gresham is the worst starting tight end in the NFL. He’s neutral on pass plays and an absolutely atrocious run blocker, arguably the worst blocking tight end in the NFL. When you add it up, you’ve got a bad player, which I believe Ertz will be.
Grade: 73 (worthy of a mid to late third round pick)
Projection: 89 (will be an early second, maybe late first round pick)