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A wide receiver (WR), also referred to as a wideout, historically a split end, is an
eligible receiver In gridiron football, not all players on offense are entitled to receive a forward pass. Only an eligible pass receiver may legally catch a forward pass, and only an eligible receiver may advance beyond the neutral zone if a forward pass crosses ...
in
gridiron football Gridiron football,"Gridiron football"
''Encyclopædia Britannica''. Retrie ...
. A key
skill positionSkill positions in gridiron football are the American football positions, positions that ordinarily handle the ball and are most responsible for scoring points. Offensive players such as quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers are typically c ...
of the offense, WR gets its name from the player being split out "wide" (near the sidelines), farthest away from the rest of the offensive formation. A
forward pass In several forms of football Football is a family of team sport A team is a fastest_players_on_the_field_alongside_cornerback.html" ;"title="40-yard dash#Average time by position">fastest players on the field alongside cornerback">40-yard dash#Average time by position">fastest players on the field alongside cornerbacks and
running back A running back (RB) is a member of the offensive backfieldThe offensive backfield is the area of an American football field behind the line of scrimmage. The offensive backfield can also refer to members of American football positions#Offense, ...
s. One on either extreme of the line is typical, but several may be employed on the same play. Through 2019 only two wide receivers,
Jerry Rice Jerry Lee Rice Sr. (born October 13, 1962) is a former American professional football Football is a family of team sport A team is a [group (disambiguation), group of individuals (human or non-human) working together to achieve their g ...

Jerry Rice
(in 1987 and 1993) and Michael Thomas (wide receiver, born 1993), Michael Thomas (in 2019) have won Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award, Offensive Player of the Year. In every other year it was awarded to either a
quarterback The quarterback (commonly abbreviated "QB"), colloquially known as the "signal caller", is a position in gridiron football Gridiron football,
quarterback
or running back. No wide receiver has ever won
MVP In sport, sports, a most valuable player award is an honor typically bestowed upon an individual as the most performing player (or players) in an entire league, for a particular competition, or on a specific team. Initially used in professiona ...
. Jerry Rice is the leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns in the all-time list for receivers along with being a 3-time SB champion and 10-time All-Pro selections.


Role

The wide receiver's principal role is to catch
forward pass In several forms of football Football is a family of team sport A team is a [group (disambiguation), group of individuals (human or non-human) working together to achieve their goal. As defined by Professor Leigh Thompson (academic), ...
es from the
quarterback The quarterback (commonly abbreviated "QB"), colloquially known as the "signal caller", is a position in gridiron football Gridiron football,
quarterback
. On passing plays, the receiver attempts to avoid, outmaneuver, or simply outrun the
cornerback A cornerback (CB) is a members of the defensive back In gridiron football, defensive backs (DBs), also called the secondary, are the players on the defensive side of the ball who play farthest back from the line of scrimmage. They are distin ...

cornerback
s or safety (American football position), safeties typically defending him. If the receiver becomes open on his route (football), pass route, the
quarterback The quarterback (commonly abbreviated "QB"), colloquially known as the "signal caller", is a position in gridiron football Gridiron football,
quarterback
may throw a pass to him. The receiver needs to successfully catch the
ball A ball is a round object (usually spherical of a sphere A sphere (from Greek language, Greek —, "globe, ball") is a geometrical object in three-dimensional space Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional s ...
without it touching the ground (known as a completion) and then run with the ball as far downfield as possible, hopefully reaching the
end zone The end zone is the Goal (sport), scoring area on the field, according to gridiron football, gridiron-based codes of football. It is the area between the end line and Goal line (gridiron football), goal line bounded by the sidelines. There are ...
for to score a
touchdown A touchdown (abbreviated as TD) is a scoring play in gridiron football Gridiron football,
touchdown
. Especially fast receivers are typically perceived as "deep threats", while those with good hands and perhaps shifty moves may be regarded as "possession receivers" prized for running crossing routes across the middle of the field, and, ideally, converting third down situations. Taller receivers with a height advantage over typically shorter defenders tend to play further to the outside and run deep more often, while shorter ones tend to play inside and run more routes underneath the top of the defense. A wide receiver may block his or another defender, depending on the type of play being run. On standard running plays they will block their assigned defender for the
running back A running back (RB) is a member of the offensive backfieldThe offensive backfield is the area of an American football field behind the line of scrimmage. The offensive backfield can also refer to members of American football positions#Offense, ...
. Particularly in the case of draws and other trick plays, he may run a pass route with the intent of drawing defenders away from the intended action. Well-rounded receivers are noted for skill in both roles;
Hines Ward Hines Edward Ward Jr. (born March 8, 1976) is a Korea Korea (officially the "Korean Peninsula") is a region in East Asia. Since 1945 it has been Division of Korea, divided into the two parts which soon became the two sovereign states: Nor ...
in particular received praise for his blocking abilities while also becoming the
Pittsburgh Steelers The Pittsburgh Steelers are a professional American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport A team sport includes any sport S ...
all-time leading receiver and one of 13 in NFL history through 2009 with at least 1,000 receptions. Occasionally wide receivers are used to run the ball, usually in plays seeking to surprise the defense, as in an end-around or reverse. All-time NFL receiving yardage leader
Jerry Rice Jerry Lee Rice Sr. (born October 13, 1962) is a former American professional football Football is a family of team sport A team is a [group (disambiguation), group of individuals (human or non-human) working together to achieve their g ...

Jerry Rice
also rushed the ball 87 times for 645 yards and 10 touchdowns in his 20 NFL seasons. In even rarer cases, receivers may pass the ball as part of an outright
trick play A trick play Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity), an activity done for enjoyment * Play (theatre), a work of drama Play may refer also to: Computers and technology * Google Play, a digital content service * Play Framework, a Java fra ...
. Like a running back, a receiver may legally pass the ball so long as they receive it behind the line of scrimmage, in the form of a handoff or backwards lateral. This sort of trick play is often employed with a receiver who has past experience playing quarterback at a lower level, such as high school, or sometimes, college.
Antwaan Randle El Antwaan Randle El (; born August 17, 1979) is an American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport A team sport includes any sport ...

Antwaan Randle El
, a four-year quarterback at
Indiana University Indiana University (IU) is a major multicampus public research institution, grounded in the liberal arts and sciences. Indiana University’s mission is to provide broad access to undergraduate and graduate education for students throughout Ind ...
, threw a touchdown pass at the wide receiver position in
Super Bowl XL Super Bowl XL was an American football game between the National Football Conference (NFC) champion 2005 Seattle Seahawks season, Seattle Seahawks and the American Football Conference (AFC) champion 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers season, Pittsburgh ...

Super Bowl XL
playing for the
Pittsburgh Steelers The Pittsburgh Steelers are a professional American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport A team sport includes any sport S ...
against the
Seattle Seahawks The Seattle Seahawks are a professional American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on a rectangu ...
. Wide receivers often also serve on special teams as
kick A kick is a physical strike Strike may refer to: People *Strike (surname) Physical confrontation or removal *Strike (attack), attack with an inanimate object or a part of the human body intended to cause harm *Airstrike, military strike by ...
or
punt returner A return specialist or kick returner is a player on the special teams unit of a gridiron football team who specializes in returning punt (gridiron football), punts and kickoff (gridiron football), kickoffs. There are few players who are exclusivel ...
s, as
gunner Gunner, the Gunner, Gunners or the Gunners may refer to: Places * Gunner Bay, Bermuda * Gunner River, New Zealand * Gunners Park and Shoebury Ranges, a nature reserve in Essex, England * Gunners Pond, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada * Mount Gunn ...
s on coverage teams, or as part of the hands team during
onside kick In gridiron football Gridiron football,"Gridiron football"
''Encyclopæd ...
s. Devin Hester from the Chicago Bears, touted one of the greatest kick and punt returners of all time, was listed as a wide receiver. Five-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler
Matthew Slater Matthew Wilson Slater (born September 9, 1985) is an American football wide receiver for the New England Patriots of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA, where he received ...

Matthew Slater
is a gunner for the
New England Patriots The New England Patriots are a professional American football team based in the Greater Boston area. They compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league's American Football Conference (AFC) AFC East, East division ...
also listed as a wide-receiver. In the NFL, wide receivers can use the
numbers A number is a mathematical object A mathematical object is an abstract concept arising in mathematics. In the usual language of mathematics, an ''object'' is anything that has been (or could be) formally defined, and with which one may do deduc ...
1–49 and 80–89. A "route tree" system typically used in high school and college employs numbers zero through nine, with zero being a "go route" and a nine being a "hitch route" or vice versa. In high school they are normally a part of the play call, but are usually disguised in higher levels of plays.


History

The wide receiver grew out of a position known as the
end End, END, Ending, or variation, may refer to: End *In mathematics: **End (category theory) **End (topology) **End (graph theory) **End (graph_theory)#Cayley_graphs, End (group theory) (a subcase of the previous) **End (endomorphism) *In sports an ...
. Originally, the ends played on the
offensive line Image:Linemen.svg, 350px, A diagram of the linemen, with defensive linemen (in 4-3 formation) in red and offensive linemen in green. In gridiron football, a lineman is a player who specializes in play at the line of scrimmage. The linemen of the ...
, immediately next to the tackles, in a position now referred to as the
tight end The tight end (TE) is a position in American football, arena football, and Canadian football, on the offense (sports), offense. The tight end is often a hybrid position with the characteristics and roles of both an offensive lineman and a wide re ...
. By the rules governing the forward pass, ends (positioned at the end of the line of scrimmage) and backs (positioned behind the line of scrimmage) are eligible receivers. Most early football teams used the ends sparingly as receivers, as their starting position next to the offensive tackles at the end of the offensive formation often left them in heavy traffic with many defenders around. By the 1930s, some teams were experimenting with spreading the field by moving one end far out near the sideline, drawing the defense away from running plays and leaving them more open on passing ones. These "split ends" became the prototype for what has evolved into being called today the wide receiver.
Don Hutson Donald Montgomery Hutson (January 31, 1913 – June 26, 1997) was an American professional football Football is a family of s that involve, to varying degrees, a to score a . Unqualified, normally means the form of football that is ...
, who played college football at
Alabama (We dare defend our rights) , anthem = "Alabama (We dare defend our rights) , anthem = "Alabama (state song), Alabama" , image_map = Alabama in United States.svg , seat ...
and professionally with the
Green Bay Packers The Green Bay Packers are a professional American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport A team sport includes any sport Spo ...

Green Bay Packers
, was the first player to exploit the potential of the split end position. As the passing game evolved, a second de facto wide receiver was added by employing a
running back A running back (RB) is a member of the offensive backfieldThe offensive backfield is the area of an American football field behind the line of scrimmage. The offensive backfield can also refer to members of American football positions#Offense, ...
in a pass-catching role rather than splitting out the "blind-side" end, who was typically retained as a blocker to protect the left side of right-handed quarterbacks. The end stayed at the end of the offensive line in what today is a
tight end The tight end (TE) is a position in American football, arena football, and Canadian football, on the offense (sports), offense. The tight end is often a hybrid position with the characteristics and roles of both an offensive lineman and a wide re ...
position, while the running back - who would line up a yard or so off the offensive line and some distance from the end in a "flank" position - became known as a "flanker". Lining up behind the line of scrimmage gave the flanker two principal advantages. First, a flanker has more "space" between themselves and their opposing defensive
cornerback A cornerback (CB) is a members of the defensive back In gridiron football, defensive backs (DBs), also called the secondary, are the players on the defensive side of the ball who play farthest back from the line of scrimmage. They are distin ...

cornerback
, who can not as easily "jam" them at the line of scrimmage; second, flankers are eligible for
motion Image:Leaving Yongsan Station.jpg, 300px, Motion involves a change in position In physics, motion is the phenomenon in which an object changes its position (mathematics), position over time. Motion is mathematically described in terms of Displacem ...
plays, which allow them to move laterally before and during the snap. is one of the earliest players to successfully exploit the potential of the flanker position as a member of the
Los Angeles Rams The Los Angeles Rams are a professional American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on a rectangular American ...
during the 1950s. While some teams did experiment with more than two wide receivers as a gimmick or
trick play A trick play Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity), an activity done for enjoyment * Play (theatre), a work of drama Play may refer also to: Computers and technology * Google Play, a digital content service * Play Framework, a Java fra ...
, most teams used the
pro set Image:Pro Formation.svg, 375px, The base pro set formation with a split end (WR to left of formation), a flanker (WR on right of formation), a quarterback(QB), a fullback (FB), a halfback (HB), a tight end (TE), and five down linemen (OL). In Ame ...
(of a flanker, split end, half back, full back, tight end, and quarterback) as the standard group of ball-handling personnel . An early innovator, coach
Sid Gillman Sidney Gillman (October 26, 1911 – January 3, 2003) was an American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on a r ...
used 3+ wide receiver sets as early as the 1960s. In sets that have three, four, or five wide receivers, extra receivers are typically called slot receivers, as they play in the "slot" (open space) between the furthest receiver and the offensive line, typically lining up off the line of scrimmage like a flanker. The first use of a slot receiver is often credited to
Al Davis Allen Davis (July 4, 1929 – October 8, 2011) was an American football coach and executive. He was the principal owner and general manager of the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League (NFL) for 39 years, from 1972 until his death in 20 ...
, a Gillman assistant who took the concept with him as a coach of the 1960s
Oakland Raiders Oakland is the largest city and the county seat A county seat is an administrative centerAn administrative centre is a seat of regional administration or local government Local government is a generic term for the lowest tiers of public ad ...
. Other members of the Gillman
coaching tree A coaching tree is similar to a family tree Family tree showing the relationship of each person to the orange person, including cousins and gene share A family tree, also called a genealogy Genealogy (from el, γενεαλογία ' "study ...
, including
Don Coryell Donald David Coryell (October 17, 1924 – July 1, 2010) was an American football coach, who coached in the National Football League (NFL) first with the St. Louis Cardinals (NFL), St. Louis Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals) from 1973 St. Louis ...
and
John Madden John Earl Madden (April 10, 1936 – December 28, 2021) was an American football Football is a family of s that involve, to varying degrees, a to score a . Unqualified, normally means the form of football that is the most popular wh ...

John Madden
, brought these progressive offensive ideas along with them into the 1970s and early 1980s, but it was not until the 1990s that teams began to reliably use three or more wide receivers, notably the "
run and shoot The run and shoot offense (also known as Run N' Shoot) is an offensive system for American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by ...
" offense popularized by the
Houston Cougars The Houston Cougars are the athletic teams representing the University of Houston The University of Houston (UH) is a public research university in Houston, Texas, and the flagship institution of the University of Houston System. Founded in 192 ...
of the NCAA and the
Houston Oilers Houston ( ) is the most populous city The United Nations uses three definitions for what constitutes a city, as not all cities in all jurisdictions are classified using the same criteria. Cities may be defined as the city proper, cities pro ...
of the NFL, and the "K Gun" offense used by the
Buffalo Bills ''Italic text'' The Buffalo Bills are a professional American football team based in the Buffalo–Niagara Falls metropolitan area. They compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league's American Football Conference ...
.
Charlie Joiner Charles B. Joiner Jr. (born October 14, 1947) is an American former professional American football, football player who was a wide receiver in the American Football League (AFL) and National Football League (NFL) for 18 seasons. He is best known ...

Charlie Joiner
, a member of the "
Air CoryellIn American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on a rectangular American football field, field with goal ...
"
San Diego Chargers The professional American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport A team sport includes any sport Sport pertains to any form of ...
teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s, was the first "slot receiver" to be his team's primary receiver. Wide receivers generally hit their peak between the ages of 23 and 30, with about 80 percent of peak seasons falling within that range according to one study.


Types

The designation for a receiver separated from the main offensive formation varies depending on how far they are removed from it and whether they begin on or off the line of scrimmage. The three principal designations are "wide receiver"/"split end", "flanker", and "slot back": * Split end (X or SE): A receiver positioned farthest from center on their side of the field which takes their stance on the
line of scrimmage In gridiron football Gridiron football,"Gridiron football"
''Encyclop ...
, necessary to meet the rule requiring seven players to be lined up on it at the snap. In a punt formation the split end is known as a
gunner Gunner, the Gunner, Gunners or the Gunners may refer to: Places * Gunner Bay, Bermuda * Gunner River, New Zealand * Gunners Park and Shoebury Ranges, a nature reserve in Essex, England * Gunners Pond, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada * Mount Gunn ...
. * Flanker/Flanker back (Z or FL or 6 back): Frequently the team's featured receiver, the flanker lines up a yard or so behind the line of scrimmage, generally on the same side of the formation as a
tight end The tight end (TE) is a position in American football, arena football, and Canadian football, on the offense (sports), offense. The tight end is often a hybrid position with the characteristics and roles of both an offensive lineman and a wide re ...
. It is typically the farthest player from the center on its side of the field, and use the initial buffer between their starting position off the line and a
defender Defender(s) or The Defender(s) may refer to: *Defense (military) *Defense (sports) **Defender (association football) Arts and entertainment Film and television * The Defender (1989 film), ''The Defender'' (1989 film), a Canadian documentary * T ...
to avoid immediate "jamming" (legal defensive contact within five yards of the line of scrimmage). Being a member of the "backfield", the flanker can go into lateral or backward motion before the snap to potentially position themselves for a changing role on the play or simply to confound a defense, and is usually the one to do so. *
Slotback Slotback, sometimes referred to as an A-back or "slot receiver," is a position in gridiron football Gridiron football,Canadian Canadians (french: Canadiens) are people identified with the country of Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its Provinces and territories of Canada, ten provinces and three territories extend from the At ...

Canadian
and arena football allow a slotback to take a running start at the line; American football allows the slot receiver to move backward or laterally like a flanker, but not at the same time as any other member of the backfield. They are usually larger players as they need to make catches over the middle. In American football, slot receivers are typically used in
flexbone The flexbone formation It is an offensive formation Formation may refer to: Linguistics * Back-formation, the process of creating a new lexeme by removing or affixes * Word formation, the creation of a new word by adding affixes Mathematics and ...

flexbone
or other
triple option The triple option is an American football American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport A team sport includes any sport Sport pertains to any for ...
offenses, while Canadian football uses three of them in almost all formations (in addition to two split ends and a single running back).


References

{{Authority control American football positions Canadian football terminology