Now that the NFL draft is nearing, scouts and fans are trying to evaluate college players to the best of their ability.
Fans like to look at skill positions. The players at these positions usually draw the most interest out of fans because they are very fun to watch.
The wide receiver position could be the funnest to watch out of all of the skill positions. Their job is to get open and catch the balls the quarterback throws to them. Their ability to get open is very important because if they can't get open, they'll never get the ball and won't be very valuable.
To assess whether a player can get open or not, coaches will watch them run the route tree. The route tree is a series of the most basic routes a receiver must be able to run.
It is a very important concept for talent evaluators to understand. College receivers who are able to run all these routes are usually the ones who can play well immediately. The ones who can't are much more likely to fail.
Here is a guideline to the route tree, explained in geometric terms.
The first route is very simple. The receiver runs along a line perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. After about five yards, the receiver suddenly turns along a 90° angle towards the inside. This route requires quickness and timing, and gives the quarterback a very convenient, close target.
The second route is nearly identical to the first route. The receiver runs along a line perpendicular to the line of scrimmage again, but this time he runs along a 90° angle towards the outside. Running backs sometimes run this route after coming off a play-action because that area of the field is mostly empty, which would allow them to catch and run.
The third route is an extension of the first route. The receiver runs along a line perpendicular to the line of scrimmage again, but this time for about 10 yards. He then turns along a 90° angle towards the inside.
The fourth route in comparison to the third route is very similar, just like the first two routes. The receiver will run along a line perpendicular to the line of scrimmage for about 10 yards but then run 90° to the outside. This route is sometimes a favorite of tight ends, because the outside has more empty field and they can use their larger body to get the ball from smaller defenders.
The fifth route consists of the receiver running along a line perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, and after about 12 yards they turn towards the inside and cut back sharply along an angle that varies from 0-45°. This route is good when the receiver is being dogged by the corner back and needs to create space. It is very important that the receiver has good change of direction ability.
The sixth route is very similar to the fifth route. It consists of the receiver running 12 yards perpendicular to the line of scrimmage and then turning towards the outside and cutting back again along a 0-45° angle.
The seventh route is a common deep route. The receiver goes along a line perpendicular to the line of scrimmage for about 10 yards and then changes directions towards the inside along an angle that is about 135°, and streaks for some 10-30 more yards.
The eighth route has the receiver running along a line perpendicular to the line of scrimmage for about 10 yards. Then, the receiver runs along an 135° angle to the inside, and travels along a diagonal line for about 10 yards. After reaching that point, the receiver then takes a right angle back to the outside for another 10 yards. Essentially, the receiver starts on a perpendicular line, and then runs along the legs of a right isosceles triangle.
The ninth route is the simplest of all the routes. The receiver just sprints down the field along a straight line perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. This route is usually given to a receiver with good height and speed.
Those are the nine basic routes of the route tree a receiver must be able to run. Here are some extra notes:
- These routes sometimes have different names. For example, the ninth route is sometimes called the "Go" route.
- Notice that all the odd routes are run to the inside and all the even routes are run to the outside.
- Some coaches have the routes ordered differently, in a way where all the even routes go to the inside and all the odd routes go the outside. The ninth route usually remains the same in these cases.
- Some coaches have more routes than just these.
- Notice that all the routes start along a perpendicular line. If that perpendicular line is the same for all of them, these routes together actually look like a tree.
- The route tree is sometimes called the passing tree.
So that, in essence, is the route tree. It's a tree that must be climbed if the receivers wish to pluck its fruit.