How Are Tight Ends in Such High Demand, But So Few Great Ones Exist?

One of the largest game-changers in the game of football is a dynamic player regardless of the position. A dynamic player elevates the play of the whole team because of their ability to compensate if someone else were to forget their assignment. While each position essentially really only has one purpose, the tight-end position is one of the most dynamic positions in the entire game, accounting for lead blocks and blocking an extra defensive lineman, becoming a receiving threat, or even a checkdown safety blanket. With the consistently mentioned “all-star” receivers, quarterbacks and multitude of other positions, why is it that the tight-end position has a shallow discussion of who’s considered a top player? As we tackle this question, we’ll be factoring in the complexity of the position and the scouting factors that come into play when trying to draft the next big thing.

The position of tight end comes with a multitude of responsibilities. A miscommunication with the quarterback, offensive line, running back could mean a sack, loss of down, or a key first down conversion. The complexity of the position really only comes in and becomes noticeable when you observe the duality of the position. Blocking as part of the offensive line, playing as a receiver, becoming a checkdown, or running a route and blocking downfield. Unlike other positions on the field, the tight end position requests a lot from a player to maximize their production. A lot of the above-average tight ends on the field primarily only specialize in a single part of their game. A “glorified receiver” is a common tag slapped on these tight ends. Looking at the physical aspect of the position, the build of a tight end has to be able to become a strong blocker if a play calls for extra protection, and also has to be fast enough to gain separation from a cornerback or linebackers. And as the league shifts more into linebackers who are able to run 4.4s-4.5s, the demand for a tight end just grows tougher every time.

An example of this occurring, even to a top-5 pick who has done more than enough to prove himself, is Kyle Pitts. The tight end from Florida drafted in the Atlanta Falcons has put up more than enough numbers to solidify himself being this great pick. However, some analysts have stated that his blocking might not hold up in an NFL-type offense.

The scouting aspect of a tight end is based off of the responsibilities they are asked from in a college-style offense. From what we’ve seen from the great tight ends of this era, a lot of the great ones go unnoticed because of their responsibilities. A receiving tight end could drop because they didn’t have much blocking on their college tape. A blocking tight end could drop because they didn’t have many receptions on their college tape. What I’ve noticed about the draft in the time I’ve been watching the NFL, is that teams focus a lot on the physicals. While the physical nature of a player is pretty much permanent in the eyes of a GM, their responsibilities, game knowledge, and play style could still be altered into an NFL-caliber standard.

The tight end position goes unnoticed except for the consistent Top-5 well known tight ends of a season. However, the reason behind this is quite simple when it boils down to it. Complexity of the position in relation to a college rookie. Along with other cerebral positions, the tight end goes under the radar being one of the hardest positions on the offense to learn. Combining the complex scheme of run-blocking and pass-blocking and a wide-receiver route combination, some tight ends in college might not even really translate into an NFL-offense. 

However, as the game grows more friendly towards receiving tight-ends who can create a mismatch nightmare between them and linebackers who forgot to account for coverage, we could see more tight ends in the future becoming more pass-oriented, as opposed to the old-fashioned, blocking tight end.