The position of tight end has changed over the years for several reasons. First, the landscape of college football has placed a heavy emphasis on spread offenses. The tight end position is moving from the traditional in-line alignment to a flex or slot, which allows a high percentage of college teams to maximize players’ athletic skill sets and take advantage of the position in the form of multiple receiver formations.
Secondly, several years ago the NFL started to both see an influx of athletic tight ends being drafted, like the New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham (a basketball player with limited football experience in high school and just one year in college), and value the production and stress these type of athletes put on a defense, keeping coordinators on that side of the ball up game-planning late into the night.
The complete package or traditional tight end is productive as both a blocker and receiver, which I label TE. Because these tight ends don’t grow on trees, and are not being developed at the collegiate level on a consistent basis, I break down the position into three specialized categories, blocker and receiver. TEA is an athletic tight end who excels as a receiver but is inconsistent with blocking skills, with adequate in-line toughness, power and explosiveness to attack and finish. TEB is a blocking tight end who lacks natural receiving skills to release into routes, awareness in space and the ability to catch the ball outside his frame with RAC (run after catch) production, but excels as a blocker both in-line and in space. Finally, there’s the H-Bac – according to many, at least. I refer to this player as the MTE (move tight end), who aligns at the fullback position as the lead blocker in the I-formation, offset I-formation, or in flex motion to wham block or trap the unblocked defensive linemen.
All four tight end positions should be given the grade they deserve based on the skill sets they bring to the table, and placed on the draft board based on the value they bring to a club’s scheme. A special thanks goes out to the juniors who declared early for the 2013 NFL draft, too. Without them, this would be a very suspect class indeed.
Character: Off-field issues (arrests, drug abuse, assaulting women, guns, tickets, etc.).
Football Intelligence: Student of the game, film study, playbook memorization, ability to process and regurgitate information with recall.
Mental Awareness: Intelligence, ability to take hard coaching, understanding role on team and position assignments.
Leadership: Natural-born leader, locker-room guy, community involvement.
Competitiveness: A clutch player with a win-at-all-cost attitude, with a high level of intensity. He is at his best under adverse situations. He is confident in himself, and his teammates have confidence in him.
Toughness: A clutch player to consistently deliver under pressure. His ability to play both injured and hurt when the team needs him.
Production: Produce under pressure in critical situations as a runner, receiver or blocker.
Blocking: Attitude and temperament, strength/explosion; lead blocker; in-line; pass blocking; blocking on the move; toughness; aggressiveness; willingness; 3-E (eye, ear, elbow), flat back, strong UOH (use of hands), runs feet to finish, works well with offensive tackles on combination blocking, second-level blocking, effort; physical toughness; aggressiveness, balance; on the move from FBB or wing position; finish, ankle flex.
Durability: Stamina; endurance; injury history for position and the ability to play hurt.
Receiving Skills: RAC (run after catch) elusiveness; vision in open space; playmaker; catch in a crowd toughness; burst to separate from defender.
Athletic Skill Set
Start: Quickness and explosiveness, late out of stance.
Initial quickness: Initial movement out of stance, explosion.
Release: Escapability off LOS (line of scrimmage) to avoid defender.
Burst/Acceleration: Increase acceleration into route.
Speed: Playing speed in pads; one speed; long strider; gear change with acceleration; short strider; sluggish in movement.
Concentration: Courage in a crowd, across the middle; running alone; high point, diving effort.
Routes: Stride; speed and quickness in/out of cuts; sharp; round off; awareness of coverage recognition.
Separation: Quickness out of break from defender with burst; speed to run away in space.
Catching Ability: Make the tough catch, high/low, competitive, outside frame.
Ball Reaction: Find and adjust to ball in flight; track on the move.
Toughness: Ability to want and make the tough catch, mentally and physically to play in-line at a high level.
Adjustments: Physical; over shoulders; contort with body balance, jumping ability, diving effort.
Hands: Hard/soft; sure; extend arms; body or cradle catcher, snatch.
Run after Catch: Vision; burst/acceleration; playmaker; elusiveness in space; cutting, straight line, productive.
Durability: Stamina/endurance; injury history for position.
Special Teams: Coverage skills.
*Tyler Eifert Notre Dame 6’5-250 33 1/8 9 1/8 An excellent athlete with all of the positional attributes and skill set that will translate into a Blue Player his rookie season. This TEA aligns in multiple spots (twins open, wing, MTE YoYo motion wham-blocking experience, flex, slot, inline, inside 4 WO formations, inside 2×1). Good release out of stance to avoid defender in movement; creates separation in routes. Has natural receiving skills with body balance, control and ability to adjust and contort; outjumps defenders at the highest point and will get dirty to dive for balls with second effort. Eifert has soft hands to catch outside his frame with pluck, acrobatic production and is competitive to make the tough catch in a crowd. He is a premium playmaker in the red zone, as well. Overall speed is good, not great. Good RAC (run after catch) skills flashed an elusiveness to hit and spin with feet, so as to plant and cut in tight and open space. This playmaker creates mismatches in coverage and applies a lot of pressure on a secondary. Smooth in movement and runs a good route tree (seam, stop, skinny post, post, corner, fade, dig) that will only receive refinement through NFL coaching. Inline blocker to combine with OT. Initial quickness out of stance to collision is not explosive; has good positioning, but feet die and slides off defenders to ground too often. Will need more consistent technique and finish at next level, though willingness and temperament are in place. First-round pick/Top 20 player.
Vance McDonald Rice 6’4-269 34 3/8 10 1/8 This TEA has excellent size, length and athletic ability. Aligns in multiple spots (wing, slot, inside 3×1 & 2×1, inline, offset back, flex) with good overall production. He is used in the run game on reverses and direct hand-offs, which is very impressive considering his size. McDonald has natural receiving skills, soft hands to catch outside his frame with good RAC (run after catch) production and YAC (yards after contact) production, body balance and control to drop pad level, plus a collision finish to break arm tackles. Good toughness, FBI (football instincts) and awareness to make catches in a crowd. Runs a good route tree that will further develop with NFL tutelage (out, bubble screen, swing, post, dig, stick, corner). Did see concentration drops on films viewed; will need to shore up that part of his game. Good ball protection. Nice feet, cutting ability to make defenders miss in tight and open space, with burst to finish and a nose for goal line. Good speed and run skills with vision on reverses. Willing blocker from slot with temperament; flashed nasty with UOH (use of hands) to lock and drive defender until the whistle. Good collision, inline blocker to combine with OT, as well as movement to second level to locate and attack target with double arm bar and production. This 270-pound TEA moves as if he weighs 250 pounds, and the natural movement skills are downright enticing. He is still raw – but has huge upside, qualifying as a diamond in the rough. First-round talent, second-round pick.
*Zach Ertz Stanford 6’5-249 31 3/4 9 3/4 This TEA has good size despite short arms. Ertz aligns in multiple positions in several formations (2×1, 3×1 inside, slot, X, wing, inside 2×2, inside in trips open, inline). A short stepper in movement, he does have natural body balance and control to contort and adjust body in the air, competing at highest point with receiving skills to catch outside his frame with snatch and one-hand pluck. Can avoid defender out of stance, and is smooth in routes with awareness and FBI (football Instincts); creates separation with good route running and cutting ability. Runs nice route tree (post, out, checkdown, seam, dig, skinny post). I did see a few concentration drops, despite his possessing soft hands to catch outside frame with diving effort. Is tough and competes as an inline blocker with step collision; UOH to grab and steer with pop and drive finish. In short-yardage blocking, Ertz will launch and whiff out of stance. The temperament and competitiveness is in place for next level for this competitive and tough receiver, who produces in the red zone and in traffic. First-round talent, second-round pick.
*Jordan Reed Florida 6’2-236 33 10 Good athlete with natural movement skills. Has short-area burst with buildup acceleration. This TEA is not challenged on route release. Boasts natural receiving skills and route running ability to create separation from defender in tight and open space. Route tree knowledge will expand with NFL coaching (screens, dig, out, seam, checkdown). Soft hands to catch outside frame, and will get dirty to dive for balls. Good RAC (run after catch) skills with YAC (yards after contact) production to break arm tackles. Will need technique work on ball protection; waves outside frame when regaining balance or jumping over defenders. Inline blocker to combo and sift to second level; locates and attacks target with single and double arm bar production, but needs more consistent finish. Is competitive, but not a dominant inline blocker; will waste bend, lunge and chase defender. He is often pulled and jerked off balance due to his narrow base and upright positioning, and needs to show more consistent explosive play and finish. Second-round talent.
*Gavin Escobar San Diego State 6’6-254 33 5/8 9 3/4 Good athlete with smooth and natural movement skills, body balance and control, and the frame to add bulk. Has natural receiving skills to track over-the-shoulder receptions; can leap and adjust to outjump defender with soft hands and natural movement skill set. Demonstrates good concentration in traffic, and will get dirty to dive for balls. Good route runner (screen, out, dig, seam, fade). Good vision in space with RAC (run after catch) production and nose for end zone; limited overall playing speed. Inline blocker who will need further strength and explosion through weight room development. A blocker to wall and position, with adequate UOH (use of hands) to steer defender; competitive, not dominant or explosive. Is pulled and jerked off balance too frequently, and needs wider base and better knee bend and anchor; pad level rises as defender punches breast plate too often. Escobar is a raw, albeit talented, player with good upside. Second-round talent.
Others to Watch
Travis Kelce Cincinnati TEA
Levine Toilolo Stanford TEB
Michael Williams Alabama TEB
Dion Sims Michigan State TEB