What is a Wide Receiver in Football?

Last updated on October 27th, 2023 at 05:15 pm

A wide receiver on an American Football team has two primary roles. The first role is to run down the field to get open via a forward pass from the quarterback. The quarterback can pass to this football position player since they are eligible receivers. As a note, not everyone on the offense is an eligible receiver, like the center.


The second role of a wide receiver is to be a blocker on running plays. For example, an outside running play will require the wide receiver to block the cornerback on that side of the field. While the wide receiver is not as big and strong as other players on the offensive line, they can still hold back a player for a second or two, which might be all the running back needs to get by that defender on the run.


What Makes for a Good Wide Receiver?

what makes for a good wide receiver

Wide receivers need to be quick, have excellent hand-eye coordination, and spot the weakness in the defensive alignment. The passing game is one of the most important aspects of any good offensive team, so having an elite wide receiver can significantly increase scoring chances.


For example, a great wide receiver can make a difficult catch and then evade a tackle, which can lead to additional yards on offense. Generating extra yards from a catch is known as yards after the catch, which is sometimes a fantasy football stat.


Can the Wide Receiver Position Throw the Ball on a Play?

can the wide receiver position throw the ball on a play

Sometimes NFL teams will have a wide receiver on their team who was a starting quarterback in high school or college football. While they might be better as a wide receiver in the NFL, they still have experience and skills with throwing the football. If that is the case, teams might set up a trick play to allow the wide receiver to throw the ball down the field to another eligible receiver.


For example, Super Bowl XL between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks had the running back hand the ball off to the wide receiver (Antwaan Randel El), who then threw the ball downfield to Hines Ward for a touchdown. This trick play caught the defense by surprise since it appeared to be a run, so the Steelers wide receiver, Hines Ward, got open down the field for a touchdown pass.

Another example of this trick play was in 2020 with the New England Patriots against the Baltimore Ravens. Wide Receiver, Jakobi Meyers, threw a 24-yard touchdown to running back Rex Burkhead.


How Many NFL Wide Receivers Can an Offense Have?

how many wide receivers can an offense have

An offensive team can only have eleven players on the field with two positions for the wide receivers. The wide receivers line up on either side of the offensive line during a play. However, some offensive sequences can have the running back, fullback, and tight end as wide receivers during passing plays, which count as eligible receivers.


Can a Wide Receiver also Play on Special Teams?

can a wide receiver also play on special teams

Due to the speed of a wide receiver and their ability to catch the football, some NFL teams elect to have them also play on special teams. The position that the wide receiver will play on special teams is punt/kick returner. Teams elect to have the wide receiver play this position due to their great hands, quickness, and ability to juke out defenders to pick up the maximum number of yards on a return.


Conclusion: What is a Wide Receiver in Football

In summary, a wide receiver position is one of the most important offensive players on a team. They tend to be one of the fastest players on your squad, allowing them to get past the defenders and gain many yards on a play. Due to their speed, they can sometimes catch the ball in the middle of the field and get to the end zone since the defense cannot catch up to them after they make a catch.


Not only are wide receivers great at route running and catching the ball, but they also block defenders on running plays. Just like the tight end position, wide receivers need to be able to block on certain plays for their team. Blocking the backfield from a cornerback can give the running back space to pick up more yards on the running play.


Finally, having a wide receiver on your team with quarterback experience in high school or college can expand your offensive playbook via a trick play. Take the Pittsburgh Steelers with Antwaan Randle El throwing the football down the field for a touchdown. Executing a play like that can be a massive momentum shift for one team, which can frustrate the defense because wide receivers don’t throw often.


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