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The Complete Guide to Football Routes (HUGE List)

Posted by Throw Deep Publishing Staff on

In this article we're going to talk about the most common pass routes used at every level of football, from high school to the pros.

So let's get started.

The Football Route Tree

If you've ever opened a playbook before, you've probably seen something that looks like the picture below.

The football route tree is one of the oldest ways for coaches to organize pass game routes in their offense, and create an easy way to teach players all the basic routes they'll need to know to be able to run pass plays.

We will go over each of these routes (and many others) throughout this article, but it's important to note that every coach's route tree looks a tiny bit different than everyone else's. There are only 10 possible single digits to use, and there are a lot more than 10 routes in football, so each team may decide to use slightly different routes depending on what they like to run.

Football Route Tree

In decades past, it was very common for coaches to use these route trees to actually call the plays. For instance, "999" would tell all receivers to run go routes.

Now days this doesn't happen as much (though some high school teams still use a similar system), but it is still useful as a teaching tool to display the most common routes you want to teach your receivers.

So let's start with the quick routes and keep going from there.

Hitch Route

The hitch route is usually run to about a 5-6 yard depth, at which point the receiver will pivot toward the quarterback and stop, expecting the ball to be thrown to him very quickly.

This is especially effective if the defense is concerned about the threat of the deep ball. If the defense is playing back and giving a big enough "cushion" for the receiver, this should be an easy throw and catch.

Hitch Route

One of the simplest routes in the playbook, the hitch route is about getting the ball out of the hands of the quarterback in a hurry, and throwing the ball to your open receiver underneath the coverage.

This route can be run by a receiver lined up outside or in the slot, and can be used in all kinds of different passing plays, like the smash concept.

Slant Route

The slant is a short route that breaks in at roughly a 45 degree angle and is designed give the quarterback a way to get the ball out of his hand. This is one of those football routes that just about every team from high school to the NFL runs in some way.

The slant route gives the receiver the opportunity to beat a defender to the inside and get leverage on him, giving the quarterback a good open throwing window to get him the football.

Slant Route

This route can be added to a run play to create an RPO, and it's also one of the best routes in the playbook for the quarterback to change at the line of scrimmage when he sees the blitz coming before the snap.

There are a couple of ways to run the slant route, depending on where the receiver lines up.

If he's lined up on the outside, usually he will break inside at around 5 yards, or around 3 steps. If he's lined up in the slot, it's a much shorter break, sometimes even just one step before he starts to break inside on the slant angle.

Quick Out Route

The quick out route is a short pass route where the wide receiver will break out toward the sideline at a depth of about five yards and a 90 degree angle. This is used to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly in a rhythm throw.

Quick Out Route

The route is effective against defenses that are lined up deeper off the receiver. However, the quick out route can be easily defended if the ball is not thrown on time. The quarterback and the receiver must be on the same page, and the ball should be thrown before the receiver breaks toward the sideline.

Stick Route

The stick route is a short route where the receiver will either sit down at about five yards in between zone defenders, or break away from the middle of the field against man coverage.

The stick route designed for a tight end or slot receiver lined up inside the formation, and is used to get the ball to a receiver in the middle of the field. The strengths of the stick route are that it is a short route, so it is easy to complete, and it gives the offense the ability to attack the middle of the field.

Stick Route

The stick route is often confused for a hitch route, since they can look similar, but a receiver running a stick route will typically open up away from the quarterback in most instances.

Most college and professional offenses have the stick as part of their route tree and use it as part of their quick game or RPO passing plays. 

You can learn more about the Stick Concept here.

Flat Route

The flat route is a short, horizontal route that is not designed to get any deeper than 2-3 yards past the line of scrimmage.

This route is rarely used on its own, instead being added to other concepts to create vertical or horizontal stretches in the defense, or create rubs against man coverage.

Flat Route

The strengths of the flat route are that it is a quick, easy route to run, and it can be used to create mismatches against slower defenders. The only potential weaknesses of the flat route are that it can be tougher for inexperienced quarterbacks to throw the ball to the receiver in rhythm, which limits his run after catch opportunities, and the route by itself does not go very far down the field.

Whip Route

The whip route is designed to make it look like the receiver running an in-breaking route for a few steps before the receiver turns out toward the sideline underneath.

The whip route is similar to the flat route, since it is rarely designed run on its own, but instead used as a complement to another route in a concept to stretch coverages.

Whip Route

The route is also a favorite for man quarterbacks against man coverage, especially on the goal line, since it can be used to get an athletic receiver open underneath.

Option Route

An option route is a general term for any pass route that gives the receiver multiple paths to choose from based on how the defense reacts. This is sometimes also referred to as a "choice" route for the same reason. There are many different kinds of option routes, but the one in the diagram below is one of the most common, especially at the NFL level.

Option routes are extremely difficult to cover one-on-one, especially when the receiver and quarterback have a lot of experience.

Option Route

Unfortunately, that is also one of the biggest weaknesses of relying on option routes. The weaknesses are that it is short and takes a lot of time to practice and get right. Since it requires that the quarterback and receiver see exactly the same thing and react the same way.

Coaches like Tiger Ellison and later Mouse Davis used lots of different option routes when developing and running the Run and Shoot Offense for many years, and most NFL offenses use certain kinds of option routes in their playbook.

Go Route

The go route (sometimes referred to as a fly route) is a deep pass route designed to get the ball to the outside receiver deep down the field.

The route is a low-percentage pass that can create big plays if the quarterback and receiver are on the same page and if the pass is thrown away from the defender covering the receiver.

Go Route

The best way to run the go route is for the receiver to give himself enough room between his alignment and the sideline, so that the quarterback has a place to put the ball where only the receiver can get to it.

Seam Route

The seam route is a vertical route that runs up the middle of the field and is designed to exploit the space between the linebackers and safeties.

The strengths of the seam route are that it is a difficult route for the linebackers and safeties to cover especially in zone, and it allows the quarterback to throw the ball into tight spaces.

Seam Route

This route works because it attacks the areas between zone defenders, where the defense is less certain about which man is responsible for this area of the field. The receiver can sometimes turn this into a kind of "option route", where he will run straight down the field against one high safety, or "bend" the route to the open space between two safeties.

Corner Route

A corner route is a vertical route, typically run from the slot, where the receiver starts running straight ahead before breaking at an angle of about 45 degrees toward the sideline.

Typically this route breaks out at an angle around a depth of 10 yards, though some offenses allow their receivers to get to 12 yards downfield before making that turn.

Corner Route

The route is effective against both man and zone coverages, and is often run with at least one other route that breaks underneath, to put the defensive backs in maximum conflict, and give the QB lots of room to throw to the open receiver.

Post Route

The post route is run by sprinting straight down the field, then breaking in at an angle toward the goal posts at around 10-12 yards. The post route is also a good way to get open against two high safety defenses, as it attacks the open space between them in the deep middle of the field.

Post Route

The post route can be run from the inside or outside receiver position, and is used to either attack the leverage of a specific defender in man coverage, or create a stretch on zone defenses while working with another route to create a conflict in deep zone coverage.

Post Corner Route

The post-corner route is a combination of the post and the corner route, designed to take an advantage of an aggressive defender in pass coverage. The receiver will start off by running what looks like a normal post route, breaking in towards the goal post at 10-12 yards, then breaking back outside on the corner route after 1-3 steps.

Post Corner Route

The idea is to get the defender in coverage to "bite" on the post route, and then break back outside when the defender's momentum and leverage are already taking him toward where he thought the route was going.

This route is especially useful against man coverage, and in the red zone as well, where a well-thrown post-corner can create all the separation needed for the quarterback to get the ball to a receiver breaking to the outside corner of the end zone.

Square Out Route

The square out route is run vertically down the field to a depth of between 10-12 yards, at which point the receiver will make a hard break toward the sideline. The route, as it is usually drawn up on paper, should show a break to the outside at a hard 90 degree angle.

The route is a good way to attack a defender who is playing too far off the receiver, expecting him to go vertical. It's also a route that relies on a lot of timing between the receiver and the quarterback, so it's not as good of a route if the defensive backs like to press at the line of scrimmage.

Square Out Route

This route is usually run by the outside receiver. The route the receiver runs from the slot that resembles a square out is called a "sail" route, and typically the break to the outside is much more rounded and less "sharp" than the square out.

Dig Route

The dig route is any route that starts off vertical and breaks sharply to the middle of the field at a depth of anywhere from 10-15 yards. This route can be run from either the inside or the outside, though the route will usually look different depending on which position the receiver runs the route from.

The dig route is often used to get the ball to a receiver in the middle of the field, between the hashes, and is also valuable in different pass concepts that stretch the defense in the middle, like the Yankee Concept.

Dig Route

When running the dig route from the outside, the break to the middle is a 2-part process, where the receiver will first break in at an angle, and then a couple of yards later he'll cut flat across the middle, like the picture below.

On the other hand, when the receiver runs the route from the slot, it's a much quicker and harder cut, a pivot at a 90 degree angle, and breaking flat across the middle like the picture below.

Slot Dig Route

Curl Route

The curl route is an intermediate route where the receiver will run vertically to around a 10-12 yard depth, then break back toward the quarterback and "sit" in the first available open space in the defense. The route is named because of the way the receiver's path resembles a "curl" when drawn up on paper.

Curl Route

This is usually run by the outside receiver position in combination with some sort of underneath route to the same side to stretch a zone defense and create an opening for the QB to throw the ball.

Comeback Route

The comeback route starts with a vertical release attacking downfield, and then the receiver breaks back at an angle toward the sideline. The ball should be thrown on time from the quarterback so that the receiver has a chance to catch the ball as soon as he comes out of his break. This is called a comeback route because the receiver literally comes back to the ball out of his break, and the quarterback throws it behind him.

Comeback Route

Completing this pass takes an incredible amount of timing and discipline from both the quarterback and the receiver, since the ball must be thrown on time, and also to the right spot (away from the defender).

This is one of the toughest routes to throw consistently well, but when the offense is on the same page, it's also one of the toughest to defend.

Drag Route

The drag route is a horizontal route that starts off very short and sees the receiver drifting deeper as he crosses the field, usually no deeper than 6-8 yards. The route is used on a lot of plays that move the quarterback, like bootlegs and sprint out passes, since it allows the receiver to stay "even" with the quarterback and catch the ball on the run.

Drag Route

The route is designed to get the ball to the receiver as he's moving from one side to the other, and create opportunities for yards after the catch.

Shallow Cross Route

The shallow cross route is a short route where the receiver stays no deeper than 2-3 yards past the line of scrimmage while running from on side of the field to the other.

The idea behind the route is so that the quarterback can get the ball to the receiver on the run, and it gives faster receivers the ability to run away and create space between them and defenders trailing in man coverage.

Shallow Cross Route

The route can also be paired with other deeper routes to stretch the middle of the defense and create space against zone. This is exactly where the Shallow Cross Concept gets its name.

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