In the past, it wasn't super complicated to become an elite receiver, just run fast and you're golden, right? Wrong. More often than not, it isn’t just good enough to be the biggest or fastest or even the strongest. No, the best wide receivers are constantly evolving in order to add new angles, attacks, and moves to their arsenal. That way, come game time, they are wild and unpredictable and, most importantly, unguardable. There are, however, many different styles of receiving in the game of football.
You could be a slot receiver like Wes Welker, a deep threat like TY Hilton or do a bit of everything like Randall Cobb. There is one thing that stays consistent at every level, though: hand and eye development. Thanks to the complex and active coverages used by defenses today, receivers must constantly work on their route running and the art of catching the ball.
Getting Off The Line
First things first, wide receivers need to get off the line of scrimmage. This tends to be a pretty important aspect of route running because if you can't catch the ball if the cornerback takes you out of the play immediately. Top receivers work on their technique every practice using hand and footwork drills. There is no glory for a wideout that is too good to practice the fundamentals.
Once you’re downfield, look to recognize defensive formations and traps while running routes. Doing so on-the-fly will allow you to make crucial adjustments and create open space. For a good receiver, they’re trying to achieve one of two things depending on the defensive setup.
When dealing with man-to-man coverage, elite route runners will look to create separation. Some of the NFL’s best corners thrive on suffocating the receiver, much like Richard Sherman does while patrolling the sidelines for Seattle. Likewise, receivers have no chance without separation and, if he’s even passed to, will likely have the ball batted down or worse, intercepted.
Exploiting Zone Coverage
In zone coverage, the wide receiver won’t be dogged by specific players but instead will be marked by the entire opposition. This scenario calls for a little bit more creativity on the part of the receiver. On a very basic level, they'll often forgo the by-the-book route and will look for empty, unguarded space. If they can find such a space, they’ll post up and wait for the pass. In fact, route running is fascinating in that you don’t always have to catch the ball in order to make a difference. Running a route that sucks a safety in towards you may simultaneously open a lane up down the field for a teammate. For receivers, it's a constant tug-of-war struggle to manipulate the defense and find the open seams.
Next, we have proper route execution, which means body positioning as well as hand, head, and eye coordination. Young athletes should always run each route at full speed from day one to build a habit of max performance. When running routes, receivers must never reveal their intent through poor body posture or slow and ineffective releases or follow through. Most importantly, learn that hand and arm extension to bring the ball into your body during the tightest of coverages. This skill separates the great receivers from the elite. These points, when practiced and executed correctly, will help develop top receivers and football players at any level. Just remember that every play doesn’t have to be a highlight reel or game-winning catch and, most likely, it will be the small details that make the biggest differences in route running.
(Related: Look at Tips and Drills for Wide Receivers here.)
So, in the end, there are a bunch of general misconceptions about wide receivers that you should try to avoid. At the very lowest levels of football, a fast receiver might be good enough, but they'll be exposed as they grow older. An elite receiver isn't just quick but is often one of the most fundamentally sound and intelligent players on the team. They'll know how to exploit the defense in front of them by using the proper footwork and executions they've practiced for hours off the field. Make no mistake, being an elite wide receiver isn't an easy task, so put in your time!
However, if you find yourself struggling with excellent route running, consider hiring one of our private trainers. CoachUp's immense, knowledgeable staff will help you figure out how to take your wide receiver game to the next level -- starting with your route running game! What are you waiting for?
Be prepared for the biggest moments by mastering the small ones off the field.