Analyzing Tight Ends--An Extension of MHR University

As Denver moves forward in free agency and the draft they will likely be looking for some long-term developmental prospects at the TE position, but one thing about lining up off-tackle; it takes a rare combination of size, speed and power to be an all-around TE.

TEs generally get divided up into "blocking" TEs, and "receiving" TEs, but this is something of a misnomer.  ALL TEs who are worthy of the title of Tight End have to be good blockers.  It is simply too important to the method of usage, and TEs who don't eventually get their blocking skills up to an acceptable level tend to find themselves out of work.

Denver has had the privilege of watching the development of one of the all-time-best TEs in Shannon Sharpe, and then we got to see just how different two TEs can be with Graham and Schefller splitting time in the starting lineup.  Let's take a look below at what characteristics are at the heart of the division between the two players, and what kinds of qualities merge the two ideas together in a single prospect.

RUNNING GAME

Executing one-on-one blocks

What you are grading specifically here is how well the TE can go head-to-head with a DE.  Does he hold his ground?  Can he keep up to the outside?  Great blocking TEs can consistently hold ground against DEs.

Executing Double-Teams

He should know how to work well in tandem to block a player.  TEs are routinely called upon to read whether or not to double-team a player, so watch for familiarity and recognition of what type of block to execute.  He should never engage high-low with a block already in progress, and these are not always called, so watch for them.  His feet should mirror those of his linemates, adjusting on the move when necessary.

Down-Blocking

You are looking for a combination of agility and quickness here.  Good, quick feet, solid hand work, awareness and recognition should allow the player to consistently execute downblocks and stay with the flow of the line.

Coming off the Line

Just like an offensive lineman, you want to see his pads low and his back level.  Watch out for stiff TEs who need to bend at the waist.  They should always be bending at the knees.

Walling off Defender

Quick feet and good upper body strength should allow a player to get under the defender's pads and get turned parallel to the running lane.  TEs can't be expected to drive too many D-Linemen back for long, so turning the defender out of the play is a critical skill.

Sustain Blocks

More than anything this comes down to brute strength and bulk, but players with good lateral quickness can also maintain their blocks longer, by staying with the defender as they turn them away.

PASSING GAME

Release

This first step off the line should be fast and explosive, just like a WR.  It is part anticipation and part strength, but a TE needs to execute it VERY consistently.  Without this first step a TE will quickly get caught up in garbage around the line and his role in the play will be nullified.

Initial Route-Running

The first few steps of a TEs routes are the most critical.  They tend to take place within high traffic and the player should be able to consistently maintain his bearing and stride even when LBs and DBs get their hands into him.  Delays are critical to TEs and their routes are often designed to pressure the early coverage decisions through the middle of the defense (ILB, SLB, SS), so a TE needs to use his upper-body strength to maintain separation from defenders and be willing to fight for his routes.

Extended Route Running

These qualities mirror the same qualities of a WR.  From the WR report:

Watch the route to see if it stands out clearly as a specific type of route.  The closer it conforms to its ideal, the "crisper" it is said to be, and the more effective it will be.  We'll look at what most of those particular shapes can be in the route sections.  The receiver should maintain balance and body control throughout the route, which will increase his ability to ad-lib and make micro-adjustments to the play.  The Cut should be sudden and should redirect with power.  This means setting the plant foot solidly and turning at the hips to encourage the change in momentum.

Routes at Different Depths

 Here again reference to the WRs chart is relevant:

Make a note of the route depth and the type of coverage the player faces, whether press or off-coverage.  Most depths can be described as short, medium and long,with short being around 5 yards, medium around 10 and long 15 yards or more, but this varies greatly depending on the coverage.  If a player is in press, note whether he is held up, and if so, the route should generally break off sooner than the intended depth.  So a short out-pattern in press may need to break off at 3 yards instead of five in order for the timing to stay on.  These are all general observations, and mistakes are easier to spot than proper executions.

Ability in Traffic

TEs should be exceptionally aware of defenders' presence in short areas.  "Boxing out" or using their body to shield the defender away from the passing lane is a great technique, and watch for players with a feel for drifting laterally with their numbers presented as a good target to the QB.  It can be hard to find TEs amidst the fury in the middle, so presenting as a target is very important.

Adjustments to Ball

Midair adjustments, being able to sink the hips and drop for balls, or to catch outside the player's frame.  "Receiving" TEs usually excel here and in the hands category, and are often little more than bulked-up WRs.

Hands

Just like with a WR, you want to see a player catching with his hands and being able to quickly secure the ball away.

Concentration

This is an additional measure of the player's ability to catch over the middle, where the TE does the majority of his work.  He should keep his eyes on the ball until it is in his hands.

Takes Hits

Unlike WRs, TEs EXPECT to be hit immediately upon catching the ball, so this is a critical skill.  The minimum should be a player who has the ability to stay up after the first hit.  TEs who go down immediately are not well-served playing inside, and are little more than slower possession WRs, usually.  Additionally, the player should be able to quickly and clearly secure the ball, even in mid-hit.  The integrity of their routes depends upon it.

Body Catching

Not all passes can be caught by the hands, so try to evaluate a player's ability to adjust to body-catching the ball.  They should present less as a "wall" for the ball to bounce off of or recoil from, and more of a "basket", able to absorb the pass and not let it redirect away from them with force.  Players who can consistently catch the ball in their facemask are a treasure.  Just seeing if you are paying attention.

Run After Catch

You want a player not to break stride after the catch, and for a TE, it is often not too much to expect that they break through at least the first tackle.  As with larger WRs, TEs shouldn't shy away from contact, and should trust their strength and physicality to impose their will on defenses.

Awareness

TEs should always be playing the markers, and should be willing to sit down a little inside of a good defensive zone at the first-down marker.  Look for TEs who trust their own strength to be able to turn upfield for the first, as they will be able to get open sooner and present their numbers more cleanly to the QB.  Player should also have a good feel for where other receivers' routes are.

Pass-Blocking

How quick are his feet?  He should be able to aid and redirect outside rushers without losing balance or position.  He should be able to keep track of the blockers around him and know when to pick up blitzers or hand off blocks to the tackles.

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