Wide Receivers are one of the most critical pieces to an offense. While they can come in all shapes and sizes, here are some key pointers to take into account when evaluating wide receivers:
Probably the biggest attribute a wide receiver can have in indoor football is good hands. Great speed or excellent routes are meaningless if a receiver cannot consistently catch the ball. With sometimes greater than 75% of the offense being in the air, consistent receivers who catch everything in sight can be more valuable than receivers with a sprinter’s speed. Generally, you can judge a guy’s hands by how often he drops a catchable ball. A receiver is said to have “soft” hands when he seems to have the ability to consistently bring the pass regardless of its velocity, accuracy, or trajectory. A receiver without soft hands will tend to have balls bounce off of his hands. Soft hands are particularly important in shorter routes where the ball is released in a fraction of a second and the receiver must quick adjust and react to the ball. A receiver with good hands catches the ball away from his body so that the impact of a defender’s hit does not throw off the receiver.
Speed and Quickness
40-yard-dash times can often be deceiving. The “40” is a good measure of straight-line speed, but the times can often be artificial as so much emphasis is placed on the start – which in testing is more in the form of a sprinter than a wide receiver. Therefore, speed needs to be taken in context too. Good top-end speed is important for a deep threat, but better agility numbers may be more important for a slot receiver who will be used more in short and intermediate passing. Secondly, with the ability to put a receiver in forward motion in the indoor game, a player with lesser straight line speed can make up for it by getting a running start. The tight confines of an arena field place an extra premium on shiftiness. The real test of a receivers speed is his football speed. This essentially is his ability to get where he has to be when he needs to be there. Some players who test well in the 40 do not have football speed. In the pro game this is a necessary element.
If a prospect is being drafted as a deep threat, top-end speed might be more of a priority. For a slot receiver or someone going across the middle on a consistent basis, sharp cutting and change of direction ability are most valuable. Focus on lateral movement – stops, restarts, and cuts.
Release from Line of Scrimmage
Speed is great, but if a receiver cannot get off the line of scrimmage, there is not much that he is going to do. Quickness is also an important factor in getting off the line whether it is beating a cornerback with a quick first step or avoiding a “jam” at the line from an aggressive defender. In “press coverage” where a defender plays up at the line on a receiver, strength will be very important as a weaker receiver can be completely eliminated from a play.
Players of all sizes can be successful in the SIFL. Different body types have different roles in the game. Having height is a big plus for a prospect as it gives extra versatility – particularly in the red zone. Bigger size usually corresponds to lower speed and agility scores as it takes more energy and effort to get a bigger body in motion. On the other hand, smaller receivers with increased quickness and elusiveness can give defenses just as many headaches as your big, strong physical receivers. Therefore, a team must look at the receiver position as a whole and evaluate its receiving core as a whole to look at its specific needs. From there, it can identify what it is missing.
Route running is about being in the right place at the right time. The speed of indoor football does not leave a great deal of reaction time. As a result, receivers need to know where they need to be and have the ability to run routes that shake their defenders before they get there. The routes or patterns that receivers run in indoor football vary from those in traditional outdoor football due to the shorter field. So crispness and sharp cutting ability is magnified indoors.
It is important for a receiver to run accurate and consistent routes as quarterbacks are typically throwing to a spot on the field with the expectation that the receiver will be there. The ball is often released before the intended receiver makes his break, so if routes are not precise, they can be the difference between a completion and an interception. Even when a pass is not coming to a receiver, the routes often clue the defense to what the offense is going to do on a play, consistent routes are important as a lax route could signal a play will be going in a different direction.
Body control is one of the most underestimated traits of good receivers. Great receivers always seem to make effortless reactions to the ball in the air. The fact of the matter is the ball is often thrown over the wrong shoulder, or tipped or thrown into traffic. Great receivers can react even in the air. The body can often be used as a shield and good body control also becomes important near the side walls where a receiver must also be able to anticipate going over the wall to haul in a throw.
Catching in Traffic/Going over the Middle
Catching in traffic is a combination of physicality, concentration and good hands. Some receivers just cannot consistently make a play over the middle when they know they are going to absorb a hit. Good receivers who work the middle know they are going to get hit and anticipate it. They set up their bodies to shield the throw so only they are in position to catch it and tuck it away immediately as even a slight bobble will jar the ball loose. While your slot receivers will not always be the biggest, they better be amongst the toughest. Players who go over the middle are also used to pick off defenders to free up other receivers too and ad a dimension that doesn’t always pop out unless hours are spent watching a receiver in action. Good blocking skills in a receiver can help spring big plays.
You evaluate a player’s blocking ability by looking at how well they lock down their defenders in order to take them out of the play. A solid blocker is generally proficient at getting under the shoulder pads and into the chest of a player, and uses his leverage and leg drive to push him backward or away from where the play is heading. Unlike an offensive lineman, a receiver’s blocks do not need to be sustained as long so a willingness to lay a block is almost as important an attribute as the strength and technique in doing so.