Football is known for the extreme athleticism on display from players in every position on the field, but one of the most impressive and versatile athletes on any team is the tight end.
The tight end (TE) position in football is a hybrid of an offensive lineman and a wide receiver. Tight end positioning is typically on one side of the offensive line, next to the offensive tackle.
Tight ends are versatile players who can perform a variety of roles, from blocking to catching passes. They are an essential part of the offense and can help create mismatches against the defense.
What are their responsibilities?
The responsibilities of a tight end in American football can vary depending on the team and their offensive strategy, but some of the most common duties include:
Blocking: TEs are often called upon to block defenders, both in the running and passing game. They may be asked to block defensive linemen, linebackers, or even defensive backs. On running plays, they must advance to their run blocking assignment from the line of scrimmage and attack defensive players alongside the offensive linemen or progress to players in the secondary.
Receiving: On passing plays, tight ends are also frequently used as pass-catching targets for the quarterback. They may run short or intermediate routes over the middle of the field or down the sidelines, or they may be used as a red zone threat to score touchdowns.
Route running: Tight ends must be able to run a variety of routes, from simple short passes to more complex patterns. They need to be able to read the defense and adjust their routes accordingly.
Rushing: On rare occasions, tight ends may be asked to run the ball on plays like 'Jet Sweeps', where they are motioned across from their starting position and receive a hand off from the quarterback.
What makes a great tight end?
A great tight end in American football possesses a combination of physical and mental attributes that enable them to excel in the position. Here are some of the characteristics that make a great tight end:
Size and Strength: Tight ends are often some of the largest players on the field, with the size and strength necessary to block defenders and create mismatches in the passing game.
Speed and Agility: While tight ends may not be as fast as wide receivers, they still need to be quick and agile enough to run routes and make plays in the open field.
Catching Ability: A great tight end has reliable hands and excellent ball skills, enabling them to make tough catches in traffic and come down with contested passes.
Route Running: A great tight end has the ability to run a variety of routes, from simple short passes to more complex patterns, and can adjust their routes based on the defensive coverage.
Football IQ: Tight ends must have a deep understanding of the game and their role within the offensive scheme, as well as the ability to read the defense and make adjustments on the fly.
Toughness and Physicality: A great tight end must be able to take hard hits and dish out punishment when blocking defenders, as well as the mental toughness to handle the pressure and scrutiny that comes with playing in the NFL.
Famous NFL tight ends
Over the years, the NFL has had many great tight ends. Some of the most famous ones include:
Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski, also known as "Gronk," is one of the most dominant tight ends in NFL history. He spent nine seasons with the New England Patriots and won three Super Bowl championships with the team. He retired in 2019 but came out of retirement to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020, where he won his fourth Super Bowl ring.
Antonio Gates: Gates played 16 seasons in the NFL, all with the San Diego Chargers (now the Los Angeles Chargers). He ranks third in career touchdown receptions by a tight end and was an eight-time Pro Bowler. He retired after the 2018 season and is considered one of the best pass-catching tight ends in NFL history.
Travis Kelce: Kelce is a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs and has been one of the most dominant players at his position since he entered the league in 2013. He is a seven-time Pro Bowler, three-time First-Team All-Pro, and was named the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2020.
George Kittle: Kittle is a tight end for the San Francisco 49ers and has quickly established himself as one of the best players in today's game. He was a Pro Bowler in 2018 and 2019 and was named First-Team All-Pro in 2019. In 2018, he set the NFL record for most receiving yards in a single season by a tight end (1,377).
Mike Ditka: Ditka is a former NFL tight end who played for the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys from 1961 to 1972. He was a five-time Pro Bowler, two-time First-Team All-Pro, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.