Zach Ertz lauds Patriots' Rob Gronkowski: He's a freak


If you're a fan of tight ends, boy, is this the Super Bowl for you.

Assuming New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski recovers from the concussion that knocked him out of the AFC title game, Super Bowl LII will be the first Big Game in which both teams start a tight end who led each in receptions and receiving yards during the season. Gronk had a nice year, finishing with 69 receptions, 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns, but Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz matched him, tallying 74 catches, 824 yards and eight TDs.

That both Gronk and Ertz play such a pivotal part of New England and Philly's offenses is an example of the tight end's ever-evolving role in modern offenses, but also a testament to their sustained excellence at the fraternal position. Count Ertz as one of Gronk's admirers.

"The guy's a physical specimen," Ertz marveled to reporters Wednesday. "He's a freak. He's a beast after the catch. He's able to use his body even when he's not open to get open with the frame he has. He's definitely been the premier tight end in this league for a long time [and] I think he'd still be producing those numbers without Tom Brady."

Standing at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Ertz is naturally an expert at being a physical specimen, so it's special to hear him laud Gronk (6-foot-6, 285 pounds) like that. (The Eagles tight end would also know a thing or two about performing at a high level without his starting QB.) And he wasn't the only Eagle to do so this week. Safety Malcolm Jenkins, Ertz's teammate of four seasons, called Gronk "the top tight end in the league."

Pro Football Focus agrees, ranking Gronk as the top tight end in the league by a wide margin with Ertz taking a hit for his run blocking and coming in fifth behind Hunter Henry, Travis Kelce and Delanie Walker.

Despite the opinions of scouts, his teammates and even himself, Ertz has been red hot of late, matching Gronk's impact. The tight end caught all eight of his targets in the NFC title game for 93 yards, and Eagles backup QB Nick Foles had a 115.1 passer rating when tossing to his tight end. Ertz was also slightly more productive in the red zone this season, scoring all eight of his touchdowns within the 20-yard line; Gronk had six.

Ertz and Gronk might not be on the field at the same time at any point of next Sunday's clash in Minneapolis aside from the coin toss, but don't discount the battle taking place in the box score between the two. With Gronk's injuries mounting, eventually some young tight end will have to take his place as the league's most dominant. Sure, Travis Kelce and Hunter Henry already have reservations at that table, but with Carson Wentz under center tossing him the ball for the next four years, Ertz deserves a seat.