Wideout - a Definition and Explanation

What Is a Wideout?

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins #14 of the Buffalo Bills catches a touchdown pass against defensive back Sean Smith #21 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half on November 29, 2015 at Arrowhead Stadium
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins #14 of the Buffalo Bills catches a touchdown pass against defensive back Sean Smith #21 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half on November 29, 2015 at Arrowhead Stadium. Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

A wideout, also known as a wide receiver or sometimes simply a receiver, is an offensive player whose primary job is to catch passes from the quarterback. He lines up on or near the line of scrimmage where the ball is placed at the beginning of the play, but split to the outside.

Wideouts are traditionally the outermost players on the line of scrimmage because only certain players are eligible to catch forward passes — those in the backfield who line up behind the line of scrimmage or offensive linemen on the ends of the line.

 

A Wideout's Duties During Passing Plays

The main role of a wideout is to advance the ball by catching passes from the quarterback. The receiver runs routes of varying distances in an attempt to get open — free from defenders — and catch the ball. The route might be as short as a few feet or it might be as far as the quarterback can throw. The receiver will attempt to avoid, overpower, outsmart or simply outrun the defenders assigned to stop him.

Cornerbacks, and to a lesser extent safeties, are typically charged with defending against wideouts, trying to prevent them from catching the football or advancing after they do. When a wideout has successfully caught a pass, it becomes his mission to gain additional yardage by running the ball. The ultimate goal of any offensive play is to score a touchdown.

A Wideout's Duties During Running Plays 

A wideout has two potential roles during a running play: He may run a passing route with the intention of drawing the defense’s attention away from the actual play, or he may serve as a blocker.

When he's running a route to draw the attention of the defense, the wideout basically serves as a decoy. He aims to make the defense think that the quarterback is going to throw the ball, when in reality the quarterback is going to hand the ball off to a runner.

Alternatively, the receiver may only be expected to block to clear a path for the running back.

Types of Wideouts 

  • Split end: A split end is a receiver who lines up on the line of scrimmage. Seven offensive players must line up on the line on each play. The split end is the furthest from the center on his side of the line.
  • Flanker: A flanker is a receiver who lines up behind the line of scrimmage. The flanker usually lines up on the same side as the tight end, and he is often the primary target in passing plays. The flanker lines up in a similar manner to the split end, except he is behind the line of scrimmage rather than on the line.
  • Slot receiver: The slot is a gap in the line between the outside offensive linemen and the player positioned closest to the sideline — the wide receiver. This area is usually filled by a wide receiver, a running back or a tight end. Players who line up in the slot are referred to as slotbacks or slot receivers. The area known as the slot is most commonly used to create offensive formations that employ multiple potential receivers on the same side of the field.

A tight end is not technically a wideout, although their roles have some similarities. Tight ends are also charged with catching the ball, but their responsibilities include more blocking.

They're not always as nimble or as fast as wideouts.