All 9 Football Routes Explained with Images (The Route Tree)

There are clear pictures of nine different football routes (The Route Tree)

Every football player and coach needs to know the different routes that are used.

On every play, a different route will be given to each receiver on the field. This is done to confuse and overwhelm the defense.

But let’s start with what you need to know…

What is the “Route Tree”?

No matter what position a receiver is in or where he lines up, he will have to run a version of one of nine standard football routes.

These nine paths make up the “Route Tree.”

Football Routes

 The routes on a play sheet look like a tree, which is why it’s called a “route tree.” You can see this in the photos below. It is very important to know all about the nine different routes in football, how they are used, and when they are most useful. I’ve put them in order of how close they are to the line of scrimmage in the list below. 

Okay, let’s get started…

#1 – The Flat Route

The flat route is a simple out route that gets to the sideline or field edge quickly.

The receiver will move a short distance before cutting back to either the left or right sideline that is closest.

The flat route is often used by slot wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs.

Outside wide receivers rarely run them because the distance between the sideline and where they start is so short.

#2 – The Slant Route

A slant route in football is like a flat route in that it is a quick option.

The receiver will move forward for a short distance before cutting inside and slanting diagonally.

The goal is for the receiver to get away from the defender and put his body in the way of the defense as he tries to get to the quarterback.

Slant routes can be run in any direction, at any depth, and from any starting point.

Slants can be run at different depths in the field, from shallow to deep.

But if the quarterback throws the ball to a player running a slant route, it’s likely that player will catch the ball and run quickly with it.

#3 – The Comeback Route

The comeback path is meant to work in the opposite direction of what its name suggests.

After running straight downfield, the receiver will stop and slant back toward the line of scrimmage and the sideline.

Football Routes

This route is usually only used by outside wide receivers in football because of the sideline and the receiver’s ability to shield the ball with his body and the sideline.

It is most often used with the back-shoulder throw, which is becoming more common in professional football. This is when the quarterback throws the ball to a part of the receiver’s body that only the receiver can reach.

#4 – The Curl Route

The curl is also sometimes called the stop route.

After stopping, the player with the ball goes back to the line of scrimmage, but this time he goes toward the middle of the field instead of back to the sideline.

This means that players lined up in the middle of the field often run this way. In fact, the curl route and the return route are often done together in a formation called “inside-outside.”

For this football route, the receiver must run straight downfield, stop, and then curve back toward the middle of the field, away from the nearest sideline.

#5 – The Out Route

Even though the out route looks the same as the flat path, it is actually much deeper.

Because the ball will be in the air for a long time before it gets to the receiver, this route requires both a good route from the receiver and a strong arm from the quarterback.

The only difference between an out route and a flat route is that an out route is run ten to fifteen yards further down the field.

Again, because this football route needs to use the sideline, receivers who aren’t set up on the far edge of the field often use it.

When running this route, the receiver will go up for 10–15 yards, then go sideways for 5–10 yards. He or she will usually catch the ball very close to the sideline.

#6 – The In or Dig Route

This path may be called the “In” or the “Dig.”

It’s kind of the opposite of the Out option.

After running 10–15 yards straight downfield, the receiver will stop and make a horizontal cut toward the inside of the field.

For the In or Dig to work, a receiver must be able to run routes with pinpoint accuracy.

To get away from the defender without using the sideline, he must first trick the defender into thinking he’s running a straight deep route, and then cut through the middle with great speed and accuracy.

As the receiver on the In or Dig route moves toward the middle of the field, he risks getting more attention from the defense.

#7 – The Corner Route

The three paths at the very end of the Route Tree are the ones that are the farthest away.

The corner route is a play that takes place in the deep corner of the field.

The receiver will start his route 10–15 yards straight down the field, then cut across the field to the deep outside.

This corner route’s last leg is a diagonal, like the last leg of the slant route.

The key is to slant to the outside at an angle that lets the receiver get some depth, rather than taking a short cut that limits the depth of the route.

The goal of this football play is to break through a zone defense, which relies on its safeties to provide extra protection on top.

The receiver who runs the route will have a chance to catch a touchdown pass, and other receivers from shorter depths will be able to run routes across the middle of the field.

#8 – The Post Route

The corner route is clearly the brother or sister of the post route.

This case is like the last one, but the diagonal points inwards instead of outwards.

The safeties will be attacked along this path, just like they were on the corner route.

But in this football route, the quarterback usually throws a long pass to an open area of the field, and the receiver uses his speed and space to run under the pass.

The goal is not only to put space between the receiver and the defender, but also to take advantage of a second, more isolated opening in the middle of the field.

#9 – The Fly Route

The easiest way to play football is the one at the end of the tree.

In its most simple form, the fly route tells the receiver to dive for the ball.

Since this is the case, people often call it the “Go” option.

From where he starts, the receiver has to run as far and as fast as he can down the field.

The goal is to create space between the receiver and the defender, who may be placed in case the receiver deviates from the intended vertical path of the route and runs one of the other routes in the Route Tree instead.

The receiver should be fast enough to stop the defender from backpedaling, and the defender will have to turn his back on the line of scrimmage in order to keep up with the receiver.

This should give the receiver an advantage over the defense because they will know when and where the ball is thrown.

To throw a pass to a receiver running a fly route, the quarterback needs to be accurate and have a strong arm, since the ball will often travel at least 30 yards in the air before it gets to the receiver.

Football Routes

Combination Routes

There are only nine “real” routes in the Route Tree, but three more are often used because they are a mix of the nine primary routes.

a. The “Sluggo” Route

Its name, “sluggo,” comes from the fact that it is a mix of the “slant” and “go” routes.

The receiver will start the route by taking a few steps forward and then slanting toward the middle of the field.

When the receiver stops the play and heads for the deep part of the field, the slant route changes into a go route.

b. The “Bubble” Route

This screen route can be run by any player in the wide receiver formation.

On a screen play, the receiver won’t rush forward when the ball is snapped. Instead, he will take a small step backward and toward the quarterback before getting the ball.

The goal is to get the ball to the receiver quickly so that he can use his speed and skill to avoid defenders and gain yards.

c. The “Drag” Route

The receiver makes a move that looks like a slant, but instead of cutting sharply to the middle of the field, he “drags” the route farther to the other side of the field.

This route takes longer to set up than the slant route, and the receiver usually goes almost the whole length of the field.

Double Moves

Most of the time, receivers use the “Sluggo” method to throw off a defender.

There is also the “hitch route,” in which the defender runs a slant and then stops in his tracks to move to a certain spot on the field.


The goal of the Route Tree is not to just draw a pretty picture of all the possible routes that football receivers can take.

Instead, it shows that route running works best when it has a trunk, branches, and different levels, just like a tree.

In the best offensive passing plays, the football player usually has a tree with many different routes to take.

Also, give the receivers as much space as possible to move around.

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