Passing attempts and yards from NFL offenses have steadily increased over the past decade and the need for this position has become the new norm. There are plenty of old school names such as Mike Ditka, John Mackey, and Ozzie Newsome to recent legends in Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates to the now modern day examples of Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, and Zach Ertz. The tight end position has seen many players evolve over time.
Despite that, there are plenty of traits to look for when evaluating tight ends. Here are some of the most important characteristics that evaluators look for when scouting the position.
In somewhat similar fashion to wide receivers, there are certain types of tight ends. Each fulfilling a distinct role, it is important to determine which type of skill set that they possess. Is a prospect more of a receiving threat, an in-line blocking or a combination of the two.
There isn't a right/wrong or perfect answer because every draft season there will be all types who satisfy this criteria. Most teams like to have a combination of both in which a unit works together to check the boxes of all things that are required of tight ends.
The best present day examples of this are the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles. Both teams possess tight ends that are similar, but have all carved out a niche of their own. Eric Ebron has always been known as more of a receiving threat that has struggled when forced to block. What the Colts did, knowing that a bulk of Frank Reich's offense consisted of a heavy usage of 12 personnel (two tight ends), is they allowed Jack Doyle to be the jack of all trades, while Ebron was able to roam free as a true receiving threat.
Understanding the type of tight end that you're evaluating is key because you want to see if they have the potential in order to improve in their deficient areas or if they are strictly a one area type of threat.
The term undersized tight end is completely non-existent and there are certain thresholds that teams like to apply when evaluating prospects and comparing them to the above average players from around the league.
Most of the standout tight ends are 6-foot-4 and above. That number serves as a baseline for many teams when searching for a top option at the position. Size also comes into the equation in multiple areas of the game. Even the tight ends that are considered to be strictly receiving options have frequent plays of where they're asked to block in some capacity. Having some bulk on their frame throughout is necessary in order to hold up when asked to block in-line against edge rushers or on the second level as a puller against linebackers.
Most teams love to involve their tight end in all areas of the field especially in the redzone. Having a bigger bodied target that can also win at the catch point is seen as a huge asset to an offense and it allows for offensive coordinators to become more creative with formational placements.
This is the trait that has singled-handedly changed the most over time. Tight ends were always athletic, but with so many new look offenses, the position is now treated as an extra wide receiver.
Measuring the amount of athleticism that a player has is vital because it determines just how much and exactly what they can execute within the offense. The more athleticism and consistency displayed, the better.
4. Mental Capacity/Smarts
It's often mentioned that tight ends hardly ever contribute during their rookie seasons. It's because they are essentially learning two positions on the fly. Adjusting to being a blocker, learning the running game, and the blocking responsibilities within it while still staying polished on the passing game is a steep learning curve for players at the position.
Because of that, it is important to find out just how much a player at the position can mentally handle. Becoming overwhelmed and losing sight of what they are is a frequent problem that happens. The most recent example being Ebron and his transition from the Detroit Lions offense where he was forced to be more of a dual threat to the Colts heavy personnel sets that freed him up against linebackers and allowing him to do what he does best, which is to be a reliable option in the passing game.