The Tight End route tree simply explained.

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Thanks to Don Coryell, Tight Ends have become more than extra blockers who can move along the line of scrimmage, they’ve become receivers, as well. Riley Odoms, Shannon Sharpe, and Julius Thomas elevated the game for Denver.

Along the years, each generation of TE has increased the route tree making them an indispensable piece of a good offense. They can be used as a slot receiver, a 6th linemen and a rusher. These big bodied men were often former wide receivers who grew too big, so many have great hands.

Because of their size, smaller linebackers can be mowed over. Think about Rob Grownkowski who needs to be double-teamed, this leaves defenses short handed. If a team has two catching TEs, a OC and QB has a playbook as wide open as a WR will be.

Right now, the Denver Broncos have four tight ends that are considered to be part of the 53 man roster: Virgil Green, AJ Derby, Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt. Two of the four are considered “F” TEs meaning they act more like slot in catching over blocking because of their hands and route running skills, Gronk is an F. This means everything below, Denver should be able to run. However, Butt is a question mark since he will not be practicing with the team until he’s medically cleared.

TE Positioning (click to enlarge)

Places a TE can lineup: 

He can line up nearly anywhere. The most popular position is 1 , which is beside the tackle and on the line of scrimmage. He can be out wide, (7) in tighter (5a), on the LOS (7,5a,1), off the LOS (6,5b, 4b, 4a), he can line up more of a slot look (6,5b), he can be in wing off of the tackle (4a), if there is a multi-TE set on the field, he can be a wing off of the TE (4b).  He be in the backfield (2,3) in more of a FB role. He can stack behind another TE/WR, he can be stacked in front of another player.  The options are basically limitless, but more times than not he’s beside the tackle (1).


TE Route Tree

Tight End Route Trees

Please note that may of these routes can also be run by WRs both inside (slots) and outside. If the chart looks scary, just keep in mind that it’s only a fraction of what some teams have.

Individual Routes (In White  above)

  • Dart — A similar route to the Sting/Arrow where the route loops out into the flat.
  • Deep Cross — Similar to a Drag, but run further down field.
  • Pop/Hot — Short/quick straight  burst into the middle of the field.
  • Settle — Similar to a Sting/Arrow but run to the middle of the field and the receiver settles in a spot.
  • Sting/Arrow — It’s similar to a standing still slant. The RB bursts out at a 45° angle .
  • Stutter — Similar to a comeback route, rather than stopping in a spot he loops back under and runs an out route.
  • TE Screen — Similar to a WR screen where he comes off the ball, loops back and sets up for a pass. If he catches it he then follows his blockers down the field.
  • Under Stop — Starts off as a drag but the receivers stops and settles toward the middle of the field.

Pole/Seam Series (Pole Series based off of TE2 and Orange with Navy Secondary Routes    Seam Series based off of TE3 and Navy with Orange Secondary Routes)

  • Pole — A route that is similar to a Go route, but the TE/WR runs directly from his pre-snap stance to the goal post. If he’s split out wide, the angle is different than if he’s in tight. It is also a stem for other routes (shown in Navy off of the Orange Pole route shown with TE2).
  • Seam — A route that is similar to a Go route, but the TE releases wider, usually side stepping a DE/OLB, and runs straight down the field.  It is also a stem for secondary routes (shown in Orange off of the Navy Seam route with TE3)

The following group of routes are similar to the routes off of the regular route tree, they just break off of  the Pole/Seam route.

  • Pole/Seam Comeback 
  • Pole/Seam Corner
  • Pole/Seam Curl
  • Pole/Seam In
  • Pole/Seam Out
  • Pole/Seam Slant
  • Pole/Seam Corner
  • Seam Post

***Since the Pole route is running to the post/goal post/pole, there is no Pole Post route

Carryover routes from the WR Route tree:

TE Option Routes (Click to Enlarge)

TE Option Routes

Like the WRs and RBs, the TE can run options routes (2-3 possible routes from the play-call) based on what he reads from the coverage he sees as he’s headed down field. He chooses which route to proceed with based on the coverage he’s reading/receiving. In this particular example with the LB shallow and FS  playing the deep ball or man coverage,  the Pole-Corner route is the one that looks optimal. There is a chance the corner comes into play, but it would be at the very end and it would be based on the FS floating to a Deep Zone with the X/Y receivers both headed  deep. If the FS is playing a Deep Cover 1 , then he has 3 guys back there and he better hope the two corners are playing tight man coverage.

Again, the QB/TE have to be on the same page, or a huge mistake can  happen with the ball headed back in the other direction.

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