If you want one of the elite tight ends, they are drafted early in the first three rounds of most drafts. Travis Kelce usually goes first and then it’s between Zach Ertz and George Kittle. Who’s the better option of the two? Here’s the breakdown
TE Position Battle: Zach Ertz vs. George Kittle
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Ertz is coming off a career year. The Eagles tight end had career highs with 156 targets, 116 receptions, 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns for the second straight season. The 116 catches were an NFL record for a tight end.
The former Stanford Cardinal star averaged 9.8 targets and 7.2 receptions per game last season. He had a catch rate of 74.4 percent, In the three seasons prior, Ertz had at least 74 receptions and at least 816 yards. The targets in those seasons were 112, 106, and 110.
Ertz played in all 16 games last season and missed two games in 2016 and 2017. Ertz had a target share of 23.1 percent in 2017 and 26.4 percent last season. The tight ends on the Eagles had 201 targets last season.
Ertz has a high floor as we have seen for several years. The Eagles offense is going to be good, and Carson Wentz is healthy going into the season. The concern is the plethora of weapons in the offense. The Eagles added DeSean Jackson, have Alshon Jeffery and drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Another concern is second-year tight end Dallas Goedert. While the Eagles ran the second most two tight-end sets last season, Goedert will likely see more targets. He had 33 catches for 334 yards with four touchdowns on 44 targets. He reportedly was one of the best players in OTAs and could cut into some of Ertz’s targets.
George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
Kittle was the tight end I wrote about last season to target in the mid-round of drafts, and he surpassed expectations by a lot. The fifth-round pick out of Iowa in 2017 exploded in his second season, setting the NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end in a season with 1,377 yards. He had 88 catches and five touchdowns and 136 targets and played all 16 games. Kittle averaged 15.6 yards per catch, 10.1 yards per target, 86.1 yards per game had a catch rate of 64.1 percent.
He had six games of 90-plus yards and led the NFL with 870 yards after the catch. On Dec. 9, Kittle had 210 yards receiving in the first half and didn’t get a yard in the second half to finish five yards short of Shannon Sharpe’s record for receiving yards by a tight end in a game. Kittle was a big-play threat with 20 catches of more than 20 yards, including six of 40-plus yards. It’s difficult to envision those big plays occurring as often in 2019.
Kittle did this in a bad offense and worked with Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard at quarterback. Garoppolo played three games last season before tearing his ACL. In those games, Kittle had five catches for 90 yards on nine targets, two catches for 22 yards and four targets and five catches for 79 yards on seven targets.
The 49ers have potential breakout Dante Pettis, rookie receiver Deebo Samuel and Marquise Goodwin vying for targets with Kittle. While Kittle should see the yards decline, he could see more touchdowns if the offense improves. Kittle only saw 18 red-zone targets, and at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, he should see more.
It’s razor-thin close, but I would take Kittle. He faces less competition for targets than Ertz and Kittle should score more touchdowns as the 49ers offense improves in the second year under Kyle Shanahan and with a healthy Garoppolo under center. Kittle is more explosive, and Ertz has more established players vying for targets, including Goedert. Ertz had his worst yards per reception (10.0) and yards after the catch (3.2) in his career, so volume was important in his career season. That volume will decline, putting him slightly behind Kittle.