Football 101 (Routes)

The second part of the Football 101 Series!

“Wait. I thought Football 101 class was over! You already posted about Cover 2 remember!” Cover 2 huh? You think you’re so smart now that you are well versed in a basic defensive set? Well, I have some news for you. There is so(ooooo) much more. Now, that’s not to say that we’ll ever get into it all – we won’t – but it certainly can’t hurt to cover a few more of the basics. Plus, I love football, so it’s definitely a win/win. Today, we will be going over routes.

Route Tree

Routes are beyond important. If you can’t run a route properly as a receiver, you won’t be in the NFL. That is just one of the plain, simple, and harsh realities of football. Route running is so important that it is one of the first things that NFL scouts look for in a young player. Why are they so important? Because, without well executed routes, offenses flounder. Without crisp, sharp routes no offense will be successful. So, without further ado, let’s look at some examples.


I know this looks a little confusing right now, but I promise, it’s not. As you can see, there are 9 routes shown in this picture. They are all numbered: 1-9. As the numbers grow, so do the lengths of the route. Now that we have a visual of what some receivers might run, let’s go through each of these individually, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.

Flat Route (1)

Usually the shortest (hence the number “1” beside it), the flat is a quick 3-5 yard out to the outside of the field.

  • Good for gaining short yardage on second, third, or fourth downs.
  • Can be used against man defense where there are cushions between the cornerback and the receiver.
  • Not good against zone coverage where there are flat zones in the same area of the field (i.e. Cover 2 and several other zone defenses).

Slant Route (2)

Slants can be run in a variety of different ways. From a quick slant to a deep slant, it can vary depending on the offense or the situation.

  • Best against aggressive press-man coverage where the cornerback is jamming at the line of scrimmage.
  • Slants can also be used against zone defense, but with a higher risk. The greater saturation of defenders make it important for the route to be run properly, in the right area of the field.

Comeback Route (3)

A 10-12 yard route with a 45 degree cut to the outside of the field – it ends with the receiver coming back to the ball as it’s being thrown.

  • Very advantageous against man defense. A quick turn back to the quarterback is extremely hard to defend.
  • Usually run by larger receivers because they have more size to shield the ball from the defensive back.
  • This is one of the hardest throws for any quarterback to make. Precise timing is needed and both the quarterback and receiver have to be on the same page.
  • Should not be used against a flat zone – the zone defender will be able to camp under the route and intercept it.

Curl Route (4)

The inverse of a comeback route – also about 10-12 yards but with the cut back towards the middle of the field.

  • Like the comeback, the curl is also effective against man defense.
  • Also run by larger receivers for the same reasons as listed above.
  • Not run against a flat zone (see above).

Out Route (5)

The out route can be run at variety of different lengths, depending on the offense. A standard example would be about 10 yards and then a sharp 90 degree angle to the sideline.

  • Can be used strategically against man and zone defense.
  • The receiver’s route needs to be extremely sharp and fast.
  • Against man, the quarterback’s throw needs to be outside and away from the defensive back. This allows the receiver to be the only person with a chance to catch the pass.
  • Against zone, it is especially important to nail the timing on this route. A simple miscue could result in a defensive player picking up on the play and intercepting the ball.

Dig/In Route (6)

The inverse of an out route. The dig can also be run at a variety of different lengths.

  • This route requires an expert route runner in order to gain separation from defenders. Without a good, crisp turn at the top of the route, the pass will be easily intercepted.
  • Many offenses with bigger receivers (the Bengals for example) tend to run lots of dig routes. Added size makes covering the play much harder on the defensive player.

Corner Route (7)

A deep route with a 45 degree cut to the outside of the field.

  • This is an extremely popular route against Cover 2 (two safeties high) and Cover 1 (one safety high). Because the route leads towards the sideline, it forces the safety to make a decision – cover the corner route or stay home.
  • The throw should be on the receiver’s outside shoulder.

Post Route (8)

The inverse of a corner route.

  • Good against man and zone defense.
  • The angle at the top of the route can be varied, depending on the type of defense being played, i.e. “skinny post”.

Fade/Go Route (9)

A long straight line right down the field.

  • Fade/go routes are typically run by blazing fast receivers or really tall ones. Speed is valuable to blow by any defender, while size is also important to secure the ball.

Routes are a very solid fundamental building block to understanding offenses. While there are certainly more routes than just these nine, these few in particular are extremely important to each and every football team.