tight end football

What Does a Tight End Do in Football?

It is a developing belief that one of the most crucial positions in today’s football offense is the tight end position. They are expected to possess a special skill set that combines the talents of several different players.

What does a tight end do in football? It can be easily said that they are required to grab passes from the quarterback and block for the running backs. These athletes combine the abilities of a wide receiver and an offensive lineman.

Now that we know the role of a tight end football, we should have a good understanding of who he is and what he needs to possess in more detail. The following article will help you outline the same.

What Is a Tight End?

A football team’s offense is made up of 11 players. The offensive line, tight end, wide receivers, running back, and quarterback are all present. The tight end is one position on the offensive line that has a variety of tasks to perform at any given time.

On the field, they are often located between the end blocker and the wide receivers. In contemporary football, tight ends are expected to grab the ball, pass-block, run-block, and maybe even perform some extra running. But why only tight end and not something else. Let’s find out.

Why Is It Called Tight End?

In American football, the tight end (TE) plays on the offensive side. It is sometimes viewed as a mixed position that combines elements of both a wide receiver and an offensive lineman.

They are big enough to act as effective blocks and while running throw patterns, they are capable receivers who deserve the defense’s special attention.

Due to the composite nature of the position, the function of a tight end in any particular offense is determined by the head coach’s tactical philosophies and preferences.

The tight end only serves like a sixth offensive lineman in some schemes, seldom moving out to catch passes. The position is mostly used as a receiver in other schemes, which commonly utilize the size of a tight end for creating mismatches in the defensive secondary.

The coaches use one tight end who excels at blocking in rushing scenarios and another tight end who is better at receiving passes in circumstances where a pass is intended.

The number of tight ends in an offensive configuration can range from 0 to 3. The location of the wide receiver behind the scrimmage line is required in case of a wide receiver is located in a formation but outside the tight end.

The outer tight end should be behind the scrimmage line if two tight end positioners are falling on the same field side. The description specifically answers why is it called tight end, simply because that is the position used to describe players tightly packed on the ends.

History of the Tight End Position

The demise of the one-platoon system that took place in the 1940s and 1950s is directly related to the emergence of the tight end position. Limited substitutes were once permitted.

closeup of a player holding a football

The ability to play on both sides of the ball was a must for all players, and while receivers sometimes doubled as defensive backs, most offensive linemen were also linebacks or defensive linemen.

At that time, the receivers were either called ends or flankers, and they lined up wide at the line of scrimmage for the end and somewhat behind the line for the flanker, often on the other side of the field.

Players who did not match the shape of the conventional position were able to occupy a niche once the shift from one-platooning occurred. Many of these players were too big to be receivers and too small to be offensive linemen, but some saw the potential of having a larger receiver lined up inside.

Players who were good pass catchers and blockers but average defensive players were now seen as an asset instead of a liability. One of them was Paul Brown, the illustrious Cleveland Browns head coach.

Brown introduced new blocking strategies and passing plans that made use of the special qualities of the tight end position.

The 1960s saw the rise of two players especially, John Mackey and Mike Ditka, and it was then that the tight end’s ability as a receiver was fully appreciated. Before the arrival of these 2 players, most teams treated tight ends as a virtual sixth offensive lineman, rarely using them as receivers.

Ditka caught 427 receptions for more than 43 touchdowns and 5800 yardsover the course of a 12-year career.

Since Mackey possessed the breakaway speed usually associated with a wide receiver, he gave the position a completely new dimension. Six of his nine touchdown throws in one season were longer than 50 yards. These facts are the only ones that mostly revolve around the history of the tight end position.

What Is a Tight End Role in Football?


Certain plays are designed to benefit from a tight end’s eligibility. When compared to the conventional receivers, the tight end can occasionally go undefended by the defense.

As a result, when the wide receivers are covered, the tight end is thought of as another option for the quarterback to pass to. The linebackers who defend him and the cornerbacks and safeties who attempt to tackle him are often quicker and stronger than the tight end.

Tight ends often have average to a good size and blocking capabilities since they are selected for their quickness and catching abilities.

‘Hybrid’ tight ends who are selected largely for their pass-catching skills are at the far end of this range. These athletes frequently combine near-receiver-like speed with the commanding physique and power of a typical tight end.


Tight ends in the National Football League (NFL) are often slower and bigger than wide receivers, making them better at blocking. The tight end and fullback are tasked with breaking down the defense to allow the tailback to run through.

football player blocking defense

Additionally, offensive linemen and tight ends can be employed to protect the quarterback on passing plays. Tight ends are frequently used in the fullback position known as the “H-Back,” where they are still next to the tackle but off the line of scrimmage. Like another offensive lineman, tight ends may pass block.

Now, this position is occasionally filled by an offensive lineman who has informed the referee that his number is now a receiving number eligible for coverage, making him “Tackle Eligible.” Some teams use tight ends primarily for blocking.

Tight ends are currently used more as receivers than blocks in the majority of modern offenses. In the past, tight ends were the only eligible blocks that could also catch passes. Nowadays, tight ends are more like larger, slower receivers who are also better at blocking than most wide receivers.

Who Guards Tight End in Football?

During a pass play with a drag route, a lineback often protects a tight end. To cover the tight end on a pass play, the defense will occasionally substitute a safety for a lineback. During a pass play, some teams decide to have two defenders to block the tight end.

Qualities of a Good Tight End in Football


A tight end must always have his feet firmly planted, possess exceptional balance, and be swift in confined spaces.

Tight ends need to be able to move their feet swiftly while maintaining balance, whether it’s to make a move to lose a lineback in close coverage or to break out of a stance fast to be in the right blocking position on a run play.

That is something that naturally comes with the top players at the position, and if someone doesn’t have it, it is very challenging to teach them. Although Jason Witten may not have always been the most athletic or dynamic tight end throughout the years, he always had great balance and quick feet.

The key to blocking at the line of scrimmage is to play inside yourself with your feet firmly planted, but doing so may be challenging when huge, athletic defensive linemen are trying to knock you off balance and break up your block.

Average Height

Size is currently the tight end’s greatest weapon. Regardless of the player, a defense wants to attempt and take him out with, it is typically what makes them so difficult to cover.

Defensive backs may have the speed and athleticism to tackle contemporary tight ends, but they have little chance of handling individuals who may be six inches taller than them and who know how much wider than them in wingspan.

The majority of linebackers will be giving up a couple of inches in height to NFL safety players, who are typically just over 6’0″ tall. They are naturally large targets with a catch radius that is unmatched by defenders.

Tight End Famous Players

football player in blue jersey

Mike Ditka

Although Mike Ditka is best remembered for leading the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl victory (1986), he was once one of the game’s most well-known tight ends. The tough blocker, who also won Rookie of the Year in 1961, caught 12 touchdowns and 56 catches for 1,076 yards.

The 5-time Pro Bowler later helped the Chicago Bears win the NFL title (1963) and went on to win a Bowl Game with the Dallas Cowboys (1971).

John Mackey

John Mackey brought a new dimension to the tight end position as a long-distance threat who could go past defenders. He was a swift, evasive runner who could break tackles and put down fierce blocks.

Six of his nine touchdown catches in 1966 came on plays that were 51, 64, 57, 83, 79, and 89 yards in length.

Mackey, the second tight end to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, played in five Pro Bowls and helped his team defeat the Cowboys in Super Bowl V by intercepting a throw from Johnny Unitas that was deflected for a 75-yard score.

Travis Kelce

Travis Kelce, an eight-year veteran of the Kansas City Chiefs, has already made a name for himself in the sport’s elite, and he still has a ton of football left in him.

More than 1,000-yard receiving seasons have been recorded by the Super Bowl champion and he has been a six-time Pro Bowler. He is very likely to add a few more before he retires.

With 1,416 receiving yards in a single season, Kelce also owns the record for tight ends. He established it in 2020. He set a record for his position with his two seasons of 100 receptions, and in 2019 he became the tight end with the quickest 500-catch streak.

Shannon Sharpe

Shannon Sharpe established the groundwork for the tight end position’s future in the 1990s. Throughout Sharpe’s two-year tenure with the Ravens, defenses often double-teamed the intimidating route runner, but he persisted in hauling in receptions from Trent Dilfer and legendary quarterback John Elway.

Sharpe was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times and earned three Super Bowl championships. He concluded his career as the NFL’s all-time leader in receiving yardage (10,060), catches (815), and receiving touchdowns (62) by a tight end. He also became the first at his position to amass 10,000 receiving yards.

Kellen Winslow

Kellen Winslow, a talented tight end who also played for the Chargers, helped usher in a new era for the position when he started running wide receiver-style routes in the Don Coryell.

Before Winslow, tight ends mostly concentrated on blocking and utilized shorter drag routes. Due to his mobility, Winslow revolutionized everything and made himself virtually hard to defend.

In 1980, Winslow broke Ditka’s tight end record of 75 receptions with a then-record 89 catches. At the time, Winslow’s 1,290 yards in that same season set a single-season record for his position.

The eight-year career of the five-time Pro Bowler ended with  6,741 receiving yards, 541 catches, and 45 touchdowns throughout those 109 contests.

Is Tight End a Good Football Position?

Versatile players are essential for an offense, since they provide coaches with the opportunity to run more plays and concepts. Tight ends are essential in this because of their versatility in how they line up, run routes, and block, which helps an offense become more diverse and produce more.

football player running with the ball in arm

A superb tight end combines power and size with the pass-catching skills of a wide receiver, making them an automatic nuisance for opposing defenders. The top tight ends in football may make use of their agility to go a step ahead of linebackers or use their toughness to defeat defensive backs to win their battle.

Since tight end, as a position has a certain physical requirement, it is good for the ones who possess them but might prove challenging for the players trying to develop or replace them.

Tight End Football FAQ

How Big Are Tight Ends in the NFL?

The majority of tight ends in the current time are typically large in size, standing 6’4″ (1.93 m) tall and weighing more than 254 lbs (115 kg) on average.

Do Tight Ends Score a Lot of Touchdowns in the NFL?

Tight ends in the NFL generally score moderately high touchdowns. But these numbers, on average, fall short of what the running backs or the wide receivers score.

Is Tight End a Hard Position in Football?     

It goes without saying that not everyone is suited for the tight end position. It is only available to a particular type of football player.

Coaches look for five main characteristics when looking for the next great tight end and those are a large frame, toughness, hands, quick feet, and athletic ability. These characteristics apply whether you’re trying to make your high school team, get noticed by a college recruiter, or make it to the NFL.

Without each of these characteristics, coaches would consider you to be one-dimensional. That won’t work for a tight end, as we discussed above, and will frequently result in the player spending lots of time on the bench.

So, if you have these physical traits, it might not be that difficult for you but as a short guy, possessing even exceptional football skills, selection for this place is quite difficult.


Falling on the defensive side of the game, tight ends are players who have great blocking and receiving responsibilities and those come with high expectations both physically as well as athletically.

With the everyday evolution of modern football, the tight end position is also evolving and the requirements and roles are also expected to move accordingly. One should be exceptionally gifted (structure-wise) to act as an asset-worthy tight end of an NFL team.

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