Zach Ertz, Fluid MoverTuesday, February 12, 2013
I watched Stanford play Notre Dame and Oregon during the 2012 regular season. I knew Stanford tight end Levine Toilolo was highly regarded by NFL scouts before the year, but against the Ducks and Irish a different Cardinal playing the same position jumped off the screen. He wore No. 86, had a short last name I couldn't quite make out, ran like a gazelle, and made plays at the second and third levels of the defense.
I eventually learned that this player's name was Zach Ertz.
Ertz declared for the draft in January, and I watched four of his games over the weekend in an effort to form a stronger opinion about his prospects as an NFL player.
A classic "move" tight end in Pep Hamilton and David Shaw's West Coast-style offense, Ertz was utilized all over the formation. I charted 35 percent of his snaps as an H-back detached from the line of scrimmage. Ertz was a traditional in-line tight end 17 percent of the time. He aligned at slot receiver on 31 percent of the downs, and he worked outside at X or Z receiver on 18 percent.
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 252 pounds on the Stanford website, Ertz is a dynamic mover for his size. He plays with such fluidity that you might suppose he's even leaner than his alleged weight. Ertz stretches the seam vertically, has fantastic change-of-direction skills, and gets around with light feet while maintaining power to his game. On tape, Ertz's bread-and-butter pass route was the deep out, which he ran with precision for big gains against Notre Dame, Washington, and USC. The deep out produces splash plays down the football field. It is a chunk-yardage pass pattern.
Ertz demonstrated legitimate vertical speed and comfortably sifted through traffic. He ran a high volume of shallow crosses and executed them unflinchingly over the middle. Ertz is not a dominant tackle breaker, but he runs better than Kyle Rudolph and plays with more physicality and toughness than Greg Olsen. Ertz will create passing-game mismatches at the next level.
Much less impressive was Ertz's run blocking in the four games I viewed. I found his effort to be maddeningly inconsistent, regularly failing to finish off blocks. When Ertz put his mind to it, he was effective in the run game and this showed up most memorably versus USC. Ertz controlled safety T.J. McDonald at the point of attack, displaying a powerful, strong base. He moved defenders off the ball. Ertz too often abandoned his opponents after their initial engagement, however, and the defender he was supposed to block would routinely get in on the tackle. Clearly, blocking is an area in which Ertz must improve if he's going to develop into an every-down tight end in the pros.
The passing game is where I'd anticipate Ertz making an immediate NFL impact. In addition to special movement skills on the hoof, Ertz demonstrated soft, reliable hands and secured passes with efficiency amid shoddy quarterback play by senior Josh Nunes, that improved later by way of redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan. I charted 38 of Ertz's targets. He secured 24 for 338 yards (14.1 YPR), drew two pass interference calls, and had two drops. Seven targets were uncatchable.
Ertz displayed pass-game instincts by working back to his quarterback when Stanford's wideouts failed to come open downfield. He fought off physical press coverage and jams at the line of scrimmage. Especially against Oregon and Washington, it was fun to watch Ertz in action. It's understandable why he was the go-to option in Hamilton and Shaw's passing offense. Linebackers can't keep up with him. Ertz is a matchup nightmare for defensive backs.
Ertz possesses outstanding athleticism for his size and looks ready to play in the pros, especially in the slot and out wide. I wouldn't be surprised if he's a top-20 pick in April's draft.
Sensible NFL Team Fits: Bears, Falcons, Dolphins, Browns, Buccaneers, 49ers.