Football 101: Option Routes and why Denver may struggle with them.

Option routes were glossed over in the outside wide receiver route article, but we’re expanding on it because as of right now, we only have one “healthy” veteran WR (Emmanuel Sanders who is recovering from an ankle injury). Demaryius Thomas is dealing with a foot issue leaving us with two rookies, one vet with limited experience and a few practice squad guys. On the tight end side, only two on the rooster have run routes during an NFL game and both are extremely inexperienced.

*to note: this is football 101, things are simply explained and usually/typically can be inserted into most sentences.

I stressed experience because it matters in reading defenses, plus it also relies heavily on the quarterback, too. On a play, one WR/TE/RB may be given the “option” of running two or three different pre-determined routes. It’s the WRs call based on the coverage. He can decide at the line of scrimmage or sometime during the play. Not only does he need to read the defense, but he’s got to be an excellent route runner with good quickness to turn on a dime when he changes his mind if the defense bites, or leaves a spot open.

While there are dozens of various routes that can be run, only three options max are decided upon because a) the quarterback has to be aware enough of which routes he could run, while watching his other receivers plus the defense and b) only so many are realistic.

FYI, not many TE’s are given the option because their route running isn’t good enough, nor is their “sell”. However, when you have the best like Rob Gronkowski (Jason Whitten was better), they can torch defenses.

When the receiver and QB are on the same page, they’re extremely dangerous to defenses unless you have DB’s who can cover really well. This teamwork builds over time, the duo reading each other’s minds almost. The best way to pull these off is to have more than two players who can effectively run them…and QB’s who are experienced enough to go through their progressions. Right now, our corps is iffy and the jury is out on how well Case Keenum handles the option.

Without knowing each play Minnesota had called, we don’t have an idea what his ability is. In the NFL, you’re not just trying to get open, the option can also be used to trick defenses to think the ball is going one way. Call it a dummy option.

Below are the very basic routes. On an option, they could have the choice of a comeback, curl or a fade because his coverage is blown. Or maybe, at the LOS he starts out thinking slant, but turns it into a dig. He could fake a flat, but instead turn back and run a fade or out. There are dozens and dozens of route combos based off this tree, but it gives you an idea.


Denver Broncos Route tree
Standard route tree

To note: bad things happen when the QB/WR/TE aren’t on the same page. If the WR choses a comeback, but the QB doesn’t see it or lacks the arm for the throw, if you’re lucky, it’s only an incomplete. Some veteran WR’s know what skills their QB’s are better/worse at and even though a harder route could give bigger gains, chooses the easier one. A five yard gain beats an interception on a deep comeback An inexperienced receiver like a rookie or even a more seasoned TE, might not have enough knowledge to know, so they chose the glory play over what their QB excels at.

This is why Denver may keep options to a minimum, at least for 1/2 the season. With yet another QB starting and a slew of inexperienced catchers, there may not be enough time to get that chemistry going. While the onus is on the receiver to pick the right option because of his skill at reading the defense (and beating coverage), the QB’s skill can’t be overlooked.

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