Tight end

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Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts catches a pass in a game versus the Washington Football Team. DSC 4799 (51555290879).jpg
Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts catches a pass in a game versus the Washington Football Team.
Example of tight end positioning in an offensive formation. Football-Formation-TE.svg
Example of tight end positioning in an offensive formation.

The tight end (TE) is a position in American football, arena football, and Canadian football, on the offense. The tight end is often a hybrid position with the characteristics and roles of both an offensive lineman and a wide receiver. Like offensive linemen, they are usually lined up on the offensive line and are large enough to be effective blockers. On the other hand, unlike offensive linemen, they are eligible receivers adept enough to warrant a defense's attention when running pass patterns.


Because of the hybrid nature of the position, the tight end's role in any given offense depends on the tactical preferences and philosophy of the head coach as well as overall team dynamic. In some systems, the tight end will merely act as a sixth offensive lineman, rarely going out for passes. Other systems use the tight end primarily as a receiver, frequently taking advantage of the tight end's size to create mismatches in the defensive secondary. Many coaches will often have one tight end who specializes in blocking on running plays while using a tight end with better pass-catching skills in obvious passing situations.

Offensive formations may have as few as zero or as many as three tight ends at one time.


The advent of the tight end position is closely tied to the decline of the one-platoon system during the 1940s and '50s. Originally, a rule (derived from the game's evolution from other forms of football) limited substitutions. Consequently, players had to be adept at playing on both sides of the ball, with most offensive linemen doubling as defensive linemen or linebackers, and receivers doubling as defensive backs. At that time, the receivers were known as either ends or flankers , with the end lining up wide at the line of scrimmage and the flanker positioned slightly behind the line usually on the opposite side of the field.

At 6'6" and 265 lb., former Tampa Bay Buccaneers' tight end Rob Gronkowski was large even by contemporary standards Second Photos 86 (50833148736).jpg
At 6'6" and 265 lb., former Tampa Bay Buccaneers' tight end Rob Gronkowski was large even by contemporary standards

As the transition from starters going "both ways" to dedicated offensive and defensive squads took place, players who did not fit the mold of the traditional positions began to fill niches. Those who were good pass catchers and blockers but mediocre on defense were no longer liabilities; instead, a position evolved to capitalize on their strengths. Many were too big to be receivers yet too small for offensive linemen. Innovative coaches such as Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns saw the potential of having a larger receiver lined up inside, developing blocking techniques and passing schemes that used the unique attributes of the tight end position.

Greater use of the tight end as a receiver started in the 1960s with the emergence of stars Mike Ditka, Jackie Smith, and John Mackey. Until then most teams relied on the tight end's blocking as almost a sixth offensive lineman, rarely using them as receivers. [1] In addition to superb blocking, Ditka offered great hands receiving and rugged running after a completion. Over a 12-year career, he caught 427 passes for over 5,800 yards and 43 touchdowns. [1] Mackey brought speed, with six of his nine touchdown catches in one season being breakaways over 50 yards. [2] Smith provided the position with a previously unheard of ability to catch long balls downfield, as shown by his career average of 16.5 yards per catch. This leads all tight ends in the hall of fame and is even ahead of a significant number of HOF wide receivers.

Starting in 1980 the Air Coryell offense debuted tight end Kellen Winslow running wide receiver-type routes. Tight ends prior to Winslow were primarily blockers lined up next to an offensive tackle and given short to medium drag routes. [3] Winslow was put in motion to avoid being jammed at the line, lined up wide, or in the slot against a smaller cornerback. [4] Former Chargers assistant coach Al Saunders said Winslow was "a wide receiver in an offensive lineman's body." [3] Back then, defenses would cover Winslow with either a strong safety or a linebacker, as zone defenses were less popular. [5] Strong safeties in those times favored run defense over coverage speed. Providing another defender to help the strong safety opened up other holes. [6] Winslow would line up unpredictably in any formation from a three point blocking stance to a two point receiver's stance, to being in motion like a flanker or offensive back. [7] Head coach Jon Gruden referred to such multi-dimensional tight ends as "jokers", calling Winslow the first ever in the NFL. [7] [8] Patriots head coach Bill Belichick notes that the pass-catching tight ends that get paid the most are "all direct descendants of Kellen Winslow", and there are fewer tight ends now that can block on the line. [7]

In the 1990s, Shannon Sharpe's athletic prowess as a route-runner helped change the way tight ends were used by teams. Consistently double-covered as a receiver, he became the first tight end in NFL history to rack up over 10,000 career receiving yards. Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, who both played basketball in college, pushed the position toward wide receiver speed and power forward basketball skills. [9] At 6'6" Rob Gronkowski brought height, setting single-season tight end records in 2011 with 17 touchdowns—breaking Gates's and Vernon Davis's record of 13—and 1,327 receiving yards, surpassing Winslow's record of 1,290. [10] Jimmy Graham that season also passed Winslow with 1,310 yards. [11] Six of the NFL's 15 players with the most receptions that year were tight ends, the most in NFL history. Previous seasons usually had at most one or two ranked in the top. [12]

While the timeline differs for individual each player, tight ends generally hit their peak between the ages of 25 and 30. A study conducted by Apex Fantasy Leagues concluded that about 69.1 percent of peak seasons fall within that range. [13]

In the Arena Football League the tight end serves as the 3rd offensive lineman (along with the center and guard). Although they are eligible receivers they rarely go out for passes and are usually only used for screen passes when they do.

However, in Canadian football, tight ends are, in general, no longer used professionally in the CFL, but is still used at the college level in U Sports. Tony Gabriel is a former great tight end in Canadian football.[ why? ] There remain some tight ends in use at university level football; Antony Auclair, formerly a tight end for the Laval Rouge et Or, was a contender to be selected in the 2017 CFL Draft or possibly receive a tryout in the NFL. [14] He was drafted by the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2017, but instead signed with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent that same year.


At 6'7", 265 lbs., tight end Jimmy Graham, shown here playing for the New Orleans Saints, demonstrates the athleticism successful tight ends need in catching the ball Jimmy Graham 2014 Pro Bowl.jpg
At 6'7", 265 lbs., tight end Jimmy Graham, shown here playing for the New Orleans Saints, demonstrates the athleticism successful tight ends need in catching the ball


Some plays are planned to take advantage of a tight end's eligibility (i.e. that they may lawfully catch a forward-passed football). At times, the tight end will not be covered by the defense, a situation that rarely occurs with the regular receivers. The tight end is then considered another option for the quarterback to pass to when the wide receivers are covered. The tight end is usually faster than the linebackers who cover him and often stronger than the cornerbacks and safeties who try to tackle him. However, tight ends are typically chosen for their speed and catching ability and tend to have less blocking ability. Size does not affect catching ability. There could be tight ends on both sides of the line.

At the extreme end of this spectrum are 'hybrid' tight ends that are drafted primarily for their pass-catching abilities. Often, these players are talented athletes with near-receiver-like speed, coupled with the imposing physical size and strength of a traditional tight end. Offensive schemes often seek to take advantage of this type of player by placing him in space, often treating him as an extra receiver. Sometimes in a two-tight-end set, one tight end could be motioned out or audibled out to the slot.


In the National Football League (NFL), the tight end is larger and slower than a wide receiver, and therefore able to block more effectively. [15] It is the job of the tight end, along with the fullback, to open up a hole in the defense for the tailback to run through. Tight ends can also be used along with the offensive linemen to protect the quarterback during passing plays. Often, tight ends are employed in a fullback position called "H-back", lined up beside the tackle but slightly behind the line of scrimmage. Specialty plays may even deploy 3- or 4-tight-end sets, with one or two in an H-back position, with one or fewer wide receivers to make the formations legal. Tight ends may also pass block like other offensive linemen. Some teams employ tight ends solely to block, however this position is sometimes filled by an offensive lineman who has reported to the referee that his number is now an eligible receiving number; this makes him "Tackle Eligible".

Since the successful introduction of the West Coast Offense, most offenses use tight ends more as receivers than blockers. Traditionally tight ends were just blockers eligible to catch passes; however, now tight ends are more like bigger and slower receivers who can also block more effectively than most wide receivers. Most tight ends are generally large in size with an average height of 6'4" (1.93 m) and a weight exceeding 254 lbs (115 kg). [16] The origin of the two tight end set is unclear. The Detroit Lions [17] and the Washington Commanders [18] have been credited with being the first teams to use two tight ends as part of their base offense.


The decline of the fullback as a rushing position has seen the occasional deployment of tight ends as ball carriers, either aligned in the backfield or as a reverse-play option in the slot.

Physical attributes

Tight ends are usually among the taller members of the team, [19] comparable in height to many linemen. They are also among the heavier players on the team, with only defensive and offensive linemen and some linebackers weighing more. [19] As a result, tight ends are almost universally slower than wide receivers and running backs, although occasionally one with exceptional speed appears. An example of a tight end with a speed advantage—at the expense of blocking ability—is Vernon Davis, who achieved a 4.38 forty yard dash time. [20]

Jersey numbers

Specific skill positions typically are issued jersey numbers in a restricted range. High school rules nationally are determined by the National Federation of State High School Associations; tight ends are able to wear any number other than 50–79. [21] The NCAA "strongly recommends" [22] ends wear 80–99, but this is not required. In the NFL, numbering regulations state that tight ends are restricted to 1–49 and 80–89 (numbers other receivers tend to wear also). [23] The 40–49 number range is a relatively recent addition to the rules (being made in 2015); as a result, most tight ends still bear numbers in the 80–89 range.

See also

Related Research Articles

In gridiron football, not all players on offense are entitled to receive a forward pass: only an eligible pass receiver may legally catch a forward pass, and only an eligible receiver may advance beyond the neutral zone if a forward pass crosses into the neutral zone. If the pass is received by a non-eligible receiver, it is "illegal touching". If an ineligible receiver is beyond the neutral zone when a forward pass crossing the neutral zone is thrown, a foul of "ineligible receiver downfield" is called. Each league has slightly different rules regarding who is considered an eligible receiver.

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Lineman (gridiron football) American football player who specializes in play at the line of scrimmage

In gridiron football, a lineman is a player who specializes in play at the line of scrimmage. The linemen of the team currently in possession of the ball are the offensive line, while linemen on the opposing team are the defensive line. A number of NFL rules specifically address restrictions and requirements for the offensive line, whose job is to help protect the quarterback from getting sacked for a loss, or worse, fumbling. The defensive line is covered by the same rules that apply to all defensive players. Linemen are usually the largest players on the field in both height and weight, since their positions usually require less running and more strength than skill positions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wide receiver</span> Offensive position in American and Canadian football

A wide receiver (WR), also referred to as a wideout, historically known as a split end (SE), is an eligible receiver in gridiron football. A key skill position of the offense, WR gets its name from the player being split out "wide", farthest away from the rest of the offensive formation.

A screen pass is a play in gridiron football consisting of a short pass to a receiver who is protected by a screen of blockers. During a screen pass, a number of things happen concurrently in order to fool the defense into thinking a long pass is being thrown, when in fact the pass is merely a short one, just beyond the defensive linemen. Screens are usually deployed against aggressive defenses that rush the passer. Because screens invite the defense to rush the quarterback, they are designed to leave fewer defensemen behind the rushers to stop the play.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kellen Winslow</span> American football player (born 1957)

Kellen Boswell Winslow Sr. is an American former professional football player in the National Football League (NFL). A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1995), he is widely recognized as one of the greatest tight ends in the league's history. Winslow played his entire NFL career from 1979 to 1987 with the San Diego Chargers after being selected in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft. He played college football for the University of Missouri, where he was a consensus All-American. He was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (2002).

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End (gridiron football) American football position

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">46 defense</span> American football defensive formation

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A formation in football refers to the position players line up in before the start of a down. There are both offensive and defensive formations and there are many formations in both categories. Sometimes, formations are referred to as packages.

Single set back American football offensive formation

Single set back is an offensive base formation in American football which requires only one running back lined up about five yards behind the quarterback. There are many variations on single back formations including two tight ends and two wide receivers, one tight end/three wide receivers, etc. The running back can line up directly behind the quarterback or offset either the weak side or the strong side.

Tackle-eligible play

In football, the tackle-eligible play is a forward-pass play in which coaches will attempt to create mismatches against a defense by inserting an offensive tackle, into an offensive formation as an eligible receiver, usually as a tight end or as a fullback. This is done by changing the formation of the offensive line, via positioning two linemen on one side of the center and three linemen on the other.

Halfback (American football) Offensive position in American football

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">American football positions</span> Specific roles that players take in American football

In American football, the specific role that a player takes on the field is referred to as their "position". Under the modern rules of American football, both teams are allowed 11 players on the field at one time and have "unlimited free substitutions", meaning that they may change any number of players during any "dead ball" situation. This has resulted in the development of three task-specific "platoons" of players within any single team: the offense, the defense, and the so-called 'special teams'. Within these three separate "platoons", various positions exist depending on the jobs that the players are doing.

Slotback Position in gridiron football

Slotback, sometimes referred to as an A-back or "slot receiver," is a position in gridiron football. The "slot" is the area between the last offensive lineman on either side of the center and the wide receiver on that side. A player who lines up between those two players and behind the line of scrimmage fills that "slot." The slotback position is a fixture of Canadian football and indoor football where they act as extra receivers. It is also used in American football where the position requires a versatile player, who must combine the receiving skills of a wide receiver, the ball-carrying skills of a running back, and the blocking skills of a tight end.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fullback (gridiron football)</span> Position in American or Canadian football

A fullback (FB) is a position in the offensive backfield in gridiron football, and is one of the two running back positions along with the halfback. Fullbacks are typically larger than halfbacks and in most offensive schemes the fullback's duties are split among power running, pass catching, and blocking for both the quarterback and the other running back.

In American football, Air Coryell is the offensive scheme and philosophy developed by former San Diego Chargers coach Don Coryell. The offensive philosophy has been also called the "Coryell offense" or the "vertical offense".

The following terms are used in American football, both conventional and indoor. Some of these terms are also in use in Canadian football; for a list of terms unique to that code, see Glossary of Canadian football.

Players in the National Football League wear uniform numbers between 1 and 99, with no two players on a team able to wear the same number outside of the offseason. Rules exist which tie a player's number to a specific range of numbers for their primary position. Additionally, rules exist which limit who may handle the ball on offense: generally players who are designated as offensive lineman, who wear numbers 50–79, are not allowed to handle the ball during a play from scrimmage, though they are allowed to do so if they report to the referee as playing out of position for a tackle-eligible play.


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Further reading