Starting only one year at Stanford after backing up current Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz burst onto the scene in 2012 with 69 receptions, 898 yards, and six touchdowns.
At 6-5, 249 pounds, Ertz has a somewhat lanky frame for a tight end. He added some bulk over the past year, but he still has room for improvement. Ertz’s added mass hasn’t necessarily translated into on-field strength because he can really struggle at the point-of-attack. In the game against USC, Ertz whiffed on numerous blocks throughout the game and got drove into the backfield other times.
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Perhaps the biggest concern for Ertz is that his arms are only 31 ¾ inches. That might not seem like a big deal, but tight ends, like offensive linemen, need long arms to extend in the running game. Ertz can let longer defenders get into his chest and control him at the line. In comparison, pretty much all of the other top tight ends in this class have arms over 33 inches long, so Ertz’s arms are well over an inch shorter than average.
Ertz is a good route-runner. He sets up defenders nicely and uses really good body position and subtle jabs to get open. Ertz is far from an outstanding athlete and he’s not going to just fly by defenders, as evidenced by his 4.78 40-yard dash. That doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective pass-catcher in the NFL, of course, especially since he can line up anywhere on the field. He was used in-line, out wide, and in the slot at Stanford.
NFL Comparison: Dennis Pitta
Similarly sized, Pitta and Ertz are both below-average athletes who make plays through efficient and intelligent route-running. Pitta is a better blocker than Ertz at this point.
Ertz is projected to go anywhere from the back of the first round to the middle of the second. As a slow tight end with short arms who doesn’t block well, I can’t see how Ertz is being compared to Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert, with whom Ertz will compete to be the top tight end off of the board. If it’s Eifert, as expected, there’s a chance that Ertz falls to Dallas in the second round. I don’t think he’s good value there at all, but he could be an option if the team deems him a first-round talent.
Fit In Dallas
Even with James Hanna behind Jason Witten, the Cowboys need to eventually begin thinking about the future of the tight end position. They have much more obvious holes that will probably make the selection of a tight end in the early rounds improbable, but I wouldn’t put it past the ‘Boys to draft a tight end in the first few rounds if he’s far and away the top player on their board.
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Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.