Keys to a Good Back-Shoulder Fade

Keshawn Martin was one of two receivers I watched in recent months that got me thining about the techniques required to execute a good back-shoulder fade. Photo by Mattradickal.

The back-shoulder fade can be an unstoppable weapon if a receiver understands how to run the route and the quarterback throws the ball with timing and confidence. Here are components of the route that make the play successful.

A clean release: Timing is essential with his play and if a receiver cannot get a quick, clean release it diminishes his chances of getting close enough to the ball to make a successful play. A lot of college receivers I watch have decent footwork, but they don’t know how to use their hands. Being first with the contact is often a good start. Beating the defensive back to the punch throws off the defender’s game. It also helps if the receiver understands where to place his hands on a defender to achieve a clean release.

Buying horizontal real estate: More specifically, a receiver has to stake his claim to the sideline. This doesn’t mean crowding the boundary, but the exact opposite. Most fade routes require an outside release.

Cornerbacks know that a clean release might give a receiver initial confidence in his route, but if the defender can pin the receiver tight to the boundary two things happen in his favor. First, the receiver is more likely to step out of bounds before the ball arrives. He’s then ineligible to touch the ball until someone else does. Second, the receiver on a back shoulder sideline fade has to turn inside to the quarterback’s throw. If the receiver is already tight to the sideline the quarterback has very little room to place the ball in an area where the cornerback isn’t in position to block the trajectory of the ball.

However, when a receiver veers further inside, he accomplishes two things: he gives the quarterback more room to place the ball between the receiver and the sideline, which allows the receiver to shield the defender as he turns back to the ball, and it baits the defender into thinking that the receiver is still fighting to get further down field. This sells the break more effectively.

A lot of passes that you see that appear to be thrown too far out of bounds are the result of a receiver crowding the sideline on a deep fade and not giving the quarterback room to deliver the ball in a safe spot. Good cornerbacks also do a good job of using the sideline as their friend and force receivers to crowd it.

Late Hands: Defenders on fade routes are often watching the receiver rather than looking back to the quarterback. They are reading the receiver’s eyes and body language to judge when the ball is arriving. One of the common mistakes receivers make is to stop pumping their arms as the ball arrives. Even if the receiver isn’t extending his arms, the fact that he’s stopped moving his arms tells the defender that he’s about to stop running or better yet, the ball is near and he’s about to reach for it.

A receiver with late hands makes the defender’s job that much harder. The best at this skill can wait until the ball is a split-second away on pass thrown over their shoulder. Another technique that aids late hands is a strong break. When a receiver makes a strong break back to the ball on the back shoulder fade he can often make a similar plant and break as a hitch route, which means the legs plant first with the hips dropped while the arms are still drumming. This can throw off defensive backs.

Arm extension: Rarely do you see a completed back-shoulder fade where the receiver hasn’t extended his arms away from his body to catch the football. Because the receiver’s body is turning back to the ball, the placement of the ball is supposed to be at a spot where the receiver’s break creates a natural shield between the defender and the ball. Back-shoulder fades are timing routes that evolved to overcome tight single coverage, therefore the execution of the route naturally occurs in tight quarters.

Extending the arms away from the body lowers the risk of the defender gaining access to the ball with his hands to swat the pass away because it reinforces the effectiveness of the body shielding the defender, it allows the receiver to attack the ball and make the catch at the earliest possible window, and when the receiver cannot make a clean catch attempt, there is a better chance to make a reception on a second attempt. In other words, if a receiver juggles the ball initially, it’s better if he’s juggling the pass further away from the reach of the defender.

Some of the luckier plays we’ve seen where receivers tip passes to themselves in tight coverage and run past the defensive back for a touchdown come from good arm extension. Attacking the ball at the first opportunity sometimes extends the window of opportunity to make the reception. Strong technique can put a receiver in position to be lucky.

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