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

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