The NFL draft is right around the corner, and it’s time to start getting excited about who the 49ers will add. Like most years, the 2013 draft begins the day after my birthday, so I like to think of each pick as an extra present for me. Everyone has their draft crushes; last year, mine was Coby Fleener. The 49ers didn’t deliver for me, although maybe they should have. If they did, I wouldn’t be writing this post today.
This year I have draft crushes, plural. With all these picks, why not? I’ve stated my case for Marcus Lattimore. Tavon Austin would be a brilliant audition. And naturally, Zach Ertz has been on my mind.
BASG likes to give me flack over my “thing” for Stanford players. I wrote about Fleener coming to San Francisco last year, and after covering Stanford this season it was only natural I express interest in Ertz. Matter of fact, we’ve got a double-or-nothing bet on Ertz coming to the 49ers this season, with two Ike’s Place sandwiches on the line. I knew the bet wasn’t wise when I accepted it — after all, the move is just too predictable for Trent Baalke. Steve must be aware of my inability to turn down a bet.
Now, I’ve become willing to concede the lunches. The 49ers probably won’t draft Ertz.
The more I think about it, the less important the position of tight end becomes in terms of draft stock. Had the 49ers made a better move towards solidifying the free safety position than Craig Dahl, they might have the luxury to draft a tight end at 31. The same can be said for defensive line.
More important needs exist on defense, specifically at those two positions. Ertz, sadly, will probably be holding up another jersey come draft day.
So where do they go at tight end?
There are definitely options not named Ertz or Tyler Eifert. They’re the guys who get the publicity, but others stand out to the draft geeks as well. Nobody is perfect of course — even Ertz (Tyrannosaurus Rex arms come to mind).
The latest tight end to come talk with Baalke and Harbaugh is Cincinnati’s Travis Kelce. According to Matt Barrows, the 49ers are playing “weekend hosts” to Kelce, which means he could be meeting with them right now. Or they could have already met with him. I guess we’ll know when the 49ers announc… oh, wait. Nevermind.
Kelce (6-5, 255 lbs) is lauded as the best blocking tight end in the draft, making him an instant option for the 49ers’ offense. He missed the NFL Combine due to a sports hernia but held a private workout on Monday in which he ran a 4.61 40. For those keeping track, it’s .07 faster than Ertz, and Kelce did it with a viral infection.
As far as college productivity goes, his most successful season was his last. In 2011, Kelce only accumulated 13 catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He broke out in 2012 though, catching 45 regular season passes for 722 yards and eight touchdowns. His performance in the Belk Bowl (which sounds like it should be one of Carmen Kiew’s Giants recipes) was impressive: five catches for 123 yards, including the game-winning touchdown over Duke.
It appears Kelce is comparable to Ertz, and though he wasn’t as prolific a pass catcher he was perhaps a better blocker. The good news? Draft experts don’t have him pegged as a guy the 49ers would have to use their 31st overall on. Barrows says Kelce is looked at as a second-rounder while CBS Sports has him as their 82 overall prospect, going midway through the third. Character concerns could lead to Kelce falling, as he was suspended by head coach Butch Davis for the entire 2010 season for violating team rules.
Kelce said he knows his attitude and actions will be raised in every team interview. His brother, Jason, a Philadelphia Eagles center, can only prep him so much for the questions franchises will ask.
“[I will] just let them know I’m a high-character guy and the stuff that’s happened in my past has happened and I’ve dealt with it,” Kelce said. “You live and you learn. No regrets at all. It’s about overcoming the difficulties of not being able to play an entire season like I did. [It's] just learning from my mistakes and grow from that.”
The Bearcats never released details of Kelce’s 2010 suspension. He said the NFL knows the story, but he wasn’t sharing it during his media session Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Here’s a look at Kelce (No. 18, or squint really hard to see the gray box around him) playing in the aforementioned Belk Bowl. He’s lined up in a variety of positions, from the traditional off-tackle spot to motioning in the backfield and even at wildcat quarterback, the position he played in high school.