NFL Draft: What To Look For In TE Prospects

If you have been keeping track of this 10 part series about what to look for when scouting different positions, then you know we’ve covered the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions.

Today, we will examine what I look for when scouting the tight end position.

As a reminder, the best tool that we have at our disposal for scouting potential prospects is game film. I firmly believe that came film is still the best way to ascertain whether or not that individual players skill set can translate to the NFL. Then, character background checks and pre-draft workouts should help complete the scouting report on individual prospects.

So, without further ado let’s dive in to the tight end position and I’ll try to share with you what I personally look for when scouting these NFL hopefuls.

Scheme Fit

The tight end position in the NFL has become one of the more versatile of all of the positions, and because of that you have to make sure that you are focusing on the type of player that will fit in the scheme that is being run.

For instance, when the Dallas Cowboys drafted Gavin Escobar they planned on running a two tight end set offensive scheme, but for some reason or another used the 11 personnel instead. Escobar never really was able to find a role on offense because he ended up being a bad scheme fit.

That is why determining what type of tight end your evaluating and what system they fit best in.

Are they a receiving tight end or an in-line blocking tight end? Are they an all-around tight end?

These are important questions you want to keep in mind when scouting individual players.


I may be in the minority here, but I like a tight end that can contribute in the running game and that means blocking the man that lines up in front of him.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In TE Prospects
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Otherwise, you’re missing a dimension to your offense and might as well just add another big receiver.

NFL teams have kind of shifted more towards the athletic receiving type of tight end in recent years to try and create mismatches against smaller defensive backs. These types of tight ends are usually asked to block less and are usually split out more like a receiver.

Blocking can be coached up in the NFL, but at the collegiate level you still want to see if a tight end has the willingness to contribute in this area. That usually requires playing with toughness, something I really like to see in a tight end prospect.

I also like to look for whether or not a prospect is on his toes when blocking and if his knees are bent so that he can give that maximum pop when engaging a defender.

Again, scheme fit is important because it will help determine how much blocking you need the tight end to do.


Scouting a tight end prospects hands also depends on the scheme fit that you want that player to play in. If you’re offensive scheme is geared more towards a receiving type tight end, then their hands and how they catch the ball are going to be a little bit more important.

Like the wide receiver position, I like to analyze whether or not they have strong natural hands when catching the ball, or if they fight the ball when it’s thrown their way.

A lot of times, tight ends are going to have to catch contested passes because of the types of routes they run and that requires them to need strong hands to catch the ball and secure it.

Usually, I don’t like players using their bodies to catch passes, but the tight end position is an exception. As long as they can secure it away when catching it with their body, I usually don’t have a problem with it.

Also, like I do when scouting the receiver position, I like to keep track of the types of routes they run and chart them down where they are receiving the majority of their catches.

Are the passes across the middle the field? Are they out in the flats? Are they down the seam?

This will give you a better understanding of where that particular prospect feels most comfortable catching passes.


I mentioned toughness earlier when referring to a tight ends blocking ability, but I will explain it in a little more detail here.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In TE Prospects 1There is a physical aspect to the tight end position that often times gets overlooked. When playing in line, tight ends are asked to block players that usually have a size and strength advantage. This means the tight end has to be willing to tough it out till the whistle is blown, despite their disadvantage.

Toughness also comes in play when they are running the routes across the middle the field and can expect a big hit from a defensive back at any time. NFL rules have kind of helped out in this area, but big hits against defenseless receivers catching passes across the middle of the field still happen.

I really like a player that can fight through nagging injuries, because I believe that helps motivate everyone around them.

I personally think that’s one of Jason Witten’s best assets.

Mental toughness is also as important as physical toughness in my opinion.

Route Running

Route running is a trait I try to pay particularly close attention to, just like I try to do when analyzing wide receivers at the collegiate level.

Tight ends really make their living running three basic routes in the NFL–a quick out route, the curl route, and the post route. That is unless the offensive scheme that the team uses tends to split their tight end out wide and have them run more receiver routes.

When watching game film I like to draw diagrams that display each route that is run during the game from the X, Y, and Z positions. I think it gives me a better feel for the types of routes they run out of each of these positions and how precise their running ends up being.

Speed/Athletic Ability

I personally don’t put too much stock in a tight in speed. I like them to run between a 4.5 and a 4.8 40 yard dash, especially if they are a tight end that will be split out wide the majority of their playing careers.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In TE Prospects 2
Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

I put much more stock in their athletic ability.

When analyzing a players athletic ability I try to analyze a player’s game speed using game film, his agility when breaking in and out of his cuts when running routes, and his strength/explosiveness coming off on a scrimmage.

For tight ends, the NFL Scouting Combine can actually give you a really good idea of their athletic ability, probably more than any other position.

I don’t remember where or how I can across this information, but I find it really helpful for finding out a tight ends athletic ability.

Bench Reps + Broad Jump + Vertical Jump = Explosive Number

The Explosive Number will give you a pretty good indication of these players athleticism and will help you see how each individual tight end stacks up against the others in the draft class.

Just remember that game film is still the most important tool for scouting, but the explosive number helps out as well.


The tight end position is one of the more difficult to scout because of all of the different variables that have to be considered to become successful in the NFL.

A tight end in the NFL has to wear many hats. They have to be a part-time fullback, wide receiver, and sometimes a part-time offensive tackle.

One tight end that has really caught my eye that I think would be a great addition to the Dallas Cowboys is Nick Vannett, the former Ohio State Buckeye. Vannett checks just about all of the boxes and could possibly be the heir apparent for Jason Witten that the Cowboys have been looking for.

What do you think?

Brian Martin

Written by Brian Martin

Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.


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