Becoming an exceptional wide receiver is no easy task. It requires hard work, discipline, and natural ability. Just making it to the NFL is a monumental feat, but to become one of the greats, receivers must go above and beyond. Let’s explore a few traits of successful wideouts.
1. Route Running
Being a good route runner might seem like a no-brainer as receivers must run routes all game long. But the genuinely exceptional route runners stand out. Being precise in their pattern and cuts and getting to the spot their quarterbacks anticipate is vital to the team’s success. They must have incredible balance to stop, turn, and go, depending on the route. Marvin Harrison was one of the best at this.
They say size is something you can’t teach, and it’s true. Receivers with a height advantage can out-jump defenders for passes. They cause matchup problems for defenses and force coaches to game-plan for them. Calvin Johnson was one such receiver, a 6’5” nightmare for opposing teams.
Speed is one of the main factors when evaluating receivers. That’s why the 40-yard dash time is so crucial to scouts. Breakaway speed allows a wide receiver to separate from the defense, giving his quarterback an open target and an opportunity for a significant gain. One of the fastest receivers in the NFL right now is Tyreek Hill, who has been given the nickname “Cheetah” for his speed.
Similar to speed, it’s another essential quality for a receiver. But the difference is how fast the receiver can get off the line when the ball is snapped. Do they have the burst and agility to lose a defender coming out of a cut? Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the quickest around.
Soft hands are a requirement for a receiver. Receivers need to be able to handle fastball passes that are on them as soon as they come out of their pattern. They only have a split second to cushion the ball in their hands, bring it into their body, and secure it before turning up field to gain yards. Or absorb a hit from a defender. Some of the best hands in the NFL belonged to Jordy Nelson, the legendary Green Bay Packer.
Toughness is another trait that makes wide receivers stand out. Having the strength and athleticism to break tackles is a significant advantage. They can fight off defenders on the line of scrimmage to get open. Blocking is another indicator of toughness for a receiver, putting their bodies on the line, and doing anything they can to help their team win. Hines Ward was well known for his toughness in his downfield blocking.
Another huge factor in making a receiver great is stamina. They can run every play at full speed, even when they know the ball is not coming to them. A player who goes all out in practice and in games is an inspiration to others and makes the whole team better. Cooper Kupp seems to have an endless motor, giving everything in every play.
8. Football I.Q.
A player who is a true game student can learn things others don’t see. By studying game film and identifying weaknesses in opposing defenses, great receivers can create advantages for themselves. Players who stay aware of game situations, like knowing when to get out of bounds when the clock runs out, are a huge asset. Larry Fitzgerald was known to learn as much as he could about opposing teams and brought his knowledge of football to the game every week.
9. Relationship With the Quarterback
It’s not a characteristic every receiver is lucky enough to have, but it sure helps. Building a rapport with their quarterback allows them to anticipate each other’s movements and makes them better. Most Hall of Fame receivers played with a great quarterback at some point in their careers. Great receivers can’t do everything on their own. Someone who will pile up receiving yardage needs someone to throw them the ball. Jerry Rice, one of the most excellent wide receivers ever, was fortunate enough to have not only one Hall of Fame quarterback as his teammate but also two in Joe Montana and Steve Young.
Putting the Whole Package Together
These are just a few of the skills that allow wide receivers to go from good to great. Some skills come more naturally, while others take years and countless hours of work to develop. Great wide receivers haven’t just one or two of these dynamic abilities, they have several. The different ways they can beat defenders make them dangerous on the football field.