Tight end

The tight end (TE) is a position in American football, arena football, and formerly Canadian football, on the offense. The tight end is often seen as 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. 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 in running situations 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.

Example of tight end positioning in an offensive formation.


Rob Gronkowski 20131201
Even by contemporary standards, the 6'6", 265 lb., New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski is large for a tight end

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.

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 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]

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 lineman 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 a strong safety or a linebacker, as zone defenses were not as 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] 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, athletic Shannon Sharpe's 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 with over 10,000 career receiving yards. Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates pushed the position toward near 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' and Vernon Davis' 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]

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. 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.[13] 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.


Jimmy Graham 2014 Pro Bowl
At 6'7", 265 lbs., Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham is among the largest ever at his position


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 therefore 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 therefore 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.[14] 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 6'3" and a weight exceeding 240 lbs. The origin of the two tight end set is unclear. The Detroit Lions[15] and the Washington Redskins[16] 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, on average, usually among the taller members of the team,[17] comparable in height to many linemen. Typically also of large frame, they are also usually on average among the heavier players on the team, with only defensive and offensive linemen and some linebackers weighing more.[17] As a result, tight ends are almost universally slower than wide receivers or 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.[18]

Jersey numbers

Specific skill positions typically are issued jersey numbers in a restricted range. In collegiate and high school football (in most states), tight ends are restricted to numbers 41–49 and 80–89 (not required in NCAA, but "recommended"). In the NFL, numbering regulations state that tight ends must wear numbers 80–89 or 40–49.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Mike Ditka". Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
  2. ^ "John Mackey". Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Jaworski, Ron (2010). The Games That Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays. Random House. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-345-51795-1.
  4. ^ Jaworski 2010, p.81.
  5. ^ Jaworski 2010, p.93
  6. ^ Jaworski 2010, pp.93–94
  7. ^ a b c Jaworski 2010, p.112
  8. ^ George, Thomas (September 29, 2002). "The Indispensable Tight End Is Making His Presence Felt". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 28, 2012.
  9. ^ Battista, Judy (January 17, 2012). "New Breed of Tight End Is Unchecked So Far". The New York Times. p. B9. Archived from the original on January 20, 2012.
  10. ^ Ridenour, Marla (January 16, 2012). "Playoffs showcase Browns' lack of big-play tight end". Akron Beacon Journal. Archived from the original on January 20, 2012.
  11. ^ Flori, Mike (January 1, 2012). "Graham, Gronkowski go back and forth with tight end yardage mark". NBC Sports. Archived from the original on January 20, 2012.
  12. ^ Darlington, Jeff (February 2, 2012). "Ever-evolving tight end position truly changing the game". NFL.com. Archived from the original on February 3, 2012.
  13. ^ "Mock 2.0: Ankou, Senior jump up the charts - CFL.ca". cfl.ca. April 3, 2017.
  14. ^ Football 101: Tight Ends and Quarterbacks by Mark Lawrence. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
  15. ^ Double trouble: Cowboys' Parcells jumping on two-tight-end trend, September 20, 2006. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
  16. ^ Too Deep Zone: Running with Multiple Tight Ends by Mike Tanier, October 20, 2006. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
  17. ^ a b Kraemer, William; Torine, Jon; Silvestre, Ricardo; French, Duncan; Ratamess, Nicholas; Spiering, Barry; Hatfield, Disa; Vingren, Jakob; Volek, Jeff (2005). "Body Size and Composition of National Football League Players" (PDF). Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 19 (3): 485–9. doi:10.1519/18175.1. PMID 16095394. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 28, 2012.
  18. ^ Colston, Chris (April 7, 2006). "Davis latest to break TE mold". USA Today.
  19. ^ "Page Not Found - NFL Football Operations". operations.nfl.com.

Further reading

  • Aaseng, Nathan (1981). Football’s Toughest Tight Ends. Lerner Publications Company. ISBN 9780822510703.
Positions in American football and Canadian football
Offense (Skill position) Defense Special teams
Linemen Guard, Tackle, Center Linemen Tackle, End Kicking players Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist
Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System) Linebacker Snapping Long snapper, Holder
Backs Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat), Fullback, H-back, Wingback Backs Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback Returning Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer, Upman
Receivers Wide receiver (Eligible), Tight end, Slotback, End Tackling Gunner, Upback, Utility
Formations (List)NomenclatureStrategy
Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Josef Hernandez (November 6, 1989 – April 19, 2017) was an American football tight end in the National Football League (NFL) and convicted murderer. A productive player during his three seasons with the New England Patriots, his career came to an abrupt end after his arrest and conviction for the murder of Odin Lloyd.

Recognized as an All-American at the University of Florida, Hernandez was drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Alongside teammate Rob Gronkowski, he formed one of the league's most dominant tight-end duos, becoming the first pair of tight ends to score at least five touchdowns each in consecutive seasons for the same team. He made one Super Bowl appearance in XLVI.

During the 2013 off-season, Hernandez was arrested and charged for the murder of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional player who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancée. Following his arrest, he was immediately released by the Patriots. Hernandez was found guilty of first-degree murder in 2015 and sentenced to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. While on trial for Lloyd's murder, he was also indicted for the 2012 double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, but was acquitted after a 2017 trial.

Days after being acquitted of the double homicide, Hernandez was found dead in his cell. His death was ruled a suicide. His conviction for Lloyd's murder was initially vacated under the doctrine of abatement ab initio because Hernandez died during its appeal, but was reinstated in 2019 following an appeal from prosecutors and the Lloyd family.

American football positions

In American football each team has 11 players on the field at one time. The specific role that a player takes on the field is called their position. Under the modern rules of American football, teams are allowed unlimited substitutions; that is, teams may change any number of players after any play. This has resulted in the development of three "platoons" of players: the offense (the team with the ball, which is trying to score), the defense (the team trying to prevent the other team from scoring, and to take the ball from them), and the special teams (who play in kicking situations). Within those platoons, various specific positions exist depending on what each player's main job is.

Antonio Gates

Antonio Ethan Gates Jr. (born June 18, 1980) is an American football tight end who is currently a free agent. He has been selected into the Pro Bowl eight times and is a five-time All-Pro.Gates was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003 after playing college basketball for Kent State University. He attended college at Kent State his junior and senior years after brief stints at Michigan State University and Eastern Michigan University. He is the Chargers' career leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. In 2015, he became the second tight end and ninth player overall to record 100 career touchdown receptions. Following the 2017 season, the Chargers did not renew his contract, and he was not expected to play in 2018, but pre-season injuries depleted the Chargers at tight end, and the Chargers re-signed him in September, 2018, and he went on to play in every regular and post-season game for the Chargers. He ranks sixth in career touchdown receptions, with 116, and leads all active players in this category, as well as leading all tight ends in NFL history.

Benjamin Watson

Benjamin Watson (born December 18, 1980) is a former American football tight end. He was drafted by the New England Patriots 32nd overall in the 2004 NFL Draft and later he would win Super Bowl XXXIX with the team over the Philadelphia Eagles. He played college football at Georgia. Watson has also played for the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints.

Dallas Clark

Dallas Dean Clark (born June 12, 1979) is a former American football tight end who played 11 seasons in the National Football League (NFL). He played college football for the University of Iowa, earned unanimous All-American honors, and was recognized as the top college tight end in the nation. He was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft and he was a member of their Super Bowl XLI championship team against the Chicago Bears. He also played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Baltimore Ravens.

Defensive back

In American football and Canadian football, defensive backs (DBs) are the players on the defensive team who take positions somewhat back from the line of scrimmage; they are distinguished from the defensive line players and linebackers, who take positions directly behind or close to the line of scrimmage.The defensive backs, in turn, generally are classified into several different specialized positions:


Free safety – most often the deepest safety

Strong safety – the bigger more physical safety, much like a small, quicker linebacker

Defensive halfback (Canadian football only)

Cornerback – which include:

Nickelback – the fifth defensive back in some sets, such as the nickel formation

Dimeback – the sixth defensive back in some sets, such as the dime formation

The seventh defensive back, in the exceedingly rare "quarter" set, but often strong

known as a dollar back or a quarter back (not to be confused with the offensive player who throws the ball)The group of defensive backs is known collectively as the secondary; being the second line of defense after the lineman and guards. They most often defend the wide receiver corps; however, at times they may also line up against a tight end or a split out running back.

Eric Green (tight end)

Bernard Eric Green (born June 22, 1967 in Savannah, Georgia) is a former professional American football player who was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1st round (21st overall) of the 1990 NFL Draft. Green was a two-time Pro Bowl selection for the Steelers in 1993 and 1994.

J. V. Cain

James Victor Cain (July 22, 1951 – July 22, 1979) was a tight end in the NFL for the St. Louis Cardinals. Cain played high school football at Booker T. Washington in Houston Texas, before playing college football at Colorado. He was the 7th overall selection in the 1974 NFL Draft. Two years later, he emerged as the full-time starting tight end for the Cardinals.

He died of congenital heart failure, brought out by working out in extreme heat during training camp at Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Missouri on his birthday in 1979.

His number 88 is retired by the Cardinals.

Jason Witten

Christopher Jason Witten (born May 6, 1982) is an American football tight end for the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League (NFL). And sports broadcaster. He played college football for the University of Tennessee, and was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft. His 40 yard dash time is a 4.7. Witten ranks second in all-time career receptions and receiving yards by an NFL tight end, trailing only Tony Gonzalez. Initially retiring in 2018, he became a color analyst for ESPN's Monday Night Football.

Jesse James (American football)

Jesse Dylan James (born June 4, 1994) is an American football tight end for the Detroit Lions of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Penn State, and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham (born November 24, 1986) is an American football tight end for the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League (NFL). He played only one year of college football at the University of Miami, after playing four years of basketball. He was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

In his second season in the NFL, Graham had 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. That year, he made his first Pro Bowl appearance and was selected as an All-Pro player at his position. He became the first tight end in Saints history to have more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season. He set the Saints franchise record for receptions in a season while also tying the Saints franchise record for touchdowns in a season. Graham is also second all-time for most receiving yards and receiving touchdowns by a tight end in a single season.In only three seasons, Graham also set the Seattle Seahawks franchise record for the most receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns at the tight end position.

John Mackey Award

The John Mackey Award is presented annually to college football's most outstanding tight end. Established in 2000 by the Nassau County Sports Commission, the award is given annually to the tight end who best exemplifies the play, sportsmanship, academics, and community values of Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey.

The winner is chosen by a selection committee comprising sportswriters and former players, including Lee Corso, Phil Steele, Charles Arbuckle, and former John Mackey Award winners Tim Stratton, Dallas Clark, and D. J. Williams, among others. The award is a member of the National College Football Awards Association, which encompasses college football's most prestigious awards. Former Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary called the award one which "all tight ends dream of winning".

Keith Jackson (tight end)

Keith Jerome Jackson (born April 19, 1965) is a former professional American football tight end who played for the Philadelphia Eagles (1988–1991), Miami Dolphins (1992–1994), and Green Bay Packers (1995–1996).

Michael Williams (tight end)

Michael Williams (born September 8, 1990) is a former American football tight end who is currently the head football coach at Reform (Ala.) Pickens County High School. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round (211th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft. He played college football at Alabama.

Rob Gronkowski

Robert James Gronkowski (born May 14, 1989), nicknamed "Gronk", is an American football tight end for the New England Patriots of the National Football League (NFL).

Gronkowski played college football for the University of Arizona, winning several awards, including being named a Sporting News and Rivals.com Freshman All-American. The Patriots drafted Gronkowski in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft with the 42nd pick, after missing his junior year due to back surgery.

Notable for being a skilled receiver and talented blocker, Gronkowski has set several NFL records. He has the most seasons with 1,000+ receiving yards by a tight end with four. Gronkowski also has the most career postseason receiving yards by a tight end (1,163) and is the only tight end in NFL history to reach 1,000 or more yards. He has the most career postseason receiving touchdowns for his position with 12, as well as the most receptions (23) and receiving yards (297) by a tight end in Super Bowl history.

One of the most recognisable football players of the 2010s with a larger-than-life personality on and off the field, Gronkowski is a three-time Super Bowl champion (XLIX, LI, LIII). He is also a five-time Pro Bowl and four-time First Team All-Pro selection, and has been the highest ranked tight end in the NFL Top 100 for six consecutive years since 2013. With his numerous accomplishments and accolades, Gronkowski is regarded by many sports analysts, writers and peers as the most dominant tight end to ever play the game.

Shannon Sharpe

Shannon Sharpe (born June 26, 1968) is a former American football tight end who played for the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League (NFL), as well as a former analyst for CBS Sports on its NFL telecasts. He is a TV presenter who co-hosts Skip and Shannon: Undisputed with Skip Bayless.

Sharpe was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 6, 2011. He played 12 seasons for the Broncos (1990–99, 2002–03) and two with the Ravens (2000–01), winning three Super Bowls and finishing his career as the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (815), receiving yards (10,060) and receiving touchdowns (62) by a tight end, until Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten surpassed all three of those records. He was the first tight end to amass over 10,000 receiving yards. He was named to the First Team of the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s.

Tony Gonzalez

Anthony Atlanta Gonzalez (born February 27, 1976) is a former American football tight end. He played college football and college basketball at University of California, Berkeley, and was recognized as a consensus All-American in football. He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft, where he played for 12 seasons, until being traded to the Atlanta Falcons, where he played for 5 seasons. Gonzalez, a fourteen time Pro Bowl selection, holds the NFL record for total receiving yards (15,127) by a tight end. He also is second all time in receptions with 1,325, trailing only Jerry Rice. Gonzalez is first in receptions by a tight end. Gonzalez was known for his durability and rarely fumbling. During his career, he only missed two games and lost only two fumbles on 1,327 touches. He is currently an analyst on Fox NFL's pregame show. Gonzalez was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February 2019, his first year of eligibility.

Vernon Davis

Vernon Davis (born January 31, 1984) is an American football tight end for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Maryland. He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers sixth overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. Upon entering the league, Davis signed a five-year, US$23 million deal that made him the highest paid tight end at the time. In 2009, Davis co-led the NFL in touchdown receptions.

In the 2011–12 NFL playoffs with the 49ers, Davis caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Alex Smith against the New Orleans Saints, referred to by fans and the media as "The Catch III". In 2015, Davis was traded to the Denver Broncos, where he won Super Bowl 50 with the team over the Carolina Panthers. The following season, he signed with the Washington Redskins.

Zach Miller (tight end, born 1985)

Not to be confused with Zach Miller (tight end, born 1984), the Chicago Bears tight endZachary Joseph Miller (born December 11, 1985) is a former American football tight end. He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He played college football at Arizona State, where he received consensus All-American honors. Miller also played for the Seattle Seahawks, with whom he earned a Super Bowl ring in Super Bowl XLVIII over the Denver Broncos.

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