NFL receivers showcase a returning skill: blocking

NFL wide receiver job descriptions are straightforward: Most are in the title. They normally line up away from the congestion of bulkie...


NFL wide receiver job descriptions are straightforward: Most are in the title.

They normally line up away from the congestion of bulkier teammates and opponents – wide – and receive the ball, preferably in the end zone.

Their hands are essential to the latter function, a reason many wouldn’t want to risk their mitts blocking defenders to help out on a running play.

Tennessee Titans receiver AJ Brown thinks otherwise.

In Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, Brown caught just three of his nine targets, four of which he dropped. As his production slumped, his teammates, star running back Derrick Henry and receiver Julio Jones, whom the Titans traded last offseason, shone, posting 365 combined yards from scrimmage. Henry rushed for three touchdowns.

On one, a 60-yard sprint down the sideline in the fourth quarter, Brown lined up near the offensive tackle at the line of scrimmage and shoved safety Jamal Adams out of Henry’s way. Whether Adams went after Henry or became another stiff meme is unknown, but Brown’s block certainly paved the way for the score. The Titans later won, 33-30, in overtime. Even during one of his worst statistical games, Brown was still an asset.

“I try to be proud of it and not let my guys take cheap shots,” Brown said in a January phone interview.

In this era of the NFL, where a prolific offense is even needed to be competitive and quarterbacks regularly throw 300 yards a game, receiver blocking may seem like a bygone skill, a holdover from a more brutal era. But current players and coaches say the opposite is true: Skillful blocking of the receiver’s position has actually become more vital as offenses grow on plays with multiple options.

That’s part of how the Titans won the AFC’s top seed in the playoffs despite finishing the regular season 24th in the process – their strategy for dominating the run depends on the entire roster who sells the rush.

“It’s something you have to demand,” receivers coach Rob Moore said. “They understand that if you want to be a Titan, that’s what you have to do. It’s a requirement to get on the pitch.

The wide receiver, a skill position, has traditionally been filled by players with big personalities who constantly demand the ball and the spotlight. Even for soft-spoken players like the Cowboys’ Amari Cooper, who subtly asked for more targets, a polite request could fill days of content on local radio.

The NFL in recent years has evolved to promote more aerial strategies. Rule changes to pass interference penalties make it harder for defenders to cover. The playbooks morphed to use the width of the field with five eligible receivers – the maximum number allowed.

But despite this transformation, blocking is still a displayed skill among the position’s elite, said Phil McGeoghan, a veteran wide receivers coach who worked for the Chargers, Dolphins and Bills and was hired this week by the University. from Colorado. That should continue, he said, because players are better than ever at blocking the run despite the perception that the NFL is a “pass-first league.”

“They’ve done a really good job of creating a culture and a standard within the receiver community with these star players,” McGeoghan said. “They’re all tough, they’re all selfless, and they’ll block you.”

Teams that spend a lot of time always run the ball to stay balanced, but some teams build their ethos with a rush-first approach. He helps teams control possession time, wears down defenses and sets up deceptive passing plays.

Their strategy cannot work without technically sound and convincing blocks from receivers, who can create cut-off lanes and can act as escorts on the field if the running back breaks free. It’s evident with Brown, especially with his 6-foot-1, 226-pound frame. Despite missing four games, he leads Tennessee in yards (869), receptions (63), targets (105) and touchdowns (5).

“It’s a ‘wanting’ thing,” Brown said. “I think it’s one of those things where you have to be well balanced, and you just have to not want your guys to get tackled.”

An effective blocking receiver gives offenses a more schematic luxury, McGeoghan said. When moving through the formation, they can generate momentum and serve as a primary blocker for a running back. On run-pass options and bubble stop screens, this normally leads to more success for perimeter-based plays when the player can uproot a potential tackler in individual scenarios.

In last season’s “Hard Knocks,” McGeoghan berated Chargers receivers in a profanity speech after witnessing one of them commit a below-average block, and the moment earned internet infamy. He laughs now thinking about it, but back then the harsh words conveyed a message that he hopes they understood.

“You just can’t get away with a guy who can’t function in the running game,” McGeoghan said. “He doesn’t have to be a killer, but he has to work in the system and do his job.”

The Los Angeles Rams, who have arguably one of the best receiving tandems in the league, also have what might be the most demanding blocking system for the position group. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods have stood out for years as willing blockers, in part because coach Sean McVay believes the two were voted team captains.

Against the Cardinals in the wild card round, Kupp finished with 61 yards, his lowest total this season, on five receptions. The Rams instead exploited Arizona’s weak run defense, attempting 38 carries for 140 yards.

On a scored drive in the first quarter, he sealed safety Budda Baker on a blitz, which released Cam Akers for a 15-yard gain. Kupp has led the league in every receiving category this season, but his blocking shows he’s still affecting the game even without double-digit catches.

When Woods tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 10, some wondered if the Rams would struggle without him as a tackle. They kept rolling, in part because of the addition of Odell Beckham Jr., but McVay acknowledged at the time that it would be difficult to adjust to Woods’ loss.

“What these guys have been able to do is very unique and all the different ways they contribute on offense are not exclusive to when they touch the ball,” McVay said.

The rookies, too, also impressed.

The Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase made a solid block against the Lions in Week 6 to escort running back Joe Mixon into the end zone for a 40-yard score. As Mixon ran to the sideline with Chase, he gave the receiver credit, saying, “That’s his touchdown.”

The importance and impact of receiver blocking may not show up on the stats, but coaches, players and their peers take notice. It’s a skill that relies on effort and turns wide receivers into point guards for their peers.

“You really get what you ask for,” Moore, the Titans’ receivers coach, said. “If it’s important in your room, important for fundamental duties in terms of what you could do offensively, then it’s going to be something these guys are good at. But if it’s something you don’t demand, then you won’t do it.

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