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New England Patriots Wide Receivers and Their Routes

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When things aren't perfect, which routes do we want to see from our receivers?

You just can't coach tall.
You just can't coach tall.
Bob Levey

I want to start this off by saying this is a compilation of some ideas that have been brewing in the back of my mind for quite some time. I've made mention of some of the concepts in my comments for most of the off-season, so forgive me if I'm repeating something.

When looking at our receiver needs, many people kept talking about the need for a deep threat. Their explanations quickly ran into that blazing fast, monstrous large freak of nature that brought back fond memories of Randy Moss of 2007. While that is great and all, those players don't grow on trees. Although, they might sprout a little more often at Marshall? Whether Dobson can be THAT GUY remains to be seen.

What I'd like to explore here a little more is fitting our receivers more to the routes we need them to run. Could Randy Moss turn in and run across the middle? Yes sir, he could. Did any of us ever want to see that happen? No sir, we did not. Some receivers are just better suited to certain routes. While that doesn't dismiss them from running the whole route tree, each of them will have "money routes". The other routes just keep the defense honest.

Matt Bowen had a rather excellent article awhile back on receiver routes. He discussed it mostly from his point of view as a defensive back defending them, and I found it quite informative. It is far from the only article on the subject, but I will be using Mr. Bowen's names for the routes mostly for consistency.



Of course, Bowen's route tree is shown from a left wide receiver's perspective and would be rotated around on the right side of the field (Slants are always run toward the center of the field, for instance). As far as Bowen's drawing goes, it is fine for showing where the receiver should be. He points out that routes 3 through 9 break at a depth of 12-15 yards. The flat is a three step and cut in front of the defender. The Slant is usually cut on the first step to avoid press by a defender. What it is missing though, is the position of the defender in man coverage which I will now add:


The chart is now pretty cluttered, but more demonstrative of what is happening. The receiver is now the circle with the arrow, denoting his direction of movement, and the defender is the crossed circle. The football is on the line of scrimmage (LOS). On some routes, you can see what appears to be two defenders. It is really one defender and a couple different positions where he MIGHT be.

The A position is a defender that got beat on the route and the receiver has separation. That is known in Patriots' circles as the Deltha O'Neal position. The B position is a defender that either through his quickness or recovery on a slow play was able to place himself between the QB and the ball. Stuff happens, right? The B position is the most important thing as I start talking about our Receivers and which routes we need from them. We need to remember that other teams have play-makers too.

  1. Flat - This route is great for players that can cut on a dime (this was a money route for Welker), or maybe have a little help with some creative interference by another receiver (honest ref, it wasn't a pick). The best way to overcome this route getting picked is great touch by the QB. I'm reminded of Welker, defended by Revis, and Brady just dropping the pass into Welker's outstretched arms. An indefensible pass. This will be bread and butter for the slot guys Amendola and Edelman. It's something of a waste of time for the outside receiver, who we're hoping works a bit further down the field.
  2. Slant - Many routes can work off of this as the receiver tries to free himself from man coverage by avoiding the defender. While the defender CAN drop inside the route, he opens himself up the the receiver cutting up field and having a big gain. The QB is going to lead the receiver on this route as slowing the receiver down is the surest way to invite a pick.
  3. Comeback (Hitch) - If this route is run by a shorter receiver, he'd better hustle to the ball. This is an easy route to pick if there is any delay and the defender can recover. Having some size and jumping ability here is huge, as Brady can toss this one to the nickel seats where only his mammoth receiver can snatch it. Body control is essential to keep the feet in bounds. Dobson should make this a money route. Fake the go route, come back and get the first down. When this route is automatic, it sucks all of the air out of the defense.
  4. Curl - Since you are running toward the QB, and away from the defender, this route is tough to stop unless the receiver stops and waits for the ball. Again, coming back to the ball is critical. Unlike the Comeback, the QB is going to keep this ball low. This is an ideal route for short and fast cut receivers. Boyce, Amendola, and Edelman should be able to run this in their sleep. Like the Comeback, this route is also great for first downs.
  5. Out - Unless the receiver is able to break his defender off at the ankles and the timing is perfect, this is an easy pick / disruption route for a defender against a shorter receiver. A guy that can jump (think Bolden in AFCCG - wait, NEVER think that!) can make his money here. The QB is going to want to AIM HIGH (Ok, I'm an Air Force vet, so sue me) here to avoid an INT. This is another great route for Dobson, and maybe even Boyce. One way to sell this is to also run the next route once in awhile.
  6. Dig (In) - For a guy who makes his money on the Out route the Dig or In route keeps defenders honest. If the defender gets outside coverage (defending the out), the Fade (if the QB has time) or Dig (if the QB is pressured) routes are among the best alternative routes out there. This is a money route for shorter, fast cut receivers, but can also work well as an alternative route for a taller guy who can't run the Out through leverage.
  7. Corner (Flag) - Since this route is run deep, it is tough to do by the outside receivers, since you run out of space. The exception is in the endzone where tall guys should be able to run it in their sleep. You are running away from the safety coverage, either luring the safety away, or trying to beat him to the corner. This is a "must have" route for Boyce on an inside receiver position. It is tough to defend a fast receiver on this route. The best way to do that is to try to get outside leverage right away and push the receiver toward the safety. The defender then leaves himself wide open to the Curl which, again, should be a money option for Boyce.
  8. Post - This is a great route if the safety bites somewhere else: play action, another receiver, whatever. Otherwise, it's pretty easy for the safety to come down on this route. This is a great alternative route if the defender gets outside leverage, and the safety is at the wrong level or out of position. Imagine the safety biting on play action, the corner getting outside leverage and Boyce hitting stride; he cuts inside the the CB, blows past the safety and runs under a well placed Brady pass. Nothing but green pastures.
  9. Fade (Go) - This route is the stuff of double moves. It works well with large receivers that have a step or two on the defender, and it works well with shorter receivers that can outpace the defender. Fast cut guys without deep speed need not apply, although Welker and Brady pulled it off comically a time or two. Dobson, and Boyce will both get this opportunity.

I've long been a proponent of not getting just "A" deep threat, but of actually getting two type of deep threats: A tall guy who doesn't have to be fast, although Dobson is no speed slouch, and a fast guy who doesn't have to be tall, although Boyce is no smurf. Just as there are different routes for receivers to run, there are different routes that defenders have to defend. Some defenders are better than others at certain routes. We can mix personnel as needed based on the defense.

In addition, all of that somewhat disappears in the redzone. There is no "deep threat" in the endzone. There are places where tall guys excel (the back corners and back of the endzone), and places where fast cut guys excel (the front corners and front of the endzone). It's a mixed bag for anyone else. It will be nice to have another tall option besides Gronk.

As a special bonus to this feature, here are some measurables on our guys as well a few other guys in the league for comparison sake that I happened to look up awhile back:

Name Height Weight Vert Broad Jump 225lb Reps 40 Lo 40 Med 40 Hi 20 Split 10 Split 20 Shuttle 3 Cone Drill
Calvin Johnson 6-5 239 42.5 11-7 - 4.32 4.35 4.39 2.53 1.52 - -
Michael Jenkins 6-5 217 34 10-6 - - 4.60 - - - 4.31 6.93
Larry Fitzgerald 6-3 225 - - - 4.42 4.48 4.56 - - - -
Aaron Dobson 6-3 210 35 10-1 16 4.35 4.43 4.57 2.6 1.51 4.33 7.19
Donald Jones 6-1 214 41 9-11 20 4.38 4.46 4.56 2.55 1.54 4.20 6.90
Kamar Aiken 6-1 213 36.5 10-8 17 4.40 4.45 4.56 2.59 1.57 4.63 7.19
Mike Wallace 6-1 199 40 10-9 14 4.22 4.28 4.39 2.45 1.43 4.27 6.90
Kenbrell Thompkins 6-1 193 33.5 10-1 8 4.40 4.46 4.59 2.55 1.56 4.21 6.88
T. J. Moe 6-0 204 36 10-0 26 4.55 4.68 4.76 2.61 1.60 3.96 6.53
Brandon Lloyd 6-0 184 36 - - - 4.62 - 2.71 1.62 - -
Josh Boyce 5-11 206 34 10-11 22 4.30 4.34 4.44 2.51 1.54 4.10 6.68
Jeremy Ebert 5-11 200 33 9-4 16 4.35 4.41 4.52 2.53 1.54 4.15 6.70
Julian Edelman 5-11 195 36.5 10-3 14 4.45 4.52 4.63 2.58 1.52 3.92 6.62
Matthew Slater 5-11 195 33 10-1 11 4.37 4.44 4.52 2.59 1.57 4.40 7.31
Danny Amendola 5-11 183 27.5 8-7 13 4.57 4.68 4.77 2.65 1.51 4.25 6.81
Wes Welker 5-9 195 30 9-5 - - 4.61 - - - 4.01 7.09
Deion Branch 5-9 191 36 9-9 - - 4.47 - 2.56 1.51 3.76 6.71
Steve Smith 5-9 184 38.5 10-1 - - 4.41 -


1.51 4.25 7.44

Our "tall guys" are Jenkins (who probably won't make the roster now), and Dobson.

Our "fast guys" are Boyce, Dobson, Slater (been there, done that), Aiken, Jones, and Thompkins in that order.

Our "fast cut" guys are Moe, Boyce, Edelman, and Amendola.

We have the potential now to play ever inch of the field and utilize routes that play to our receiver's strengths. Whether we can realize that potential is anyone's guess.

What do you think?