Passing Routes -- An NFL Preprimer

DENVER - OCTOBER 24: Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd #84 of the Denver Broncos makes a reception for a first down against cornerback Donald Washington #27 of the Kansas City Chiefs and teammate cornerback Brandon Carr #39 in the first quarter at INVESCO Field at Mile High on November 14 2010 in Denver Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

     Denver versus San Diego. Elway versus Fouts. Griese versus Flutie. Plummer versus Brees. Orton versus Rivers. One thing the Denver/San Diego match up always promises is lots of great passing. In anticipation of seeing two dynamic passing attacks in action on Monday night, I thought I would share some research from one of my students -- research comleted with significant help from your's truly.

     Many of you already know that I work with special needs students in a middle school program. That is, I work with seventh and eighth graders who have a difficult time in a general program. It is important with this population to find a point of contact that can be used to guide them in the direction we want them to go. For one of my seventh graders, that point of contact has been football. Specifically, he asked me to help him learn the names of the routes run by wide receivers in the NFL.

After the jump, I'll share what we found -- what I call "Passing Routes: An NFL Primer"

     I would like to point out that what follows is a starter level explanation for NFL passing routes. It does not attempt to account for the role of the quarterback, or the many nuances of individual offenses. Rather, it is an attempt to provide a mental image of what is meant when the announcer shouts, "What a great hitch route!" This is intended for those, who like myself, have a very minimal knowledge of the intricacies of NFL terminology.

     Unlike backyard football played on Saturday afternoons in the park, where receivers run around like compasses set next to a magnetized pin, receivers in the NFL are expected to master very precise routes. They are expected to know what they are supposed to do when the quarterback draws them into the huddle and calls out something like: "Zero Flood Slot Hat, Seventy-eight Shout Tosser" (this is an actual called once used in the Erhardt-Perkins offense; Zero Flood Slot Hat sets the formation and motion, Seventy-eight is the base play number, Shout tells the receivers on one side of the formation what route to run while Tosser gives the same information to the receivers on the opposite side).

     What follows is a very brief description of eleven routes in included in several passing trees. A passing tree is a diagram that shows the routes a receiver is expected to master. Please note that there are more than one passing trees used by teams. This article simply attempts to present the ones that were found to be common in several of the trees. Typically, these trees divide passes into Short (0-5 yard passes), Medium (10-15 yard passes) and Deep (20+ yard passes).

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     There are a couple of important concepts/terms which need to be addressed before we look at the routes themselves. First, the tree in the diagram is for a wide receiver who has lined up to the left of the quarterback. Obviously, then, if the receiver is on the right, some of the routes would be reversed. The post referred to in one of the routes is the pole that supports the goalposts' crossbar. The flag referred to in one of the routes is the pylon at the front corner of the endzone.

SHORT PASSES
1)Slant -- wide receiver sprints upfield for 3-5 yards then makes a sharp 45-degree turn towards the center of the field. The turn will hopefully provide separation and the receiver is to look for an empty area in the defense. This is usually a quickly thrown pass.

2)Drag -- wide receiver sprints upfield for approximately five yards then makes a sharp 90-degree turn towards the center of the field. The receiver will often drift back towards the quarterback as he parallels the line of scrimmage to provide separation from the defender.

3)Hitch -- wide receiver sprints upfield for approximately five yards then makes a sharp turn back towards the quarterback, running on a 45-degree angle towards the center of the line of scrimmage.

4)Quick Out -- this is the opposite of the Drag. Instead of turning towards the center of the field the receivers makes the 90-degree turn towards the sideline. As with the Drag, the receiver will drift towards the line of scrimmage as he sprints for the sideline.

MEDIUM PASSES
5)Hook -- this is a longer version of a Hitch. The receiver sprints upfield for 10-12 yards, then breaks back towards the quarterback on a 45-degree angle towards the center of the line of scrimmage.

6)In -- this is a longer version of the Drag. The receiver sprints upfield for 10-12 yards, then makes a 90-degree turn towards the center of the field. As with the Drag, the receiver will drift slightly back towards the line of scrimmage to gain separation.

7)Out -- this is a longer version of the Quick Out. The receiver sprints upfield for 10-12 yards, then makes a 90-degree turn towards the sideline, drifting slightly towards the line of scrimmage to gain separation.

DEEP PASSES
8)Post -- this can also be a medium pass, depending on where the quarterback chooses to deliver the ball. The receiver sprints upfield for approximately twelve yards, then turns on a line that aims at the post.

9)Flag -- this route often starts out looking like a Post, but typically breaks into a line aimed at the Flag after getting approximately fifteen to seventeen yards up the field.

10)Comeback -- this is, in essence a very long version of the Hitch. It begins as an Up route (see below). The receiver sprints upfield until he is approximately twenty yards away from the line of scrimmage, then breaks back sharply on a 45-degree angle towards the quarterback.

11)Up -- the receiver sprints upfield for approximately twelve yards, then turns towards the center of the field, as if to run an In, but after a step or two, the receiver turns back upfield at full speed.

     I realize that this is a very rudimentary look at passing routes, and that they can be greatly affected by factors like the formation, type of quarterback drop, etc. I am hopeful that some of you will share your deeper knowledge on this subject with us that we might all learn and grow in our appreciation of the nuances of passing routes.

     I hope that this very brief description has been helpful to some of you. I found it helpful, and my student was enthralled with what we found as we researched it together. He now spends his free time on the playground teaching younger students what he learned and helping all of the students in our program become better students of the game.

Go Broncos!!!

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