Tight end

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Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs in the open field Cole Holcomb chasing Travis Kelce OCT2021.jpg
Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs in the open field
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 an offensive position in American football, arena football, and Canadian football. It is a hybrid that combines the characteristics and roles of both an offensive lineman and a receiver. As part of the receiver corp, they play inside the flanks (tight), contrasted with the split end who plays outside the flanks (wide). 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 and potent weapons in a team's offensive schemes.


The tight end's role in any given offense depends on the preferences and philosophy of the head coach, offensive coordinator, and 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.


LSU Tigers tight end Foster Moreau (right) lining up on the end of the offensive line before a snap during a game in 2018. GA VS LSU E101318 85.jpg
LSU Tigers tight end Foster Moreau (right) lining up on the end of the offensive line before a snap during a game in 2018.

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 an end lining up on either end of the line of scrimmage and the flanker positioned outside and behind them, at their "flank".

At 6'6" and 265 lbs., New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, a four-time first-team All-Pro, was large even by contemporary standards Rob Gronkowski 20131201.jpg
At 6'6" and 265 lbs., New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, a four-time first-team All-Pro, was large even by contemporary standards

As the transition from starters going "both ways" to dedicated offensive and defensive squads took place, players' roles continued to evolve, and those who did not fit the mold of the traditional positions were employed in newly created niches. Large and relatively swift players who could both block and catch well but who were too small to play as offensive linemen were used in roles that capitalized on both of their strengths. Innovative coaches, such as Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns, pioneered blocking techniques and passing schemes to use them to best effect.

Greater use of the tight end as a receiver in the 1960s both reflected these changes and led to the emergence of stars at the position, such as Mike Ditka, Jackie Smith, and John Mackey. [1] In addition to superb blocking, Ditka offered great hands receiving and rugged running after the catch. Over a 12-year career, he caught 427 passes for over 5,800 yards and 43 touchdowns. [1] Mackey brought speed and open-field running, 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 average leads all tight ends in the Hall of Fame and is even ahead of a significant number of wide receivers enshrined there.[ citation needed ]

Nonetheless, tight ends remained primarily blockers lined up next to an offensive tackle and given short to medium drag routes. [3] Starting in 1980, the Air Coryell offense began using tight end Kellen Winslow in wide receiver-type routes. Winslow was lined up wide, in the slot against a smaller cornerback, or put in motion to avoid being jammed at the line. [4] Defenses would cover him with either a strong safety or a linebacker, because zone defenses were less popular. [5] Strong safeties in those times also were favored for their run defense over coverage speed. Providing them another defender to help cover Winslow opened up holes for other receivers. [6] Winslow would line up unpredictably in any formation, variously in a three point blocking stance, two point receiver's stance, or put 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 strength and wingspan. [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]

Tight ends generally hit their peak between the ages of 25 and 30. [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.[ citation needed ]

However, in Canadian football, tight ends are, in general, no longer used professionally in the CFL, but are still used at the college level in U Sports.[ citation needed ] 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.

Since 2019, the NFL celebrates National Tight Ends Day on the fourth weekend of October to highlight tight ends in the league. [15] [16]


At 6'7", 265 lbs., Jimmy Graham, shown here playing for the New Orleans Saints, demonstrates the athleticism of a tight end in its role as a receiver Jimmy Graham 2014 Pro Bowl.jpg
At 6'7", 265 lbs., Jimmy Graham, shown here playing for the New Orleans Saints, demonstrates the athleticism of a tight end in its role as a receiver

Tight ends have two primary roles: (1) act as a blocker and (2) act as a receiver. Very occasionally, a tight end is also given the opportunity to rush with the ball. This typically happens when they are put in motion before the ball is snapped.


In the National Football League (NFL), the tight end is larger, stronger, and slower than a wide receiver, and therefore able to block more effectively. [17] Among offensive ball-handlers it is the job of the tight end, along with the fullback, to block for both running backs and receivers. Tight ends are used as blockers to protect the quarterback during passing plays, to open holes in the line, and downfield to tie up linebackers and defensive backs.

Historically, a single tight end was used, typically placed on the right side of the offensive line. In the early 2000s two tight end formations began to be used with more frequency. [18] [19] Specialty plays may deploy 3- or 4-tight-end sets in "heavy" or "jumbo" packages, usually to block in short-yardage situations or to sow confusion in the defensive backfield with such an unusual formation. When a blocker larger than a tight end is desired without sacrificing the player's ability to catch a pass the position is sometimes filled by an offensive lineman who reports to the referee that he is an eligible receiver, referred to colloquially as a "tackle eligible".


Historically, the primary role of a tight end was blocking, with strategic use as a receiver. Over time the emphasis of offense has shifted from running to passing, and with it the role of the tight end as a receiver expanded. 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. In general, there is an inherent trade-off between a tight end's speed and agility and their size, meaning more mobile tight ends tend not to be as effective as blockers. This results in great premiums being placed on tight ends that can fill both roles effectively. When a team cannot find both in a single player they often rotate between those who are stronger in one role better than the other depending on the type of skill required by given plays.

At the extreme end the receiving spectrum are 'hybrid' tight ends that are drafted primarily for their pass-catching abilities. Often, these players have near-wide receiver speed, coupled with greater overall size and strength. Plays utilizing their assets are designed to capitalize on their combination of size, speed, and wingspan, at times spreading them out on the line like wide-receivers, off the line in the slot, or putting them in motion in the backfield.


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 out of the slot in a reverse or sweep.[ citation needed ]

Physical attributes

Most tight ends are large in size, with an average height of 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) and a weight exceeding 254 lb (115 kg). [20] They are usually among the taller members of the team, [21] comparable in height to many linemen. They are also among its heavier players, with only linemen and some linebackers weighing more than averaged-sized tight ends. [21] 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 6-foot-3-inch (1.91 m)248-pound (112 kg) Vernon Davis, who achieved a 4.38 forty yard dash time. [22]

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. [23] The NCAA "strongly recommends" [24] 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). [25] 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lineman (gridiron football)</span> Player in American or Canadian football 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">Linebacker</span> Defensive position in American football

Linebacker (LB) is a playing position in gridiron football. Linebackers are members of the defensive team, and line up three to five yards behind the line of scrimmage and the defensive linemen. They are the "middle ground" of defenders, playing closer to the line of scrimmage than the defensive backs (secondary), but farther back than the defensive linemen.

<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, and historically known as a split end (SE) or flanker (FL), 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.

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

Kellen Boswell Winslow Sr. is an American former professional football tight end who played 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).

Strategy forms a major part of American football.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">End (gridiron football)</span> American football position

An end in American and Canadian football is a player who lines up at either end of the line of scrimmage, usually beside the tackles. Rules state that a legal offensive formation must always consist of seven players on the line of scrimmage and that the player on the end of the line constitutes an eligible receiver. There are two types on offense: the split end, or wide out, and the tight end. On defense, there is simply the defensive end. It is also used in terminology such as an end run.

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

The 46 defense is an American football defensive formation, an eight men in the box defense, with six players along the line of scrimmage. There are two players at linebacker depth playing linebacker technique, and then three defensive backs. The 46 defense was originally developed and popularized with the Chicago Bears by their defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who later became head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Single set back</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tackle-eligible play</span>

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Halfback (American football)</span> Offensive position in American football

A halfback (HB) is an offensive position in American football, whose duties involve lining up in the offensive backfield and carrying the ball on most rushing plays, i.e. a running back. When the principal ball carrier lines up deep in the backfield, and especially when that player is placed behind another player (usually a blocking back), as in the I formation, that player is instead referred to as a tailback (TB).

<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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Triple option</span> American football strategic play

The triple option is an American football play used to offer six ways to move the football forward on the field of play. The triple option is based on the option run, but uses three players who might run with the ball instead of the two used in a standard option run.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Air Coryell</span> American football offense with a greater emphasis on passing than on running

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".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">3–4 defense</span> American football defensive formation

In American football, the 3–4 defense is a common defensive alignment consisting of three down linemen and four linebackers. It is called a "base defense" because it will readily switch to other defensive alignments as circumstances change. Alternatively, some defenses use a 4–3 defense: four down linemen and three linebackers.

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 (NFL) wear uniform numbers between 0 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 linemen, 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, if they pick up a fumble, or if they catch a deflected pass.


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Further reading