Studying college tape is my job. Studying NFL tape is my education. Michael Crabtree’s tape is always a strong lesson for route running.
In my RSP publication, videos, and blog posts, I often say that one of the most important facets of scouting college talent is viewing prospects through an NFL lens. I do this by studying the professional game. This regular season series covers examples of techniques, decisions, and scenarios involving NFL players that informs the way I study the college game.
Michael Crabtree’s game can teach you a lot about route running. He’s technically sound and creative. It’s an informative combination.
Here’s a fade route. It’s a simple route and Crabtree doesn’t complicate it with a lot of movement to bait the defender. You might even argue that the skip at the beginning of the release isn’t necessary.
I’d argue that Crabtree has used this hop at the top of stems to beat the Chargers on earlier routes and he’s throwing it into the mix to make the defender think a bit. Crabtree also has confidence that he can get even with the defender one-on-one.
What’s most notable about this route is the discipline that Crabtree has not to fade to the sideline as soon as he gets even with the defender. Whether it’s in your backyard or an organized league, there’s a natural tendency for a receiver to want to earn as much separation as possible from his opponent.
The most compelling visual argument for a quarterback to throw the ball to you is if you’re wide open. But as players advance in skill, the standard of “open” increases from no one within 3-5 yards of you to creating an optimal position.
Optimal position on a fade route is getting even with the defender and having enough room between the flat and the sideline for the quarterback to deliver the ball to the outside shoulder inside the boundary. When a receiver fades immediately after getting even with the defender, he’s often fading before the quarterback’s throw and narrows the passer’s margin for error. He’s also tipping off his break and giving the defender more time to adjust to the sideline movement.
When the receiver maintains his line until the quarterback makes the throw, he’s letting the quarterback deliver to a spot. He’s also maintaining that cushion with the boundary as long as possible so his adjustment to the ball doesn’t give the defender as much time to react.
It might be a simple looking route, but its execution is elegant.