It’s no doubt that the wide receiver is perhaps one of the most popular positions on the pitch.
I mean, who doesn’t want to get all the glory, catching deep throws to run in 80-yard touchdowns?
Wide receivers get all the glory.
But it takes a lot more than fast feet and big catches to become the best wide receiver.
From a combination of physical attributes, flair, and understanding of the game, the wide receiver position is perhaps one of the most challenging ones to master on the pitch.
In this guide, I’ll share my top tips on how you can become a great wide receiver.
I’ll walk you through how you can switch-up your training sessions to improve your physical and technical skills and what you should be doing to improve your game management skills.
Let’s firstly take a look at some of the physical attributes you’ll need to become the best pass receiver.
Firstly, let’s clear something up – size is not important when playing as a running back.
Sure, having a bit of beef helps you barge defensive backs out of the way, but explosive strength and power are way more important than being 6 feet tall and bulging with muscles.
Take the Patriot’s wide receiver, Julian Edelman, for example. Standing at 5’10” tall and 198lbs, Edelman does not belong to the league’s largest players, but he is undoubtedly one of the best.
With 36 career touchdowns and 6822 running yards, Edelman is one of the sport’s most successful running backs. And he’s shown through a combination of pace and power that size doesn’t matter.
To become a great wide receiver, like Edelman, you need to work on your acceleration firstly.
Explosive speed and acceleration
Coaches will often preach to you about separation quickness. That is how fast you can break away from your opponent to gain that extra couple of yards of space to make a catch or score a touchdown.
And in football, acceleration is everything. Whether you’re a running back, defensive end, or wide receiver, getting that extra yard over your opponent can mean the difference between a touchdown and a missed tackle.
The best wide receivers in the league all have belting pace and acceleration. One player to model yourself on is the Kansas City Cheifs’ Tyreek Hill. Hill has an outstanding ability to pull away from defenders, a fantastic 40-yard dash time of 4.29 seconds. Crazy!
To improve your speed and acceleration, incorporate more explosive power workouts into your training sessions. For example, run sprints from a standing or press-up position to improve your stride length, and include high knees or hill sprints into your workout to enhance your explosivity off the ground.
Strength and aggression
Typically the good wide receivers aren’t the strongest players on the pitch. We’ll leave the powerlifting to the linebackers.
But to become the best wide receiver, you need to be strong and aggressive, both to bully defensive backs and protect yourself on the pitch. Going into big collisions, you need to know that you can push the other player over with your power; otherwise, you’re going to get flattened. And like I always say, rather him than you right!
Defensive backs are out to hit you hard to dislodge the ball and stop you from scoring. In the same vein, once you catch the football, you need to be aggressive to run over any obstacle that stands between you and that end-zone. But strength is also essential to get an edge over your opponents to pluck the ball out of the air ahead of them.
Calvin Johnson, aka “Megatron,” was perhaps one of the most aggressive and physical wide receivers the NFL has seen in the past ten years. And it was no wonder why people called him Megatron, as he literally ran over defenders to score many touchdowns for the Detroit Lions.
To develop strength and power like Megatron, get yourself in the gym and try working on some high impact weight training sessions. For aggression, head over to the training pitch and start by improving your confidence in the collision on the tackle pads, and work your way up to completing full contact tackle drills.
Stamina and reactions
This one is very easy to work on compared to the others.
Fitness is everything as a wide receiver. Fatigue will cause you to make errors, and as soon as you become tired, you might lose a yar that could have helped you make that all-important touchdown pass.
Plus, as you become fatigued, your reactions and decision making will start to slow down. So to become the best wide receiver possible, you need the endurance to outlast your opponents and operate at a high intensity late on into the match.
Getting more game time under your belt is perhaps the best way to improve your stamina, as nothing beats being match fit. But to improve your thinking while you’re fatigued, try running drills that require you to run long distances while carrying out problem-solving drills too. For example, you might run three laps of the pitch, and your coach might then ask you to run to a series of colored cones in a specific order.
It’s all about thinking clearly under pressure and when you’re out of breath!
When moving at high speed, your ability to catch footballs is significantly reduced compared to when you’re standing still.
Having the muscle memory to get your hands into the right position at the right moment is what makes a great wide receiver.
Hand-eye coordination is a tough thing to improve, and it will take you time and a lot of practice to improve. But persevere because once your hands are in sync with what you see on the pitch, you’ll dazzle defenders and selectors with your ability to react to situations and pluck passes out of the air.
One way to improve hand-eye coordination is to grab some tennis balls and a partner. Get your partner to hold both tennis balls in their hand up above their head and ask them to intermittently drop them one at a time, at random intervals. All you need to do is try to catch them as they fall. Check out the video below for an example.
So now you’ve got a good understanding of what physical attributes you need to become a great wide receiver, I’m going to run you through some technical skills you’ll need.
We’ll start with one of the most essential skills, which is having soft hands.
I suppose the most crucial part of this position is being able to catch the football.
If you can’t catch the ball, then you can’t score? As most coaches in the NFL say, a wide receiver who can’t catch is a cornerback or a defensive back.
That’s why it’s so important to focus on catching ability and developing what many call ‘soft hands.’ To become the best receiver, you essentially need to be able to catch a bullet pass coming at you at up to 60mph; you need to have cushioned hands to collect the ball’s impact.
Plus, more often than not, you’ll have to factor in conditions like snow, rain, and wind, which will all make it way more challenging to catch the football at top speed.
Odell Beckham Junior is perhaps one of the best catchers in the League. Beckham Junior is well known for his incredible one-handed catches, showing how soft his hands are to take the ball at top speed.
To emulate Beckham Junior’s soft hands, get yourself on the training pitch, and start taking hard catches from your quarterback or even turn up the speed on your ball machine.
Relationship with your quarterback
This isn’t a skill, per se, but is perhaps one of the most essential traits of a good receiver.
Good teams score touchdowns because they work well together. They all study plays, know each other’s favored routes, and know their teammates’ capabilities.
Take a look at the relationship between Chief’s QB Patrick Mahomes and wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Between them, the pair have a whopping 19 touchdowns in the last two seasons. Their cohesion and ability to read each other’s movements on the field is perhaps the best in the NFL and is probably partly why the chiefs have been so successful in recent years.
For that reason, to become the best receiver, you need to build a great relationship with your quarterback. The more you understand them and their moves, the more touchdowns you’ll score.
On a similar note, reading your defense and react to their set up is another part of becoming a great receiver.
Your job as a receiver is to find space on the pitch and free yourself up to take catches and gain yards, and your ability to assess where that space is and run into it will help you beat your opposition and take more catches.
But it doesn’t stop there. Once you catch the ball, you need to evade defenders and run into space, and reading the field; you’ll be able to run to where your blockers are to help you gain more yards.
The only way to improve your understanding of the game is to simply watch more football matches from the highest levels of the NFL to your local college teams.
RAC stands for ‘run after catch.’ Of course, the play doesn’t always end as soon as you catch the ball; that’s just the hard bit. You still need to have that instinct. To carry the ball and gain yards immediately.
Most receivers will slow down to take a catch or will need to jump, but the best ones are those who can make the catch and get back up to top speed instantly. They will have good footwork to evade defenders and run into space away from tacklers.
If you’re looking for inspiration on how to run with the ball in hand, check out how Jerry Rice used to run with the ball in hand.
Finally, you have to be willing to block as a wide receiver.
There’s no point in expecting others to block for you when you won’t block for them. Football is a team sport, and sometimes the best players are those working under the radar to help give their teammates an advantage.
Wide receivers like Julio Jones, Devante Adams, and Tyreek Hill are the best at what they do simply because they understand the game.
Football at its heart is all about outstrategizing your opponents, and sure all these guys have pace, power, and flair, but what they have above everything else is good footballing knowledge.
They are all able to read the game, pick holes in the defense, and know their quarterback’s next move to predict where the ball is going on the next play. It’s that footballing awareness that is why they are perhaps the best receivers in the business.
With that in mind, my top piece of advice to help you become a great wide receiver is to watch more football games to improve your understanding of the game, how defenses line up and how other players capitalize on holes in those defenses.
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