Stanford's Ertz an option if 49ers need tight end

Stanford's Ertz an option if 49ers need tight end
February 21, 2013, 2:15 pm
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Zach Ertz caught 69 passes for 898 yards and six touchdowns last season with Stanford. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

INDIANAPOLIS -- The second tight end in the 49ers' two-tight-end offense is scheduled to be a free agent.

Delanie Walker is one of the 49ers' top free agents after playing 56.8 percent of the team's offensive snaps last season. If the 49ers are unable to retain Walker, they could look to the draft to add a tight end. There will be some options, as early as when it's the 49ers' turn to make a selection with the No. 31 overall pick.

The most obvious fit is Zach Ertz of Stanford, who declared for the NFL draft after catching 69 passes for 898 yards and six touchdowns last season as a junior. The tight end position seems to be experiencing a resurgence in the NFL, so Ertz appears to be entering the league at the right time.

"You see Jimmy Graham out there against corners all the time and just seeing what he does is very impressive," Ertz said of the New Orleans tight end. "It's something that I just hope I can do at that same level."

Ertz believes he has an advantage over a lot of college players because the Stanford system is so similar to NFL offenses.

"I think it helps a lot," Ertz said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine. "At Stanford, we had coach (Jim) Harbaugh my first two years there and he runs the same offense essentially for the 49ers. I think that helps all the players coming out of Stanford."

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock places Ertz, Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame and Gavin Escobar of San Diego State at the top of the draft class among tight ends. He said each will have a chance during workouts Saturday to distinguish himself. Each is roughly in the 6-foot-6, 250-pound range.

"And it will be interesting to see how the three run against each other, because they're all clumped together by most teams right now," Mayock said.

Stanford has become Tight End U in recent seasons. A year ago, Coby Fleener was an intriguing player in the run-up to the draft after running well during his pro day. The Indianapolis Colts selected Fleener with the No. 34 overall selection. He caught 26 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.

Fleener was not viewed as a well-rounded tight end because he was not physical as a run-blocker. Ertz hopes to show he can perform all of the requirements of the position.

"I take a lot of pride in my run blocking," Ertz said. "It's something that I've worked on the past four years specifically. It's something that I look forward to working on."

Stanford's Levine Toilolo is also considered one of the top tight ends in this year's draft. Ertz said in his limited contact with NFL teams, he has noticed a theme that teams want to talk to him about his blocking.

"It comes up a lot," he said. "I have myself and Levine Tollolo that are coming out this year. He was more of the in-line guy per se but I don't want to say that I didn't do it at all. I had my hand in the dirt a lot. Being from Stanford, we were a run-first team so I think that kind of helped me in that aspect."

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