Scouting Quarterbacks: read what the NFL is looking at

In this NFL Scouting series, we will cover each position group. The first will be scouting quarterbacks. In the real report I used, there was pictures of the quarterback in various movements, with comments about each. In order to keep anonymity for the Scout, I’m only using the words, no photos of the QB the below, or the handwritten notes used.

What’s fascinating about about the two page report is how detailed it is. When scouting quarterbacks, not only do they put together these analysts, but visit games, watch film, analyze them at the combine, any bowls and often host them at their facilities.

They break down film, have them do whiteboard work, talk to coaches, etc. Choosing a quarterback isn’t usually some whim, it’s a long process based on reports like below. The actual one below is based on, had photos showing:

  • stride
  • hit & throw
  • weight transfer
  • low take-away
  • ball sails position
  • level throw
  • throwing plane
  • ball carry during drop & pocket movement (*compact/2 hands on ball)
  • frame throws: shoulders, hips, lead leg aligned w target
  • slightly flexed front leg
  • high extended over the top release
  • daylight in the grip+adequate hand size
  • compact lead arm
  • hip torque
  • accuracy on the move

There were lines often on the photos showing the above notations.

After the snap how was his:

  • pocket awareness
  • vision
  • locate 2nd WR
  • force into coverage, release quickness
  • arm strength
  • quick/compact vs elongated
  • smooth fluid vs jerky
  • anticipation
  • short stroke
  • change release point
  • technician in mechanics
  • accuracy, short & long
  • touch
  • grip
  • resets quickly
  • balance
  • throws on the run
  • pocket mobility
  • lateral pocket movement
  • weight transfer
  • stride (short =2″-6″)

There’s more that they look at pre-snap.

  • leadership
  • poise
  • judgement
  • defense recognition
  • pre-snap reads
  • primary/secondary WRs
  • blitz recognition
  • audibles
  • who call pro?
  • redirect protections
  • respect for the football

In the pocket:

  • feel for rush
  • pocket use
  • slide/step up
  • strength in pocket
  • make 1st rusher miss
  • temperament
  • squirrelly in the pocket

We’re not done yet on scouting quarterbacks. More items they look for:

  • catchable ball
  • make WR adjust
  • throw away from coverage
  • drive ball into tight coverage
  • hit WR in stride
  • trajectory
  • TOUCH: throwing angles
  • velocity
  • improvisation
  • finds passing lanes
  • trusts his arm
  • leadership-ability to command
  • voice inflection
  • knowledge of the game
  • game manager
  • clock management

Grades on these types of throws:

  • go
  • seam
  • shallow cross
  • dig
  • out
  • deep out
  • comeback
  • quick slant
  • bubble screen
  • check down

Here are the types of notes that can be made when scouting quarterback:

  • Touch, but power on his 8 cut through traffic. Elusive, quick, nice touch on the run. Eyes downfield on scramble. Power runner, looks for contact. Tough kid that’s quick. Very accurate on the run. Don’t know about pocket awareness. Gets to 2nd level well. Tough player. Needs to get stronger. Eyes downfield on scramble.
  • Steps up nicely in the pocket. Elusive. Big arm. Puts ball where only his guys can catch it. Gets away with some high school dare balls.
  • Bullet for arm. A little too reliant on arm strength. Throws off back foot sometimes. Confident. His highlights are based most off of 4 vert concepts. Quick feet. Can buy time on the move. Ball comes out high. Nice 3 ball. Stands tall and delivers strikes. Uses frame well. Drops ball well into coverage.
  • Long motion. Electric. Nice job looking off safeties. Would like to see more reads/routes, but system doesn’t seem to allow for it. Further evaluation needed. Athletic enough to play in both a pro and spread offense.

There you have it, what scouts look at, the type of items they look for and some notes they’ll make. Obviously, the bulleted items above will have numbers or notes and on their QB eval sheet will have many hand scribbled notes.

Offensive Line: power vs zone – Football 101/201

Offensive Line: power vs zone. We’ve “talked” often about power gap and zone block offensive lines, but this article will go deeper.

Quick history lesson. The Denver Broncos introduced the ZBS to the NFL back in 1997 with Alex Gibbs. It’s all about the run, the quarterback is the ultimate game manager, hand the ball off and throw enough to keep defenses honest. Instead of the OL worrying about who to block, they just defend their zone. Tandems double team to create space for a back to run through.
This changed the type of offensive linemen teams wanted from big mammoths to smaller more agile guys. While most OL can play both, most teams draft/sign players to be one or the other.

This part will cover Offensive Line: power vs zone as Football 101

Power guys use their feet to plant and push power up and out is the simplest way to explain it. Sumo wrestlers whose motion is more north/south. 5 guys making a wall, worrying about protecting their gap and/or focusing on a particular player.They are made to protect the quarterback.

Whereas, Zone guys need quick feet because they often move laterally. They need to slide sideways while blocking, often hip to hip with their partner. Run-first teams want to push the DL in one direction while the RB goes the other OR the RB runs laterally behind the line and then cuts through a gap.

This changes the responsibility of the guards. He isn’t pulling for the RB because everyone is. While the line is moving in one direction, they can ignore blocking the guy farthest away from the play. This gives them the ability to also use tight ends efficiently. Does he block or catch?

Zone block scheme is dependent on a running back having great vision

When a lineman changes the torque on how he uses his body, some players will obviously be better than others at certain movements. Also, in zone, OL team up in duos, so communication is vital, they’re two guys taking on two.

Play action works great with this because a team doesn’t know if the QB is dropping back to hand off or throw. Also, ZBS lines don’t need to block long. The QB takes the snap, hands it off or often throws on the move behind the sliding line.
If the line makes a pocket for a pass, it’s more than likely going to break down quickly because they’re not made to block for 3-5 seconds. Hence quick passes are the name of the game.

Teams who throw 70% get their runs because teams back up to cover the pass and the back should have easy yards. No loaded box, it’s the element of surprise. Since these teams are built for passing, the pocket needs to hold so WRs can get depth and/or shake their defender.

The above is Football 101, it’s a simple explanation. Most sentences can have “usually” or “typically” slipped in it because there are all kinds of variances, but this is about teaching the basics.

This part is more Football 201 on Offensive Line: power vs zone

Below is more in-depth, but to understand it, you need to know the above. The reason we’re going into this is because I’m interested to see if the Jags use more or less ZBS based on how Blake Bortles and Fournette do.

Center or guard in a zone scheme
The center must be one of the smartest players on the field.  The point of using an inside zone run or an outside zone run is to get 4 hands on the defensive lineman, and 4 eyes on the linebacker. If the play is coming to his right, and the C has nobody on him (4-3 scheme), he knows he needs to work with the Right Guard.

This tandem will take the defensive lineman who’s lined up over the guard and the inside linebacker.  Neither knows which one is going to block yet, so at the snap they drive block the defensive lineman. If the ILB shows up in the A Gap, the Center should disengage from the defensive lineman and block that ILB.

If the ILB shows up in the B Gap, the guard will now disengage and block the ILB, while the Center stays on the DL. For this block to be effective, it is IMPERATIVE they 4 hands on the defensive lineman and 4 eyes on the ILB.  If they lose track of the ILB he will make the play.

Tackle in a zone scheme

A Backside Tackle (Left Tackle when the play is scheduled to go right) in a zone scheme, needs to be able to move his feet.  If he can’t help the backside Guard and climb up to the WLB, the line is in trouble. He must protect that B Gap while climbing the ladder to the WLB.

If done correctly, the RB has the ability to press the hole to his right, and if he sees a line, bend it back to the left.  It’s not a cutback as much as the defense is overloaded the right side. If he can get that backside blocked up well, there will be a natural lane to the left for the RB to use if he so chooses.

The Playside Tackle, depending on the front (in this instance, lets put a 5 Technique over him), has to work with the TE to block the DE and SLB.  Many times the TE Will end up climbing the ladder to the SLB, but this still needs to be a 4 hands on the DL, 4 eyes on the SLB.

This position requires toughness and the athletic ability to block strong and fast 5 techniques (read here about DL techniques) and not get pushed back.  It may be the hardest lineman to find, athletic enough to move your feet, and strong enough to take on a strong bull rush.

The whole genesis of the zone run scheme was to block 3 Defensive Lineman and 3 Linebackers with 5 Offensive Lineman and Tight End. Refuse to block the backside Defensive End, because he has contain and spill responsibilities. If he’s making the tackle, he needs to be running naked boots to his side as he’s getting way too nosy in the run game.

By putting 4 hands on the Defensive Lineman, they’ve given themselves the ability to not need 5 guys who weigh in at 315 pounds and can bench press a cow. Substitute some brute strength for a little more athletic ability.  6’6’’ 315 pound lineman who can bend and move and strike like a Pro Bowl caliber player are rare.

With the influx of collegiate talent coming in that are used to running more and more zone schemes, the NFL has diversified and put a lot of zone schemes right next to their G schemes. They’re running both which is one more thing for defensive coordinators stay up late at night to figure out what’s coming at them and when it’s gonna come. Good ones figure it out.
Offensive Line: power vs zone
Offensive Line: power vs zone

NFL Scouts: read what they look for in Offensive Linemen

Nfl scouting offensive linemen

In this NFL Scouting series, we will cover each position group, giving you a glimpse into what NFL franchises look for. In the real report I used, there are pictures of the player(s) in various movements, with comments about each. In order to keep anonymity for the Scout, I’m only using the words, no photos, or the handwritten notes used. Scouting offensive linemen gives you a glimpse into what happens in their world.

Unlike the QB report, this is one page, but there’s less to analyze with this position group than the guys under center. Even so, when scouting offensive linemen, not only do they put together these analyses, but visit games, watch film, analyze them at the combine, any bowls and often host them at their facilities.

While there was less to cover, they still went in-depth and beyond what the average fan would consider. Scouting offensive linemen gives the reader a chance to see inside the minds of what NFL general managers are looking for. Hopefully, this will help you watch the game with more detail and talk with knowledge.
They break down film, have them do whiteboard work, talk to coaches, etc. The actual report below is based on a player, had photos showing:

  • punch & let feet work vs grab & let feet recover
  • create/generate movement of LOS
  • uses good angles
  • contact balance/sustainability 
  • technically sound
  • on the ground?
  • can he drop hips/weight & anchor
  • positional leverage
  • sink weight (vs bull)

The report also had notes on all of the following:

Technique

  1. set
  2. punch
  3. mirror
  4. recover

Movement

  • 2nd level adjust
  • 2nd level engage/sustain
  • pull on a track (and adjust)
  • pull & trap
  • pull & lead around corner
  • pull & flip hips to seal short
  • lateral slide
  • response to counter move
  • cut blocker in space
  • linear footspeed
  • initial quickness to get position
  • best in 1st steps?
  • inside redirect
  • adjust when coming off doubles
  • slide adjust
  • short area quickness

Style

  • mauler
  • road grader
  • quick boxer
  • swing player (multiple positions)
  • short area (limited ability in space)
  • wide grabber/clamper
  • positional blocker
  • space athlete
  • drive blocker

How does he handle upfield speed? Can he sink & stop the Bull?
6’7″ or able = shows up in throwing lanes for QB
Get pulled on the edge, short arms?
This list was on a player (yes, in the NFL). There’s a lot of good, but some bad.

  • awareness (stunt/blitz)
  • ducks head
  • pad level good
  • gets overextended
  • top heavy
  • late to extend arms
  • explosion
  • sustain (on 1st contact)
  • short jab/arm extensions in pass pro
  • arms to leverage
  • pump arms in pass pro? (compressing for feet)
  • Hip sink/hip explosion
  • rolls hips on contact
  • hands (discipline)
  • placement/patience/timing/reset
  • works to re-position
  • heavy hands
  • active hands
  • punch
  • wide base/narrow base
  • lower body tightness
  • light in ass
  • knee bender vs waist bender
  • base strength/leverage
  • initial quickness
  • movement off ball
  • ankle bend
  • overset
  • heavy feet
  • linear foot speed

Scouting offensive linemen notes on several players:

OT-Like his punch. Very athletic. Gets to 2nd and 3rd level with ease. Almost too anxious in screen game. Nasty in drive blocks. Stays on his feet decently. Questionable leg strength. He’s beating inferior players.
G-Explosive and gets to 2nd level well. On the ground a lot. Not overly athletic. Stands tall in his pass block and doesn’t use his hands very well.
T-Athletic big man. Gets to second level well. For a big guy, has low center of gravity. Finishes blocks. Needs to work pass pro hand usage. Has some issues blocking in space. Wide body. Question leg strength. Not a road grinder.
G-Punisher on run blocks. Athletic enough on pass sets. Gets to 2nd level pretty well. Needs to lower set. Kinds gives a runway to mediocre pass rushers. Tips the play off with his stance.
What we have in all this is notes from several players, a kind of cheat sheet of what they look for and in the top section, an actual player. Hope this gives you more knowledge in watching training camps so you can see why some guys don’t make your team.

Any questions your can comment way down below. Or send a DM to @the_teal_zone. Thanks for reading.

Run-Pass Option-Learn about RPOs: Football 101

I was asked about the emergence of the Run-Pass Option (RPO) with 21st century QB’s. Until very recently, we rarely heard about the RPO in the pros except for when Aaron Rodgers would do it in Green Bay or Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

I’d say the #1 reason we haven’t seen them much until recently has a lot to do with coaches. Run-Pass OPTION gives the QB a lot of power because he’s deciding where the ball will go, not always the coach. In read-options the QB hands the ball off or keeps it, either way, it’s a run. In play action, the QB fakes a hand-off for a run, but throws because it’s a pass play. Neither has the choice to run or pass.

Typically, in RPO there will be three options: the QB gives the ball to the RB, or he keeps it himself, or he picks one of two throws to make. This means the coach has no clue what’s going to happen until he sees the play unfold. Same for the team. Power given up.

RPO’s are practiced, they’re not like a QB sneak or he runs because it’s a busted play and he’s running for his life. RPO’s are in a team’s playbook, part of their offense. Which is why when teams use them, it’s not a one time occasion.

To make this simple, they work when a defender has both run and pass responsibilities (usually a MLB or safety). The quarterback reads what that guy decides to do; cover the pass or run, and then the QB does the opposite. This is a cat and mouse: see zone, pass, see man, run.

It’s vital the QB and RB give the same look no matter what. No tells. That’s also crucial. If either give a sign before the snap or right after they’re going to run or pass, then that LB/S cuts off the play. This works best when the receivers are spread out three wide, etc. The QB receives the ball, he sees that defender’s movement and makes a split decision. Until he does, that RB has to act like he’s getting the ball.

Can’t say this enough: While you need a good offense to pull run-pass options off, this is about the defense being fooled.

For a while, GB was really the only team that had a modern twist on the WCO because they had Eddie Lacy and Jordie Nelson. One-two punch. Suck up for the run, Rodgers throws a 40 yard bomb. Stay back because you think he’s going to pass and he runs. They were built for the RPO. Able to play WCO and a spread, plus a QB who could do it all with weapons teams feared.

When Rodgers was first doing these, he often kept the ball himself because that is an option in this. However, as time went on, coaches saw that the same principle that allowed a QB to keep the ball worked for his back, too. So, why sacrifice your QB four, five times a game when you can let your back do it?

If he runs, the QB is going up the gooch. The OL blocks for a run no matter what the QB does. That’s crucial. That helps the QB if he throws because the defense is caught off guard thinking it’s a run play. However, this is the NFL, their off-guard lasts a second, so no matter what, the QB needs to dump the ball quickly.

Why are we seeing more of these? I’m no expert, but it’s young guys coming from college systems where they often ran these. They’re used to doing them and…going to say young, again because what happens after you run the ball? In college, the QB often is the one who runs after reading the defense.

Some coaches are smart and use college plays/schemes to help their new signal callers to make the jump. The thing is, often these plays work. If you’re a QB who came from a spread system where you threw a lot and do the same in the NFL, the defense is going to back up. Run-pass options are based on getting defenses to keep an even number on the line, so you can run the ball. If they don’t believe you will or can throw deep, then it makes it a lot tougher to use RPO’s.

Will we see Bortles do them this season? Yes, he did them this pre-season. Teams have to fear the run (and should fear the QB could run, too), plus that RB needs to get out the way the instant he realizes he’s not getting the ball, sounds simple but it requires him to know where he’s out of the way.

As far as the coaching side, Nate Hackett is a fairly open guy, he seems like he’d have no problem allowing Bortles to do this.

Remember, the run-pass option is about the QB deciding where the ball will go and defenses being tricked into thinking it’s one thing and he does another. If the defense doesn’t think they have to worry about your run game or passing game, RPO’s become useless because the defense will force you into your weakness.

Two gap vs a one gap formation – Football 201

This is 201 because I’m not going to explain certain terms, concepts, etc that were covered in 101 articles so this can be kept shorter. At the bottom of everything, is having the right talent to fit what you want to accomplish.

Jack Del Rio couldn’t do much in his 4-3 scheme because he didn’t use them in the best way for their talent. Which leads us to Wade Phillip’s and Bill Belichick’s “new” gap defense. Which really isn’t new, because it’s about giving offenses the same old school look, but slanting a DL into the 1 gap.

Technique Numbers

Football is ALL about disguises. A 1 gap formation is dependent on this.

It can look like a traditional 34; however, often five guys are used on the line. Why? Math. Three players having to attack two gaps against five guys defending them. It’s really tough to find three players all with the same talent to truly take on double teams. So, the solution? Make a hybrid system that uses the best of the 34 (four linebackers able to wreak havoc on QB’s and RB’s), but use one (or more) to shoot the gap.

How you blitz/rush is all about the outside guys. A 7 or 9 Technique guy-Sam or “Elephant”. 

I saw this term for the best edge rusher on the team and it fits. They’re big, fast, scary, mean and don’t forget…they’ll gore you. Not sure if this is why he used elephant, but I’m saying it is :).

A 1 gap defense is about showing seven and the offense guesses where they were going because they all have dual talents. This odd man line-up leaves QB’s (and OL) guessing if they are seeing a two or one gap. The drawback is stopping the run. Often the 5 techs are very good at taking on double teams and getting to the passer, but stopping speedy backs coming up the middle, not so much.

This is where ILB’s are supposed to help out. If a team is weak there, safeties will need to creep up into the box and lower the boom.

Teams who have the 5 tech guy who can play like a Sam and be the bookend to the elephant can play 1 gap. Equaling lots of QB’s on their asses.

Identifying Mike: Football 101

We’ve all seen quarterbacks gesturing wildly at the line of scrimmage, or directing guys to move around. Many fans believe the quarterback is changing the play; however, more times than not, he’s identifying MIKE. He wants a defense to tip their hand based on what he and his offense does.

What is the Mike?

He’s often an inside linebacker, but also the indicator of the scheme the offensive line should use to block. There are two types of inside (middle) linebackers (ILB). Will (weak side) and Mike (middle). It’s confusing, but it’s about the role one fills during a play. There’s also a Sam (strong side LB) who is typically an outside LB, but can line up anywhere. In a 3-4, there’s also a 4th linebacker, the Edge Rusher.

What’s to remember is just because a LB is labeled W, M, S or ER, doesn’t mean that’s where or how he always plays.

There is a double reason in identifying Mike. First, the QB wants the OL to have an even match-up. Offenses don’t want the defense sending four guys to the right of center and they only have two men to block them. If he sees this, he will call out the LB’s number further to his right. That’s who the center and line should change their gap assignments for, or at least keep their eyes on.

Identifying Mike changes the gap assignments and the protection.

offensive line gaps
Secondly, what’s the #1 rule in offense? Protect the QB. It doesn’t matter if it’s a run play because someone, like a Calais Campbell, could get to the QB in a shotgun position before he can hand it off to the RB. Not just him, the whole line could blitz and the RB is getting slammed, too.

In a typical one back set (see diagram below), the offense will want to give the same look, so defenses don’t know if it’s a run or pass play. The defense is also trying to disguise where they’re sending pressure from. They don’t want to tip their hand who has what assignment. QB’s will often try to assess this by letting the play clock run down hoping the LB or safety will move or give a “tell” so he knows what the protection should be.

Let’s say the SS (Strong Safety) is creeping up. The QB (or OL) determines that it’s actually the S who’s Mike. This lets the OL know what gap to fill, also the TE and RB because that’s where the any blitz/rush may come from. As was covered in two separate pieces on one vs two gaps and over/under, it’s all about disguises.

The Center, RG and RT will aim right and the C may line up across from the DT instead of the NT, or shade him. Of course, he could stay put and the tandem of G/T slides instead. The bottom line is the OL now knows who could be coming through and which guys they need to block.

defensive line techniques
will is mike
In the hypothetical play above, there really isn’t a weak side because the field is balanced. The defense decides to play their Will on the TE side because they think the Y is a dummy, or he’s there to help block the Edge. The QB also decides the W is Mike because pre-snap he sees the SS creeping up, plus the LCB is playing press.

While CBs don’t often sack the QB, they can’t be discounted playing at the line of scrimmage, so he determines between the safety and the CB, he needs more protection from that side. Hence, the Will is Mike.

Once he’s identified, the QB yells out his number (LBs #’s are in the 50’s), so you’ll hear, 56 is Mike, 56 Mike. The OL changes its gap coverage so the C is lined up across from the Mike, not the NT making it 5v5. Or not.

That’s the funny thing about football. The Center could stay put, but keep his eyes on the Mike as needed while the G and T move over. He then moves where he’s needed. He could also call one protection, realize after the snap, he was wrong and swap. What’s key is the OL knowing where to look and who to block.

The story doesn’t end there though because defenses could have a LB act as if he’s Mike, but once the ball is snapped, they change responsibilities.

With rookies or first time starters, teams like to confuse the QB by doing the above. He’s only seen a “look” from this year or the last on film, so they will show him one they haven’t used. If there’s an OL or RB who hasn’t been around for a while, they won’t be able to tell him.

Yes, O-linemen can and do change plays based on protection, provided the coach has given them that responsibility. The Jags have a few veterans and with a former O-linemen as a HC, he no doubt allows it.

Based on his pre-snap read, and the play that’s been called, he or the OL, could yell kill, kill and the play is changed to Plan B. Every snap has a back-up play if this occurs. Most often it goes to a run if there’s a back. However, some QBs will yell kill, but they didn’t really. This can get a defense to relax or prepare for a run and the QB passes.

Football is ALL about disguises, stunts, fake-outs

 In summary, a good QB and his trusty wingmen, will diagnose the protection correctly by identifying Mike and he lives to see another day.

 

Tight Ends-big engines that drive offensive trains:Football 101

Tight Ends are my weakness. You can have the quarterback, give me a Y-ISO and I’m weak in the knees. They block for quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Plus, they run routes and provide a security blanket for the QB, too. They’re the perfect football player who does the most of any position group. The Jack of All Trades.

Good ones disrupt defenses and change formations because they key around where the TE is. He gives the SAM a job, he takes away one or two players because they don’t know if he’s blocking or running a route. If a team has an Y-ISO player like Travis Kelce or Rob Gronkowski, defenses plan as much around them as they do the quarterback.

If it’s trips left and the tight end is split out right, who do you cover?

Most TE’s are a catcher or blocker. If a team can have two good TE’s, their offense is going to kick some serious booty. 12 personnel is a real threat; teams are using this more because it lessens the need for three killer wide receivers. Not to mention, if one of those guys is a real threat, the run game is helped. Play action, RPO’s, you name it.

When defenses double team this big guy, it leaves an open receiver downfield for a bomb.

Some break the TE position into three groups. The “Y,” the “F” and the “U”. The TE position has 100% evolved (thanks to Don Coryell).  Now we have a few different types of TE’s, and typically a team has different bodies for the different tight end types.

TE (Y) Position – the Knight

He’s the big boy, the blocker more than catcher. Everybody reading this has heard the saying, “The running game is the QB’s best friend”, right? If the running game is his best friend that drinks with him, the TE is the one who picks them both up when they’re leaving the bar.

Y’s line up next to the tackle, predominately on the right side (making it the strong side). That’s a good way to know what type he is: where he most often lines up and how often he gets the ball.

F or H Tight End – the Queen

He’s usually smaller than the big 6’6″ 260 Y, the F/H are more in the 6’3-4″ range. Too big for a wide receiver, but acts like one. He’ll block, but he’s not great at it. However, there’s always exceptions, when Julius Thomas was in Denver he was a ball catching fool and he was 6’5″, right on the edge.

These Tight ends will often line up farther out and are red zone threats. In your mind’s eye, think of a guy like Jimmy Graham or Trey Burton. They don’t really want to be an inline Tight End. They will stand in as a blocking threat, but lack of strength is going to mean they won’t be taking on 5 Techniques alone….think of them as more of a chipper, like a running back.

What the Queen TE lacks in run blocking ability, he absolutely makes up for it in the ability to create mismatches on the perimeter. This TE will now become a massive headache to Defensive Coordinators.

How do defenses treat him? Nickel? Base? Big Nickel? TE’s like Graham make the DC start to really think that if he’s out there and it’s 11 personnel, at the very least they’re going to need to line up in Big Nickel Defense. How does this affect the running game? Doing that takes the run stoppers out of the game to go to a smaller package.

Instead of blocking with sheer brawn and numbers, they block with space. A Queen TE is too big for a CB or FS to line up on and jam, and is far too fast to let a LB handle him in coverage. This position is about versatility, both schematically and personnel grouping-wise.

U are the one for me – the King

U’s, Y-ISO, Kings, call them what you want, but think about a guy like Travis Kelce today or Shannon Sharpe from yesteryear. He is more than a willing to be a blocker in both the zone and G run schemes, is willing to stay in to protect in base protection schemes, but also has the ability to line up displaced from the LOS and be effective in space as a route runner.

He will run some vertical clearing routes, such as the dig, the over and the vertical seam route (all routes run to death in the WCO).

Kings have the ability to help block a 5 technique with the Tackle and can seal the edge on a 7 technique. King TE’s don’t need to be 40 fast because he is a QB’s security blanket in the pass game. Quick (different from fast) and strong in the box. He needs to be able to beat the SLB in man coverage.

This is why older king TE’s are so valuable. What they lack in physical prowess, they make up for in understanding tactics and nuance. If he sees the SLB taking away the inside of his vertical curl route, he’ll break it outside to where the defense isn’t. The value of having a strong and savvy King TE cannot be overstated.

A healthy Gronk is the Mack Daddy of the Kings, ruler of the world. He is more than a willing blocker in the run game, but there isn’t a thing he can’t do in the pass game.
He can run screens, he can run every route on both the TE tree and most of the routes on the WR tree.  He is the ultimate offensive fail-safe. He’s impossible to both scheme against and also match up against. He drives opposing defensive staffs insane trying to figure out how they want to play the matchups.

Most teams carry both a King and a Queen TE. It’s now en vogue to bring both of them out and line up in 12 personnel, and use the Queen as a 3rd WR. That is the ultimate “screw you” personnel group that an offense can throw at a defense. It causes a lot of DC’s to stick in their base defense, or find a way to get into big Nickel (but that 3rd safety better be Honey Badger-like, otherwise it’s 10 on 11).

Having multiple tight end types helps all offensives

In the ever-changing chess match between opposing offensive and defensive coordinators, the 12 personnel (King/Queen TE) vs. Base/Nickel/Big Nickel is a fascinating match to watch.

Why use four receivers if you’ve got two good TE’s? I’d live in the 12 personnel, make it my base offense, especially in a WCO run-first scheme. You’re killing three birds with one stone. Or five with two. Want to see winning teams? Follow the tight end stats. Let’s all hope Jacksonville has its King and Queen and a Knight, too.
tight end types
tight end types
tight end types