When I first became interested in football as a kid, I was struck by the impressive athleticism of wide receivers. These players are often the stars of the offense, making critical catches and scoring touchdowns that electrify fans.
But I found myself wondering about the details of this position: what exactly does a wide receiver do, and what does it take to succeed in the NFL? After conducting some research, I learned that only a tiny fraction of college wide receivers ever make it to the professional level, underscoring this role’s intense competition and rigorous demands.
In this article, you’ll understand the wide receiver position comprehensively, including the various types of receivers and their roles, the key skills and attributes required for success, and the unique challenges and obstacles these athletes face on the football field.
What Does A Wide Receiver Do?
As an eligible receiver, your job will be to make your quarterback look like a genius by proving to be the ammunition in that loaded rifle of an arm. Basically, you have to catch their passes and drive your team up the field like a wrecking ball.
Starting plays from a less-congested part of the field, think of their hands as cushions and their legs as car engines, being able to pluck plays from the sky before setting off on their route.
When starting their plan to run from the scrimmage line, their bodies tend to be in a specific position. With feet shoulder length apart and positioned like starting blocks, they’ll lean forward to help them explode off the snap.
Oh yeah, I probably should mention that scoring touchdowns constitute a significant part of the responsibility.
Catching The Ball
Catching the ball is obviously a crucial role for a wide receiver. The receiver must be able to catch the ball with their hands and secure it, especially in high-pressure situations. The correct hand position for catching the ball is with the thumbs together and the little fingers below the waist. It’s also essential for the receiver to keep their eyes on the ball and adjust their body position if necessary to make the catch.
Running routes is another key role for a wide receiver. The receiver must be able to run precise routes and create separation from the defender to get open for the pass. This involves understanding the playbook and the specific route being run and having good footwork and agility to make quick cuts and direction changes.
Run After Catching
Once the receiver has caught the ball, they must be able to gain yards after the catch. This involves having good vision, awareness of the field, and the ability to make quick cuts and evade defenders. It’s also important for the receiver to protect the ball and avoid fumbling.
Young hits Jerry Rice and scores a TD! 75-Yards!— 49ers Throwback ❤💛 (@49ers_Throwback) April 25, 2023
Throwback 1998 Week 16 49ers @ New England Patriots pic.twitter.com/AYIspbgzCF
Finally, a wide receiver must be willing and able to provide blocks for their teammates when needed. This can involve blocking a defender to open up space for a running back or providing downfield blocking to help a teammate gain extra yards. This requires good technique and physicality, as well as a team-first mentality.
What Are The Skills Required To Be An Efficient Wide Receiver?
To be a successful wide receiver, a player must have a combination of skills and attributes that make them a threat to the defense. Here are some of the essential ones.
Agility is the ability to change direction quickly and efficiently. Wide receivers need to be agile to create separation from defenders and make sharp cuts when running routes. Drills such as cone drills, ladder drills, and shuttle runs can help improve a player’s agility.
Strength is the ability to exert force against resistance. Wide receivers need to be strong to fight off defenders and make catches in traffic. Strength training exercises such as bench presses, squats, and deadlifts can help improve a player’s strength.
Balance is maintaining control of the body’s center of gravity. Wide receivers must have good balance to make catches while running full speed and stay on their feet after contact with defenders. Running drills like single-leg squats and balance board exercises is your best ally to improve this quality.
Being fast gives receivers the ability to create separation from defenders. Speed is crucial for wide receivers who run deep routes or want to break away from tackles.
Catching the ball securely, even in traffic, and avoid dropping it. Hands are vital for wide receivers who want to be reliable targets for the quarterback and make tough catches in different positions, running different routes. Here’s a great article to help you practice catching a football alone.
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Coordination is combining multiple movements into a single, fluid motion. Wide receivers need good coordination to make catches while running and maintain control of their body in the air. I usually run coordination exercises, such as catching tennis balls while jumping or running which are excellent drills for youth.
Field awareness is the ability to read each situation and make decisions quickly. Wide receivers need good field awareness to find open spaces in the defense and adjust their routes based on the type of coverage. This is where film study and practice shine.
Mental focus is the ability to stay in the zone and make good decisions under pressure. Wide receivers need to have good mental focus, so I recommend meditating and visualization exercises to the receivers I coach.
Which Players Are Considered Great Wide Receivers?
Well, that’s a loaded question! There are so many great wide receivers in NFL history that it’s hard to name them all. However, some commonly mentioned names include Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald, and Calvin Johnson.
Each one of them has made their mark on the game in a unique way. But let’s not forget about the current crop of wide receivers, who are also doing some fantastic things on the field. It’s a tough job to rank them, but according to ESPN, some of the best wide receivers in the league right now include Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, Julio Jones, and Tyreek Hill.
But of course, everyone has their own opinions on who’s the best, so feel free to debate it amongst yourselves. Just be prepared for some heated arguments!
History Of The Wide Receiver
The wide receiver as we know it today actually grew from the traditional “end” position.
As that role morphed into the modern tight end, the boom for wide receivers came in the 1930s when Don Hutson of the Green Bay Packers helped exploit the space created by coaxing defensive lines away from running plays and into passing ones.
Before Hutson emerged on the scene, many teams wouldn’t use their wide players as potential receivers out of fear their position would see them run into danger too easily!
How strange is that to think now?
It took forty years for anyone to break his record of 99 receiving touchdowns after his retirement in the 1940s. That’s how much fun he had putting this position on the map. Raymond Berry of the Baltimore Colts in the mid-1950s took it up a level and helped plot the route tree as we know it today.
Crucially, the two-time NFL champion and Hall of Famer gave it a more cerebral and tactical quality by applying his famous attention to detail, building one of the all-time great partnerships with Johnny Unitas.
Thanks to Berry’s work, route running and precise movements became more critical than God-given speed, opening up a whole new avenue that many Americans have explored.
Moving into the 1960s, Lance Alworth posted two of arguably the most outstanding back-to-back campaigns a wide receiver has ever had in 1964 and 1965. During that glorious period, the Hall of Famer averaged more than 110 yards per game, a touchdown, and 120 yards per catch.
One of the most significant positional changes in football history, these guys set the standard years before Jerry Rice would redefine what it means to be a wide receiver with the San Francisco 49ers from the 1980s onwards.
Without them, some of the most exciting moments in football history may never have graced our screens.
Who covers the wide receiver?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what you’ve got to do on the field, it’s essential to look at what you’re up against.
Cornerbacks are your worst nightmare here.
They’ll be trying to contain you, and even if you get the catch ahead of them, a good cornerback will hang around like a bad smell to try and put you off your route.
Pesky, pesky cornerback.
Imagine them as the human embodiment of 2020 when you’re out on the field. You’ll want to get away from them as quickly as possible, but they’ll likely hang around and make your life as difficult as possible.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a coach crazy enough not to put one of his fastest players here; considering their importance in the defensive line, getting past one will not be easy. They can tackle you, and they can push you out of bounds, and they can make your life, in general, pretty miserable.
Sound great, don’t they?
Still, one of the most impressive sights in the game is a good wide receiver going one-on-one with a solid cornerback. It’s exhilarating at any level of the game. Considering how vital a wide receiver is, you’re going to be met by a safety even if you get around your opposing cornerback. The sole purpose of these guys’ standing in the game is to prevent the big play you’ll be doing your best to make.
Both areas in the defensive line will attempt bump-and-runs (which aren’t as fun as they sound, as anyone reading who’s been in one will tell you) to throw you off course and mess up the attacking play.
Party poopers, if we’re honest. They’re not going to make it easy for you.
Types of wide receiver
Like any great art, there’s a particular nuance to being a wide receiver, and it’s essential to note exactly what job each type has to do to get a team functioning correctly.
The Split End
This receiver usually lines up on the weak side of the formation and runs deep or intermediate routes. They need to be strong and fast to beat press coverage and create separation from defenders.
A split-end will typically receive the most passes of any wide receiver. Speed is your game here, as the general requirement is to surge deep at short slants.
Flankers line up off the line of scrimmage, usually on the strong side of the formation, and run short or intermediate routes. They need to be quick and agile to exploit gaps in zone coverage and make yards after catch.
Here, you’re going to want someone capable of catching passes in the middle who boasts the agility to make the opposing defense look stupid.
The Slot Receiver
Finally, the slot-back is primarily seen when a coach decides on a flexbone or triple-option offense. This receiver lines up between the flanker and the offensive line, usually in the middle of the field, and runs quick or crossing routes.
They need to have good hands and vision to find open spaces and catch passes in traffic. They often rely on their bigger physical frame to make sure they’re where they’re needed when the QB throws the ball their way.
There are also other types of wide receivers who have specific roles or skills, such as a big slot (a tall and physical receiver who can play inside or outside) or a gadget player who is a versatile and creative receiver who can run trick plays or take handoffs.
Challenges and Difficulties That a Wide Receiver Faces
Basically, this means that the opposing team is trying to prevent the wide receiver from catching the ball. They’ll have a defender on them, trying to block their path or intercept the pass. It’s like trying to get past a bouncer at a club – not easy, but definitely possible if you have the right moves.
Wide receivers need to be on the same page as their quarterback, knowing what route they’re supposed to run and where they need to be at any given moment.
It’s like trying to have a conversation with someone across a crowded room – you need to be able to read their body language and signals to know what they’re saying. And if you’re not on the same wavelength, you might run in the wrong direction or miss a pass.
Wide receivers are such critical players that they need to be able to perform at a high level on a consistent basis. They can’t just have one great game and disappear for the rest of the season.
A wide receiver’s main job is to activate a team’s passing game and gain their team yards off the snap.
Make the right runs, and a self-respecting quarterback will have no excuse not to find you. If you can get open and push up through the gridiron, you’ve done the primary part of your job. Wonderful.
With touchdown and playmaking opportunities naturally coming from breaking away from the line, lining up there can lead to big plays, and that’s exactly what we – as lovers of this great game – want.
Speed and strength are one thing, but any good wide receiver will boast intimate knowledge of their team’s playbook to hit the proper routes at the right time.