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Tight Ends: A Simple Guide

If you are looking to learn what a tight end is or have a bunch of questions about this interesting position, you have come to the right article. 

Tight Ends

A tight end is an offensive position in the American football. They are positioned at the end of the line next to the offensive tackle. Depending on the team’s formation, some teams may have tight ends while other teams may choose to have running backs or a fullback instead. So don’t be surprised if you happen to see no tight ends in one of the upcoming games. 

In recent years, teams have increasingly shifted to passing plays as opposed to running plays. This led to the role of tight ends becoming ever more important. A tight end is effectively a hybrid of an offensive lineman and a wide receiver. 

Tight ends have three main roles:

#1 Blocking 

A tight end that has been deployed primarily for blocking will have bigger built since the goal is to protect the quarterback against the sack. He can also assist running backs who are advancing the ball by moving out to the field and block any potential defenders.

#2 Receiving

For tight ends who are positioned behind the line (h-back), they will be out in the field to catch short range passes from the quarterback. Then, they advance the ball if the situation is right. Usually, quarterbacks would prefer to make forward passes to wide receivers because of the high yard points, but such scenarios don’t come often.

Quarterbacks may be pressured to make other plays that require tight ends to fill the immediate role of receivers by making himself open for passing routes and outrun defenders when he gets the pass. 

#3 Rushing

Although running plays have declined in recent years in the NFL, quarterbacks may decide to handoff or make short range passses to tight ends for a run, based on his reads on defenders. To be effective, tight ends must have the speed and agility to outrun defenders – and when possible, overpower them through brute force to gain yard points. 

Why is it Called Tight End?

“Tight end” received its name as players are lined up at the end of the offensive line next to the offensive tackle. Typically, they are stationed there to keep the defensive gap tight. Hence, it gained the name tight end. 

Can Tight Ends Run the Ball?

No, tight ends are not eligible to carry the ball due to the ‘4 backs and 7 lines’ rule. However, if he is lined up behind the line of scrimmage, he would be allowed to carry and run the ball. He would be known as the h-back in this case. 

Is Tight End a Skill Position?

In American Football, the term ‘skill position’ refers to players who mostly carry the ball and are responsible for scoring points. Another distinction is the size and speed. Skill positions tend to be faster, lighter and smaller than non-skill positions. This includes the quarterback, running back/ fullback, wide receivers, and tight ends (h-back).[1] Offensive line players like center, tackles, and guards are not considered as skill positions. 

Do Tight Ends Have to be Fast?

If the tight end is put on the team by the coach solely for the purpose of blocking, he doesn’t have to be fast. Instead, he has to be an effective lead blocker. Therefore, one has to have the appropriate size, which is a trade-off for speed. 

However, if the tight end’s main role is to catch short passes and run the ball, coaches will generally prefer a faster tight end. 

Who is the Best Tight End of All Time?

Based on the following stats, it is clear that Tony Gonzalez is the best tight end of all time – with 1,325 catches, 15,127 yards, and 111 touchdowns in 270 games in the period of 1997 to 2013.[2]

NameTeamNo. of GamesCatchesYardsTouchdowns
Tony GonzalezKansas City 1997-2008; Atlanta 2009-132701,32515,127111
Antonio GatesSan Diego 2003-1823695511,841116
Rob GronkowskiNew England 2010-181155217,86179
Shannon SharpeDenver 1990-99, 2002-03; Baltimore 2000-0120481510,06062
Kellen WinslowSan Diego 1979-871095416,74145
Ozzie NewsomeCleveland 1978-901986627,98047
Mike DitkaChicago 1961-66; Philadelphia 1967-68; Dallas 1969-72158427581243
John MackeyBaltimore Colts 1963-71; San Diego 1972139331523638
Jason WittenDallas 2003-1723912151297772
Dave CasperOakland 1974-80, ’84, Houston Oilers 1981-83; Minnesota 1983147378521652
Greg OlsenChicago Bears 2007-10, Carolina Panthers 2011-19, Seattle Seahawks 2020174718844459
Jackie SmithSt. Louis Cardinals 1963-77; Dallas 1978210480791840
Jimmy GrahamNew Orleans 2010-14; Seattle 2015-17, Green Bay 2018-present137649788374
Jerry SmithWashington 1965-77168421549660
Ben CoatesNew England 1991-99; Baltimore Ravens 2000158499555550
Charlie SandersDetroit 1968-77128336481731
Todd ChristensenNew York Giants 1979; Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders 1979-88137461587241
Keith JacksoPhiladelphia 1988-91; Miami 1992-94; Green Bay 1995-96129441528349
Dallas ClarkIndianapolis Colts 2003-11; Tampa Bay 2012; Baltimore 2013143505566553
Heath MillerPittsburgh 2005-15168592656945
Vernon DavisSan Francisco 2006-15; Denver 2015; Washington 2016-19194583756263
Riley OdomsDenver 1972-8153396575541
Travis KelceKansas City Chiefs 2013-Present96507646537
Jay NovacekSt. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals 1985-89; Dallas 1990-95158422463030
Zach ErtzPhiladelphia Eagles 2013-Present106525574335

Closing Thoughts

Now you have learnt that tight end is a hybrid of receivers and offensive lineman. Hence they not only have to be strong to be able to block defenders, but they also have to be fast and able to catch passes. So tell us what do you think about this role? Let us know in the comment section below. 


[1] “What is a ‘skilled position’ in football? – Quora.” 15 Jun. 2019, Accessed 6 Jul. 2020.
[2] “25 Greatest Tight Ends in NFL History – Athlon Sports.” 22 Apr. 2020, Accessed 6 Jul. 2020.

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