Wide receiver is one of the most glamorous positions in football, but success doesn't come easy. Natural talent helps, but skills are developed through years of hard work and repetition. The wide receiver drills below are a good starting point to developing those skills.
People often think of the physically gifted size and speed phenoms like Calvin Johnson or Randy Moss when thinking of wide receivers, but the truth is even they couldn't be productive without years of work developing football specific ability.
Being a complete receiver means more than running fast or jumping high. Size and speed are great, but beating press coverage, running routes, reading defenses, developing chemistry with the quarterback, having reliable hands, run blocking, and run after the catch ability all matter.
Wide receivers rely on the rest of their offensive teammates a lot - the offensive line to create time, a running back to keep the defense honest, and a quarterback who can see the field and deliver accurate passes to their target in stride.
That hardly means that the WR spot is completely dependent on other positions. A receiver who can create good separation by getting off of the line of scrimmage quickly and running quality routes will always give his quarterback a chance to get him the ball.
Catching passes starts before the ball is snapped with a good stance. From there a good, crisp route is needed to get open before a fundamentally sound catch can be made. Receivers also must be capable blockers to help out running backs in the run game and other receiving targets in the passing game.
Route Running Drills
While being able to jump over every defensive back is nice, that isn't exactly a skill most wide receivers can rely on. Instead, they need to run solid routes to create an open target for the quarterback to find down the football field.
A good stance is where the route starts. The receiver must be in a position that allows them to explode off of the line, escaping any press coverage, without tipping off the defense as to whether the play is a run or pass and what route they will be running if there is a pass.
The wide receiver drills for route running below work on a combination of these skills, from stance to separation, by attacking them separately. Obviously, one of the best things to do is a route tree drill.
Working on the route tree can be done with the quarterback against air or against a live defense. It puts all the skills below together. From this any combination of route and defensive coverage can be done to simulate game situations.
Stance and Start
The process of getting open down the football field begins at the line of scrimmage. The stance and start drill focuses on those crucial aspects of the pass play - a good stance and a powerful first 5 yards of the route.
In this drill, you can line up any number of receivers up on a line. They begin in a receiver stance and when the ball is snapped, they explode off the line of scrimmage and sprint for the first 5 yards, before stopping.
While this may seem like a simple drill, it is important because it allows the WRs to get plenty of reps and perfect their stance and start of their route. Being able to explode at the snap will transfer to every other route in the offense.
It won't always be as easy to get off the line of scrimmage as it is in the stance and start drill above. Wide receivers need to be prepared for a variety of coverages from the defense, including press or off, and man or zone.
This release drill focuses on the receiver getting off of press coverage quickly so he can get into his route right away and not mess up the timing off the pass with his quarterback. It can be done with groups as small as 2 players, with 1 WR and 1 CB.
Receivers can be coached on a variety of different techniques to try out for evading the defensive back here. It is important that they remain the aggressor here and try not to let the defensive back get his hands locked on, as that will make it tougher to get into the route.
When done with receivers and corners, this can be a lively and physical drill. The one-on-one nature of it will get the athlete's competitive spirit going, as they don't want to let a teammate make them look bad.
The majority of routes on a receiver's route tree will involve at least 1 sharp cut. This requires both sound footwork and agility. The cone cutting drill, which can be seen in the video below, works on both of these skills.
This drill uses a 5 cone pattern to make cuts but really it can be done with any number of cones and any number of patterns. Ideally, you will work many different patterns, so the receiver can get used to planting and exploding in every direction.
The goal of the drill is to not waste any movement and make sharp cuts around the cone. This is achieved by using a solid plant leg and quickly accelerating in the new direction. The drill is shown with a pass from a quarterback at the end to work concentration as well.
There is no better drill for route running than actually running the route tree. This almost isn't a drill, because of all the options that can be done with it, but those options are what make it such a valuable tool.
A basic route tree drill can be done with just 1 WR and 1 QB. There is plenty of flexibility, though, as it could be done with up to 5 wide receivers, as well as defenders. To start, it can be done with the receiver working the full route tree with no defense to develop basic timing with the passer.
As it gets more advanced, defenders can be added, even if it is non-padded. This allows the offense to see a variety of defensive coverages. Having a defense there helps the offense get a better simulation of what the rhythm and timing of passing plays will be on game day.
It doesn't matter how open you can get if you can't catch the football. You don't get any points for balls that bounce off of your hands in the end zone. A fundamentally sound catch will not only move the football, but also set the receiver to pick up extra yardage after the catch.
Catching is a skill that needs to be taught and trained for pass catchers. Too many try to rely on their natural catching from other sports in their youth, when really they should be developing the fundamentals to be a reliable target.
Good catching consists of locating the football, having good hand-eye coordination, and good fundamentals with hand placement. Once the receiver has gotten skilled at these things, distractions can be introduced to force them to concentrate on reeling in the football.
Understanding the proper technique to catching the football is the first step. The drill below works on the actual fundamentals of how to catch the football, including forming the diamond with your hands on passes above the waist, and moving the pinkies together on passes below the waist.
Basic drills can begin with a simple game of catch. This is done at low intensity and with short passes, but it gets the WR used to looking the ball in and making a clean catch. After the catch, they should immediately tuck the ball away as if they run after the catch.
More advanced versions of these basic drills can be added. One example is the reverse catch drill. This is similar, but it begins with the WR facing the opposite direction. When the ball is snapped, the receiver turns around and is forced to quickly find the football and look it in.
Catch on Run
Once you've learned the fundamentals of catching the football while standing still, it only makes sense to add some movement to it. Catching standing still may seem easy, but adding running force can really challenge a pass catcher's concentration.
The simple movement drills below work on catching at the end of a route. This gets the receiver used to catching the football on passes from a variety of different angles and while running in different directions.
This could be done with pretty much any route or angle, but some examples are: running towards the quarterback, running a slant, along the sideline, and on a fade. It is important to always secure the football, and then tuck it away quickly to pick up extra yardage.
The gauntlet is one of the most well-known catching drills for receivers. It really works on making clean catches and concentration. It is a staple drill at the NFL combine for receivers, running backs, and tight ends.
The gauntlet forces the WR to catch a series of passes from different quarterbacks while running down the line. It can be done with any number of passers or distance, but you can get an example in the video below.
The receiver begins standing on a line and gets thrown a pass from one side and then the other. This repeats as he runs down the line, and is thrown passes from each side in an alternating fashion. The goal is to catch the ball cleanly and then let go to focus on the next.
In real game situations, wide receivers are going to have plenty of distractions. It could be teammates or more likely defensive backs and linebackers who are looking to knock the football loose as they try to make a catch.
To counter this, a WR must be skilled at blocking out distractions and concentrating on the football. Once they have mastered catching standing still and on the move, the next logical step is dealing with distractions.
The video below shows plenty of examples for concentration catching drills. You can begin with making catches in difficult positions, such as on laying on the field, and progress to more challenging catches, where their are defenders lunging at the ball and the body.
Seriously, it is important that wide receivers can be quality blockers. It isn't an aspect of their game that will draw much praise or attention, but a good block on the perimeter can spring a running back to a big play in the running game or a fellow receiver or tight end in the passing game.
The good news is that the receivers aren't going to be asked to handle a nose tackle one-on-one. Instead, they will be mostly be blocking cornerbacks or safeties, with an occasional linebacker mixed in when things get wild.
Being a reliable blocker on the outside requires 2 things: commitment and technique. The receiver must first be emotionally engaged and understand the importance of his blocking. They must also use solid fundamentals to prevent their assignment from making the tackle.
Even if they aren't always major factors in the running game, cornerbacks can be very disruptive because of their speed on the outside. That is why receivers must use good technique and not let a corner blow up a play.
The blocking drill below focuses on developing that technique for receivers. It can be done with as little as 2 players, with 1 being a blocker, and the other being the defender and holding a pad as the target blocking point.
The goal is to use solid fundamentals, begin with exploding off of the line of scrimmage as in a pass play. As they approach the defensive back, they should break down with short strides, remain low, and give a solid punch to the chest to get a solid block.
It is important that the wide receiver does not tip off the defense as to whether the play call is a pass or run. Doing so would give them the advantage, so the stance and start of the play must be the same if they are running a route or preparing to block.
The video below shows a defensive back stalk block drill. You can see the receiver sprint off the line as if it is a pass play, but as they close on the defender they break down, lock on to the defender, and attempt to mirror them and drive them backwards.
This is another great drill for creating a competitive atmosphere between receivers and defensive backs. There can be a cone or dummy placed behind the fictional line of scrimmage to be a target for the DB that the WR is trying to protect.
While being big and running fast can help, those are hardly the only abilities that receivers need. Big plays that go for touchdowns can change the game quickly, but making a solid catch and picking up the first down is what keeps the offense going for 4 quarters.
A complete receiver can run, catch, block, and do anything else the offensive system requires him to do. And of course, running quality routes and making sound catches in traffic is important. These wide receiver drills attack all of these abilities to create better football players.