On a football team, it’s unlikely that any of the other 11 offensive players will have to work as hard as the tight end.
They line up on the field and do a lot of important jobs, but they don’t often get credit for what they do.
What does the tight end do on a football team?
In football, the tight end is a unique “hybrid” position between the wide receiver and the tight end.
These players are usually between the end blocker and the wide receivers on the field.
In modern football, tight ends are expected to catch the ball, block both the run and the pass, and even run the ball themselves.
No one should play tight end, and everyone knows that. In the next sections, we’ll explain why only certain kinds of football players can join and who exactly fits that description.
We have everything you need to know, from what they do and how much they get paid to where they wait in line and how long they usually have to wait.
What Do Tight Ends Do in Football?
We’ve already shown that the tight end is one of the offensive positions that can be used in many different ways. They are sometimes called “secret weapons” because so much of what they do isn’t known.
Tight ends might work harder than the quarterback, the running back, and the wide receivers, but they don’t get nearly as much credit for it.
Wide receivers (WR) are supposed to catch the ball, quarterbacks are supposed to be the smartest players on the field, running backs are supposed to be amazing athletes, linemen are supposed to protect the quarterback and running backs, and linemen are supposed to protect the wide receivers.
But it’s up to the tight end to carry the load. They don’t have to be the best at everything their team does, but they do need to be tall and good at a lot of things.
Even though tight ends don’t get as much attention as other positions, they are very important in sports today, especially in the NFL. At this position, great athletes who are hard for opposing defenders to stop are starting to show up.
In general, a tight end’s responsibilities can be put into three groups: blocking, receiving, and running. Even though the first two are very important to the position, tight ends are used more and more in the run game in modern football.
Let’s talk more about what tight ends do and how they do it on the field.
Receiving as a Tight End
First, let’s talk about receiving, since that’s what most fans like to see from a tight end.
In modern football, the tight end is often a target because he is thought to be able to do a lot of different things as a wide receiver. QBs who think of their tight ends as an extra set of hands get along well with them.
On offense, tight ends create a lot of mismatches because they are usually bigger than wide receivers even though they are slower than them. Because of this, the tight end is a very good option to pass to in the red zone and on third-and-short.
Tight ends usually get the second-most targets on their team, usually behind only the best wide receiver.
People are often surprised when people take advantage of their chances, especially those who play fantasy football.
Blocking as a Tight End
Blocking is the second most important job of the tight end. Fans would rather not do this, but coaches can’t wait for the chance. This is why tight ends need to be physically intimidating, even if they aren’t tall.
It’s true that tight ends aren’t as common as wide receivers or running backs, so they won’t be in every play. In the past, the main job of tight ends was to catch passes. Today, however, tight ends often also try to block.
Once this is done, tight ends will be in the same position as the rest of the team because they are useful for everyone.
A good blocker at tight end gives the coaches an extra body whenever they need it.
Rushing as a Tight End
Because it’s rare for a tight end to rush the ball, this is the last thing we’ll do. Because of this, only 14 NFL teams have promised to keep a fullback on their rosters for at least the next two seasons.
In the past few years, tight ends have become more versatile, which is why most teams use them more and more as fullbacks. Tight ends are often asked to block, so this is a natural position for them.
In some situations, a coach will be more likely to use a tight end who is more athletic than a blocker.
By adding this third factor, tight ends become more obvious. If you want to be a good tight end, you have to find a way to help on every play, whether it’s by catching a pass, blocking, or running.
Where Do Tight Ends Line Up?
Tight ends can do a lot of different things, so you’ll often see them in different formations.
No matter where they line up, most offenses will use the tight end as a distraction to make the defense miss the play they want to run.
Tight ends usually line up behind the quarterback, close to the offensive line, between the offensive line and the wide receivers, or on the edge as a receiver.
Let’s talk more about these four groups:
- The tight end usually lines up behind the quarterback because he or she is a fullback. Even though they will spend most of their time blocking for the quarterback or running back, they may also be given the ball and sent on a route as a receiver.
- Depending on how the offensive line is set up, the tight end will usually line up on either the strong or weak side of the offensive line. They’ll be out on the wing and have to either block a defensive end (or linebacker) or run a route.
- When the tight end is in his secondary position between the offensive line and the wide receiver, the coach may spread him out a little more than usual to make the defense think it’s a pass play. If it’s a run play, they can still block, but if they have to run a route, they’ll be in a better spot to do so.
- WR: In football today, tight ends are more like wide receivers, but they are taller (opposed to smaller linemen). Due to this change, tight ends are now just as dangerous as wide receivers.
When a call is made for an audible, tight ends often make hand gestures. Defenders from the other team often look at the tight ends to figure out what plays the offense is going to run.
The coach may change the tight end’s position often to confuse the other team’s defense.
When coming up with their package strategies, most head coaches will just use two numbers to show how many tight ends are on the field at once.
Most of the time, these deals for running backs and tight ends will be numbered 00, 01, 02, 10, 11, 12, 13, 20, 21, and 23.
With 23 players, the team would have one quarterback, five offensive linemen, two running backs, three tight ends, and no receivers.
The 12 man package has one running back, two tight ends, five offensive linemen, one quarterback, and two receivers.
After that, it’s up to the coaches to decide where those guys will line up, and that’s when the options really start to grow.
What Makes a Good Tight End in Football?
We’ve talked a lot about what a tight end does, but that doesn’t mean that any player can move into that position right away.
Most football players won’t have the skills or talent to do well at this position.
High school coaches, college scouts, and NFL scouts are all looking for the next great tight end. They all have a few things in common: they are tall, strong, have good hands and feet, and are athletic.
If you don’t have all of these traits, coaches might think you’re only good at one thing. We’ve already shown that it won’t work for a tight end and that the player will probably spend a lot of time on the bench.
In the NFL, there has been a recent trend of tight ends taking on the intimidating physique of the classic tight end.
The tight ends of today look more like wide receivers than like the small linemen they were made to block.
The tall height is very helpful. Since they are bigger targets, they are in a good spot in the danger zone.
When they have the ball, it will be harder for opponents to tackle them. They will also block better and be harder to push around.
Tight ends are usually taller than 6 feet, 3 inches, and the best ones are usually much taller. Rob Gronkowski is listed as 6’6″, while George Kittle and Travis Kelce are both listed as 6’5.
Any good tight end will have to be as strong as any other blocker. Most defensive ends and linebackers will be about your size, if not a little bigger, so you’ll have to rely on your strength to compete.
If you don’t have much muscle, it will be easy for the other team’s defense to get around you and tackle the quarterback or running back.
Having a strong body will also help when under fire. Winning those 50/50 balls and getting an advantage over your opponent is similar to rebounding in basketball. In football, this could be a game-changer.
At the NFL Combine, most tight ends will have to be able to bench press 225 pounds at least 20 times.
You won’t be able to catch the football very well if your hands aren’t steady. Most coaches agree that tight ends with good hand skills stand out more.
If they can catch everything that’s thrown to them, they won’t have to run the best routes or be the fastest player on the field.
Just as important as helping your team in close coverage is being able to block well. A tight end’s two most important skills are always knowing where his hands should be and using those hands to gain leverage on the opponent.
For the tight end to make the coach happy, he needs to be able to move his feet well as well as use his hands. Receiving and blocking both require skill with the feet as well as the hands.
To stay stable while blocking, you need to have good footwork. If you don’t, the defender will blow by you to get to the quarterback or running back.
Also, if you want to be free while running a route, you need to have good footwork. Good footwork makes it easier to beat an opponent and get some space.
We’ve reached one of the most important traits for all football players, not just tight ends: superior athletic ability. This includes not only quickness but also stamina, height, agility, balance, and power.
In the past, many tight ends didn’t make an impact because they didn’t have even one of these things.
The modern tight end is expected to do more than one thing.
History of the Tight End Position
Once upon a time, each American football team was only allowed a certain number of subs during a game. At the time, one-platooning was the most common way for teams to organize themselves.
During one-platooning, players did both offense and defense. This is a college football tradition that is still going strong.
When the NFL started to go downhill with this structure, players’ ability to carve out a specific position was taken into account.
Linemen used to be expected to play on both the offensive and defensive lines, but now they can choose which side they like to play on. The same is true for tailbacks and wide receivers.
This change, which happened mostly in the 1940s and 1950s, is a big reason why the tight end position became so popular.
Some athletes couldn’t handle the physical demands of playing on the offensive or defensive lines, but they were also too big to play wide receiver on a regular basis.
Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns was the first coach to try to find a spot for players like this.
In the 1960s, players like Mike Ditka and John Mackey helped the tight end position become more popular. Before these two players, tight ends were mostly used as blockers.
Who Is Best Tight End of All Time?
Since Mike Ditka and John Mackey made the position famous, a lot of great tight ends have come and gone.
Still, Ditka and Mackey are two of only nine tight ends to ever be inducted into the National Football League’s Hall of Fame.
Next, we’ll talk about some of football’s other best tight ends. Three of the five we’ll talk about below are already in the Hall of Fame: Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe, and Kellen Winslow.
The other two players, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates, will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame soon.
Let’s look at these tight ends’ careers in more depth:
- Tony Gonzalez – 1,325 receptions, 15,127 yards, and 111 touchdowns
- Antonio Gates – 955 receptions, 11,841 yards, and 116 touchdowns
- Rob Gronkowski – 521 receptions, 7,861 yards, and 79 touchdowns
- Shannon Sharpe – 815 receptions, 10,060 yards, and 62 touchdowns
- Kellen Winslow – 541 receptions, 6,741 yards, and 45 touchdowns
Even though he is 36 years old, Vernon Davis is still an important part of his team’s success.
George Kittle, Zach Ertz, and Travis Kelce are modern greats at the position, and Greg Olsen and Jason Witten have been great at the position for the last 15–20 years.
How Much Do Tight Ends Make in the NFL?
We’ve talked about almost everything there is to know about football tight ends, except for one thing: how much they get paid.
Even though NFL tight ends don’t make as much money as quarterbacks, running backs, or wide receivers, they still make a lot.
The top 10 highest-paid tight ends in the NFL make between $7.25 million and $10.6 million per year. This means that while 105 wide receivers and almost 200 offensive linemen make over $1 million per year, only 65 tight ends do.
Tight ends have traditionally been paid less than other positions, but this is starting to change.
Their salaries will continue to rise as stars like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Hunter Henry, Austin Hooper, and Zach Ertz demand more money.