As I began to take a greater interest in scouting players, I quickly realized that there were many terms used to talk about wide receivers that I myself was familiar with but didn’t really understand. With these two things in mind, I figured there must be other people out there who were just like me. So, I decided to write a beginner’s guide, if you will, about some of the most frequent terms used to talk about the wide receiver position.
All of the terms I will be discussing are parts of the route a wide receiver runs. So, what’s a route? A route is a pattern or path that a receiver in football runs to get open for a forward pass. There are four parts to a route: Release, which happens at the green dot, the Stem which is the line between the green and red dots, the Breakpoint which is the red dot, and the catchpoint, which is obviously the point at which the receiver catches the ball. As you can also see, this chart shows us the nine main routes and their names. Basically, what is pictured above is called “The Route Tree.”
In this context, “the release” deals with how a player gets off the line of scrimmage once the ball has been snapped. A lot of this has to do with what type of coverage a defender is playing. If the defender is right up in the face of the wide receiver, this is called “press man.” If the defender is playing three or more yards away from the defender, this is called “soft coverage.”
A release against press man is more difficult than against soft coverage. In most of the soft coverage you will see nowadays, the defender will be 10 yds away from the receiver. In this scenario, the receiver simply starts running forward. The whole point of press man is to make running forward off the line of scrimmage much more difficult. In these scenarios, the battles between wide receiver and defensive back closely resemble the battles between offensive lineman and defensive lineman. Footwork and hand usage are very important because the defender is trying to slow down and impede the timing of the receiver.
As I mentioned earlier, the stem is the line between the red and green dots on the diagram. This is also called the “red line” by players and coaches. During this phase, the receiver’s job is to run a line as straight as possible from the line of scrimmage or release point (green dot) to the breakpoint (red dot). If the defender was playing close to the line of scrimmage in “press man” coverage, at this point they are trying to run stride for stride with the receiver and physically push or knock them off the red line without getting a penalty. In order to try to maintain their place on the red line, the receiver fights back physically with their hands and we get the term that everyone who has ever watched a football game has heard “hand fighting.”
This is where, you guessed it, the receiver makes their break. As you can see from the chart above, some routes have 45-degree breaks, some have 90-degree breaks, and some are almost a 180 back toward the quarterback. The terms you’ve heard like “sink their hips” and “explode out of the cut” are things that happen at the breakpoint. This is where a receiver who’s running full speed vertically can create separation by sinking their hips and exploding out of the cut.
Good Agility is very important in order to make these breaks. Receivers who do well in the three-cone drill at the scouting combine are said to have the necessary agility and fluidity to run these types of routes while the ones who score poorly in the three-cone drill (D.K Metcalf) are sentenced to a life of fade routes (also known as GO or nine routes).
The last part of any route in which a receiver has the ball thrown in their direction is the catchpoint. Hopefully from the receiver’s point of view, they have created separation from the defender by getting a good release, running the stem well and doing their best to stay on the red line and executing with fluidity and explosion at the breakpoint. Doing two of these things well should be enough to create some space from the defender, which makes the catch uneventful provided the pass in on target.
If the receiver was not able to create separation, the catch point becomes much more interesting. This is where things like contested catches, catching through contact, and having good hands really come in to play because if the defender is still there they are either going to make a play on the ball or trying to get away with as much contact with their hands as possible to disrupt the receiver.
I know that many of you reading this probably already knew some of this or all of this. My goal was to provide the new or casual fan with a basic understanding of the terminology that they will hear both when it comes to the draft process as well as watching the games on TV. I hope all of you learned at least one thing and thanks for reading. See you next week!