How To Play Wide Receiver In Football – Complete Guide

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

A wide receiver in football is one of the most exciting positions. The opportunity for big plays is endless when you play wide receiver. But what is a wide receiver and what do they do?

Wide receivers in football are responsible for catching passes from the quarterback. On run plays, they are responsible for blocking the cornerback.

This article will show you how to play wide receiver in football and things you can do to be a better wide receiver.

Wide Receiver Position In Football

The wide receiver position plays a huge role in the success of your team.

The ability to move the ball through the air has become a staple in most high school, college, and professional offenses.

Wide receivers are the key to creating an effective passing attack.

The wide receiver and slot receiver positions are responsible for catching the ball from the quarterback. They run routes down the field, that are diagramed by their offensive coordinator.

It’s common that in the NFL, first year wide receivers will rarely see the field in their rookie season. They have much to learn to be well rounded receivers.

What Does A Wide Receiver Do In Football?

A wide receiver is an athlete that lines up away from the offensive line. Their primary job is to catch passes from the quarterback.

Wide receivers must be able to fight through contact at the line of scrimmage, establish their frame and bend around cornerbacks. He has to be able to run through tackles without losing his balance.

Top wide receivers have strong hands to secure the ball properly. This is an important skill to have to catch the ball and secure it in bad weather conditions.

The ability to read coverages is also essential in being a successful wide receiver. You have to adjust your route accordingly when the team shifts into zone coverage.

It’s also vital that you know how to block linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks on running plays and screen plays.

What Skills Do Wide Receivers Need?

Wide receivers must have a variety of skills to be successful, including speed, excellent hands, quick feet, and physical toughness. These are crucial to playing the position effectively.

They need to run fast enough to get behind the defense and outrun them after the catch. Acceleration, agility, and quickness are also standard qualities of wide receivers.

They need excellent hands to make tough catches in traffic and poorly thrown balls. They have to have excellent hand-eye coordination to reach out for high, wide, or off-target passes.

Their body needs to be strong enough to take contact from the man coverage. They should have long-reaching arms to go up for high passes effectively.

Last, wide receivers need quick feet and balance to quickly get in and out of their cuts. Exceptional stamina is also another quality because they run a lot during games.

To play wide receiver effectively, you must be able to catch the ball with your hands, not your body.

Using your hands is also helpful in fending off tacklers after you catch the ball.

Wide Receiver Techniques

These basic techniques used by every wide receiver are the following:

  1. Stance & Start
  2. Releases
  3. Securing the ball in traffic
  4. Running in an open space

Stance & Start

The first thing a wide receiver must do is run off the line of scrimmage and separate himself from the player covering them.

Wide receivers need to have a plethora of moves at the line of scrimmage to beat corners who are pressing them.

When you have separation at the line of scrimmage, you can effectively use your speed to get behind the defense.

We recommend reading this article about stemming and stacking and different releases at the line of scrimmage.


Wide receiver releases are used to get the defensive back moving in one direction so that you can go in the other direction.

The wide receiver then breaks at a 45-degree angle (or vertical), making his move after his defender commits to his fake route.

This technique is used to get behind the second line of defense. It creates separation from your defender because he’s already committed to defending your fake route.

To use this technique effectively, you have to use the same footwork you would use if running a normal route, just without running them.

Securing The Ball In Traffic

One of the most challenging things for wide receivers is to secure the ball while going up for a pass in traffic.

When several players are around you as the ball comes down, it can be challenging to secure the football.

You must be able to hold onto the football while simultaneously fending off defenders.

Wide receivers typically need strong hands and wrists to secure the ball.

Wide receivers have to catch the football and navigate through defenders downfield. This is essential in making plays over the middle executed on dig routes and slants.

Running In Open Space

A wide receiver must run with the ball after he catches it. A wide receiver can make a big play if he can outrun the defense after catching the football.

He must react quickly and shift direction while accelerating through the secondary.

To run effectively, you need balance and body control. You must have a good forward lean as you run upfield.

If you get tackled, your legs need to drive forward for extra speed, then finish by falling forward.

Wide Receiver Routes

There are many different routes that a wide receiver has to run to get open and catch the football. He needs to run all of these routes with precision and consistency to play the position effectively.

Here are the types of routes that a wide receiver has to run:

Go Route

Go Route in football

The go-route is a deep route usually reserved for wide receivers who have speed and quickness. It is used when a team wants to get behind the defense, typically on third down.

It’s one of the most common down-field pass plays made during a game because it’s effective at moving the chains.

Hitch Route

Hitch route

The hitch route is a short-distance route. It involves taking a few steps toward the line of scrimmage and then sticking your foot in the ground and stopping quickly.

This causes your defender to be out of position and then you break back outside with enough separation to catch a pass before you’re tackled by another defender.

Curl Route

curl route in football

The curl route is used to get open by running downfield, turning around, and catching an intermediate pass.

This is usually executed from an outside position, where you can get away from your defender because he can’t run as fast as you can straight upfield, then break back to the quarterback.

Corner Route

Corner Route

Also known as a “flag” route, this route requires the wide receiver to run as fast as they can up the field. Once they hit 7-10 yards, break at a 45-degree toward the sideline.

Flat Route

Flat Route

The flat route is a short route that involves the wide receiver running toward the sideline at 2-3 yards. This pass is typically quick and allows the wide receiver to gain 4-5 yards.

This route is commonly run by a slot receiver.

Out Route

Out route

The out route is a horizontal pattern run by a receiver that breaks at a 90-degree angle away from the line of scrimmage. It’s used to get open against man coverage because it allows you to use your speed and create separation as you run downfield.

These are just some of the routes a wide receiver will run. To learn more about running routes, watch our video below.

Blocking As A Wide Receiver

Blocking is one of the things that separates a tremendous wide receiver from a good one. If a wide receiver consistently blocks his defender, he will get more playing time and often see the football.

This can make him better because of the opportunities to run with the football and make plays downfield.

Blocking is a skill that anyone can learn with some determination and desire.

It’s not hard to learn how to block, but it will take some effort on your part to master it.

To block effectively, you must sustain your block on a defender until the play is over or until someone takes his place.

Keep Learning

Don’t stop learning now! The wide receiver position is one of the hardest positions to learn. That’s why we made the Wide Receiver University course to help you learn the ins and outs.

Learn more about wide receivers by reading the articles below.

Learn To Stem & Stack At Wide Receiver

What Is a Slot Receiver Or A Slot Corner?

How to Beat Press Coverage In Football

Why Do Wide Receivers Point At The Sideline?

What Does A Tight End Do In Football?

Why Do Wide Receivers Wear Gloves?

Playing wide receiver requires speed and the ability to catch the football. If you possess these qualities, we recommend trying out for this position.

If you want to learn more about the running back position, we recommend checking out our list of courses here.

If you want to learn more about football in general, check out our learning center for more!

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.


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