All-American tight end Zach Ertz and fellow senior tight end Levine Toilolo both announced on Monday that they would declare for the NFL draft and not be back for their final year of eligibility at Stanford.
Their departures, while not entirely unexpected, slightly dampened the excitement generated by classmates and defensive stars Ben Gardner, Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy all declaring that they would be back on the Farm for a run at the BCS title in 2013.
Ertz in particular will be missed from the Stanford offensive unit next season. The latest in a series of outstanding tight ends that gave the Farm claim to “Tight End U,” Ertz was the Cardinal’s leading receiver with 69 receptions for 898 yards and six touchdowns.
He is following in the footsteps of Coby Fleener, drafted 34th overall by the Indiannapolis Colts last year, Jim Dray (2010) playing for the Arizona Cardinals and Konrad Reuland (2011) for the New York Jets.
“Stanford’s had a lot of great tight ends for sure,” Ertz said. “Guys like Jim and Konrad really started it lately, and I’m just thankful to have been a part of it.”
“The Stanford (positives) speak for themselves, and I’m going to miss it,” added Ertz, who is projected to be selected late in the first round or early in the second.
“I’ve had a lot of great experiences. But I gathered all the facts and made the decision,” he said.
He is a senior academically and on track to earn his degree this spring in management science and engineering.
Toilolo started every game alongside Ertz in Stanford’s two-tight-end formation, averaged 16.4 yards per catch and scored four touchdowns. He is considered an intriguing NFL prospect because of his 6-foot-8-inch frame and agility.
“After much thought, prayer, and discussion with my family, I have decided to forgo my senior season of eligibility and enter the NFL draft,” Toilolo said in a statement released by the school.
Ertz has not picked an agent and will train for the draft workouts at California Strength in San Ramon, the same facility used by former Stanford players Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu. He plans to withdraw from school for the winter academic quarter in order to participate in the pre-draft process. He will re-enroll for the spring quarter and graduate in June.
With both players leaving, as well as graduating senior running back Stepfan Taylor, Stanford will have to find new sources on offense alongside the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan.
Freshman Luke Kaumatule and sophomore Devon Cajuste will be in the mix to replace both next season. Standout fullback Ryan Hewitt also has played tight end sparingly, and has showed great potential catching passes out of the backfield. Stanford coach David Shaw said last week that tight ends have been his biggest focus in recruiting.
“Kevin’s special, man,” Ertz said by phone. “All those guys coming back on defense, I think they’re going to be one of the best teams in the country next year. They’re going to be really good. But at the same time, I have to do what’s best for me and my family at this time. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”