The more I watch of Zach Ertz, the more impressed I become. It’s not that he’s a physical freak of a tight end like Jimmy Graham. He’s not going to enter the league and dominate like Rob Gronkowski. What he is going to do is provide excellent run blocking qualities with the ability to make key, consistent catches.
Without a big-name receiver expected to go in the top ten next April, we could see a player like Ertz move swiftly up the boards. Teams like Miami and St. Louis need to build around their quarterbacks and find some weapons. Ertz isn’t going to offer a Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green type of aid, but he will provide a safety net while his run blocking will keep him on the field for any play call. The Rams in particular make a lot of sense here. With two first round picks in 2013 and 2014 following the RGIII trade, the Rams could theoretically draft a left tackle (Luke Joeckel?) and Zach Ertz within the top fifteen picks. And that would make a lot of sense.
Ultimately his stock will be judged by how much of a difference maker he can be. As nice as a good run blocking tight end can be, nothing compensates for difference making ability in the passing game. It helps that Ertz lines up all over the field – split out wide, in the slot – and he’s shown the ability to create separation and make plays. For the year he has 818 yards and six touchdowns – both team highs. In fact he has more than double the number of catches, yardage and touchdowns to the second most productive pass catcher at Stanford – fellow tight end Levine Toilolo. But he needs to prove he has what it takes to repeat this production at the next level. Teams will want to see how he tests at the combine, as the position itself is largely defined by athleticism and size.
So what about the Seahawks? Although the tight ends in Seattle haven’t featured much in terms of receptions, they have actually played a pretty significant role under Pete Carroll. While the more modern day tight end is being asked to run routes rather than pass protect, the Seahawks aren’t running a particularly modern offense. They want to run the ball, they want to protect the quarterback and limit turnovers. Carroll also seemingly wants to make quick strikes in the passing game as a compliment to the run. Unless you do find that dynamic downfield tight end, it’s pretty difficult to find a home-run hitting player at the position.
They do run a lot of play action though and the tight end’s production might increase as young quarterback Russell Wilson becomes more familiar with the system. Already in recent weeks Zach Miller has seen his number of targets rise. In the last three games, Wilson has thrown at Miller 14 times. In the first three games of the season, he had just eight looks. As things open up, Miller’s role could increase further.
Miller’s presence on the roster also has to be taken into consideration when considering the draft. According to Sportrac, he’s set to take up $11m of cap space in 2013. Whether that sum is negotiated down in the off-season remains to be seen, but it makes any further big investments at the tight end position a bit of a luxury. It is also worth considering the teams pursuit of Kellen Winslow though – and clearly they were open to the idea of adding another tight end who can factor into the passing game. Likewise, they’ve tried to get Anthony McCoy more involved with inconsistent results so far. If they believed they could split Ertz into different positions to create mismatches and if they felt he was enough of a difference maker he could be an option. As with the teams in the early first round – if Ertz lasts to the Seahawks pick, he might be a more favourable pick-up than any of the receivers.
Of course there’s always the counter suggestion of ‘waiting’ given the investment in Miller. The Seahawks don’t desperately need a tight end. They could theoretically wait to draft a Gavin Escobar out of San Diego State for example – a player with the kind of athletic potential to be a productive pass-catcher if not a great run blocker.
Even so, I sense Ertz is one to watch. The Seahawks apparently showed a fair amount of interest in another Stanford tight end in Coby Fleener, as noted by Eric Williams here. Ertz is a more rounded prospect and certainly a more attractive run blocker for me – and that could appeal more than anything to Seattle’s front office. There are no character issues and he’s quite a mature and grounded individual, unlike some of the receivers eligible for 2013. If he lasts until the Seahawks pick, he could be on the radar next April.
Cordarrelle Patterson possibly played his last game for Tennessee in a win over Kentucky. He led the Vols with 88 receiving yards and scored this touchdown. He also added 38 rushing yards from two carries and totalled 32 return yards. He has a lot of strings to his bow and will be a playmaker at the next level. The question is, can he mature and find a level of consistency?
Brandon Coleman at Rutgers only had one reception in a 27-6 defeat to Pittsburgh. Thankfully, it was an 11 yard score which you can see by clicking here. Coleman’s production has been mediocre, but his upside and potential is off the charts. The Seahawks have had scouts at multiple Rutgers games this year.
Markus Wheaton had another productive day for Oregon State, this time against rivals Oregon. Despite losing the game, Wheaton recorded 98 yards from seven receptions. He’s flying under the radar and warrants much more hype.
DeAndre Hopkins had one catch against South Carolina – a 43 yard touchdown. Click here to see it. Few players have Hopkins’ level of control, catching ability in traffic and smooth route running. Like Wheaton, he deserves more hype.
Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree did this today. I’ll be watching the Georgia Tech vs Georgia tape on Sunday.