Tight End Position In Football Explained

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: January 11, 2024

Football’s tight end position is one of the most important positions in the modern-day offense. They are required to have a unique skill set to do multiple tasks. What does a tight end do in football?

The Tight End position lines up next to the offensive tackles on offense. Their primary job is to block on run plays and catch the ball on pass plays. Tight ends are a hybrid between an offensive lineman and a wide receiver.

This article will show you what the tight end position does, all the different varieties of the tight end, and how they’re used in common offensive schemes.

Tight End Position

Each tight end is unique to the scheme they play in. Coaches have a variety of tight ends that fit their style of both passing and running attacks.

To run dominant teams, they may have to block tight ends. Pass-heavy teams will have strictly pass-catching tight ends or H-backs in their system.

The tight end position mixes an offensive lineman and a wide receiver. This player is often smaller than an offensive lineman but can catch the football and is athletic like a wide receiver.

These players are scarce in football. They often cause mismatch nightmares for the defense as linebackers are too slow to cover them in man-to-man coverage.

Blocking Tight Ends

Tight end in football

The first and most common type of tight end is the blocking tight end. This player is common in power schemes and short-yardage situations. Coaches will often use blocking tight ends to get another blocker on the field. They are an extension of the offensive line.

Blocking tight ends are often bigger, stalkier players who don’t necessarily move that well, but they block very well. These players are often included in running sets where they need extra support to block defensive ends or linebackers.

In the ’70s and ’80s, the blocking tight end was the most common type of tight end in the NFL. This player often has his hand on the ground and is ready to be physical at the point of attack.

Blocking tight ends will often catch one, maybe two passes in a game. Again, it depends on how often the run-blocking tight end catches the football on the offensive coaches’ system.

Coaches will use a blocking tight end like a sixth offensive lineman on running plays. Their blocking ability is closely tied to that of offensive linemen.

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Pass Catching Tight Ends

tight end in football Rob Gronkowski

Pass-catching tight ends are more common in today’s game. Players like Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, and George Kittle are among the best tight ends in NFL history. These players are known as pass catching tight ends.

Pass-catching tight ends lean more toward the athletic, pass-catching skill set than the run blocking skill set. That is not to say they can’t block. Those three players named above are extremely good at blocking.

First revolutionized by Kellen Winslow, the pass-catching tight end didn’t exist in the early forms of football – only run-blocking tight ends. It wasn’t until the Air Coryell that bigger, more athletic tight ends started to appear in the football game.

Elite tight ends can both pass catch and run block. They must be able to create separation, maintain balance and body control when trying to shake off man coverage.

A great pass catching tight end can create mismatches for linebackers, especially in the red zone. Many coaches will have 1 or 2 tight ends on their roster.

Why Use a Tight End In Football?

Tight end in football

Pass-catching tight ends can be a matchup nightmare for the defense.

When drawing up passing plays, it all comes down to personnel matchups.

Tight ends need to be able to separate from tight coverage and catch any passes thrown their way.

For example, a player like Travis Kelce is 6’5. Not only is he athletic, but he can also block. If you’re the defense, you have two decisions to scheme against Travis Kelce.

The first decision is to keep a linebacker on the field. Linebackers are better suited to play the run and advantage against being stronger verse a guy like Kelce.

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The disadvantage, however, is that a linebacker is weak against the passing game. A player like Kelce will efficiently run by a linebacker in man-to-man coverage. This gives the advantage to Kelce in the passing game.

The second option is to bring a defensive back against a tight end. Defensive backs are often smaller players, so they wouldn’t shed a block from a tight end in the run game.

However, in the passing game, they are better suited to cover a tight end and a player like Travis Kelce.

The defense will always be in the wrong. They must decide whether to play aggressively toward the run with a linebacker or cover the pass with a defensive back.

This is why tight ends matchups are a nightmare, as coaches need big enough players to play run on defense but fast enough to pass.

The New Tight End: H-Backs In Football

Another term for a tight end is an H-Back. The reason it’s called an H-back is because of the position they line up in. As we wrote about here, each position typically has a letter position that identifies its location.

The H-back is often lined up behind the tackle or a yard outside of the tackle. This player is unique because he can go across the formation and kick out a defensive end running the play “counter,” or he can hinge upon a defensive end like in the inside zone.

The H-back position is unique to each coach’s scheme. Still, it gives the offensive coordinator flexibility to use the tight end like a pulling guard rather than a stationary position on the line of scrimmage.

Keep Learning

Former NFL players like Jimmy Graham, Mike Ditka, and Antonio Gates are some of the most versatile tight ends to play the game. The all time best tight end, Rob Gronkowski played tight end like a true hybrid position. All of these players had great hands and got open for their quarterback.

The modern day tight end is expected to catch passes and contribute as an extra blocker. These versatile players are often converted basketball players who act as a great route runner and offensive tackle.

If you liked learning about the tight end, don’t stop there! We have created the Beginners Guide To Football to help you improve your Football IQ!

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Why spend hours on Google and YouTube trying to learn football yourself? We’ve created a simple guide to help make you the smartest person in the room.

Learn more about positions similar to the tight end by reading the articles below.

Learn To Stem & Stack At Wide Receiver

What Is a Slot Receiver Or A Slot Corner?

How to Beat Press Coverage In Football

Why Do Wide Receivers Point At The Sideline?

Why Do Wide Receivers Wear Gloves?

The tight end position is becoming increasingly popular, creating mismatches for the defense.

Athletic tight ends are responsible for blocking as well as pass-catching. These players are unique because they can block like an offensive lineman but have the catching ability of wide receivers.

A good tight end can stress defensive coordinators to put a linebacker in the game to stop the run or force a defensive back to stop the pass. The defense will often be wrong, as spread offenses can check different plays at the line of scrimmage based on personnel.

Tight ends will continue to revolutionize the game as they become more critical to coaches’ schemes.

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.