Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Scouting Glossary: The Coverage Triangle


Matt Waldman defines the Coverage Triangle in this edition of the RSP NFL Scouting Glossary with the help of a play from Ohio State NFL Draft Prospect, Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

What is the Coverage Triangle?

And why do receivers have to possess knowledge of it for the NFL?

One way of answering this question is by asking another question: Why do a lot of top athletes at wide receiver fail to transition quickly, if at all, to the NFL after promising performances during training camps?

Receivers must be on the same page with their quarterbacks when reading coverage. This means understanding changes to the coverage late in the pre-snap phase and early in the post-snap phase of the play:

  • Alignment shifts.
  • Drops or climbs.
  • Changes in leverage.
  • Body language that may indicate a blitz.

These are just some of the factors a receiver and quarterback have to see the same way. When they do, the receiver will be adjusting his route to a pattern that will break open.

A significant factor in this decision is the Coverage Triangle, which consists of some combination of three defenders:

  • A safety, usually over the top at some amount of depth.
  • A linebacker, usually inside of the receiver.
  • A cornerback, usually closest to the receiver.
  • A defensive lineman who may drop to cover the shallow zone.

Sometimes we’ll see these four positions play roles that vary from what I mentioned. The basic point is that you have three defenders that a receiver should take into account before the snap and early in the post-snap phase when running a route against zone coverage or a combination of man and zone.

The Coverage Triangle on Film

Ohio State wide receiver and NFL Draft prospect, Jaxon Smith-Njigba demonstrates how a receiver and quarterback will account for this coverage triangle during the late pre-snap and early post-snap phase of a play.

It’s important to note that this particular play may or may not be a spot adjustment from Smith-Njigba where he’s identifying a change to the Coverage Triangle and altering his route. He might just be identifying a blitz.

Still, the play illustrates how the blitz impacts the triangle and why the route that Smith-Njibba is running beats the triangle of defenders.

NFL receivers have to be more aware of this triangle and how to decide which route to run based on it. One of the primary decision factors is based on the position of each defender in the triangle.

When you’re watching receivers on Sunday, spend time identifying the coverage triangle accounting for them and you’ll begin to see the logic behind their route decisions versus zone. You’ll also begin to understand why some top one-on-one athletes aren’t on the field as much as fans hoped.

You can also find more detail on this concept on my YouTube Channel, Matt Waldman’s RSP Film Room and in the RSP Cast below.

And of course, if you want to know about the rookies from this draft class, you will find the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), with the 2022 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for $21.95. 

Matt’s new RSP Dynasty Rankings and Two-Year Projections Package is available for $24.95

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2020 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2020 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

Best yet, proceeds from sales are set aside for a year-end donation to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse of children. 

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