Why Route Running Receivers are the best in football, yet never get the attention they deserve:
There are typically four types of Receivers: possession, red-zone, speed, and route-runners. Everyone who plays any sort of Madden knows that. And in Madden, for some reason or another, speed always wins. That typically isn't the case in the NFL though. Examples like John Ross or JJ Nelson are simply speed threats, and they don't perform as number 2 or 3 receivers should (in most cases).
We all know the guys like Julio, OBJ, AB, Nuk, and the rest of those top tier receivers because they have all of the characteristics. They are all possession receivers, red-zone targets, are faster than most, and can beat anyone out of their routes. That's why they are the best of the best at the position.
Just for those who don't know what each of the types of WR are, I'll define them for you
Possession: Guys who typically run over the middle (crosses, slants, drags) and have good hands. Usually go-to third down guys
Red-Zone: Guys who can high point the ball within the redzone and beat tight coverage in the condensed part of the field
Speed: Guys who use their speed to beat the coverage down the field. Typically just run go's and posts.
Route-Runners: Guys who run routes to beat coverage. Good quickness and footwork helps them work a corner.
Now, to the point I am trying to make: why route-runners are the best, and why good routes are key to being a good receiver:
Some notable route runners in today's game are guys like: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Doug Baldwin, and Julian Edelman. These guys are route running aficionados. Yet, they are constantly overlooked (for the past few seasons at least for Thielen). Even to some degree, one of the best route runners and wide receivers, EVER, Steve Largent, was overlooked, despite being a top 10 (maybe top 5) receiver all time in my opinion. Why? Because they aren't flashy. They don't have the best speed, crazy circus catches every week, and just aren't the most elite athletes. But if you watch closely, they may be the most entertaining to watch. They all have crazy footwork and use their hand to create space beautifully (and legally). As a Seahawks fan, watching Doug Baldwin work off the line and at the top of his routes may be what I love to watch the most. People may look at the stats and say that route runners don't typically post good enough numbers, but their impact is much more than yardage or touchdowns. For example, Baldwin has only posted 1,000 yards twice in his career and besides his big 2015 season, has only reached 8 touchdowns once. Edelman is about the same. Stefon Diggs hasn't had a 1,000 yard season in his career yet and averages about 5 touchdowns a year.
All of these guys have one thing in common. They aren't speedsters (about 4.45-4.55), they weren't high draft picks (or even draft picks), and they are their QBs favorite targets. Diggs was a 5th rounder, Edelman was a 7th, and Baldwin and Thielen were undrafted. Why? If you watch their college tape, they balled out. However, they were seen as smaller, slower, and not the typical WR for the NFL. But simply running good, crisp routes have made all of those knocks about them go away and they've proved their worth. By running good routes, they make up for whatever speed deficits, size concerns, or anything else they may have because they always seem to be open. Anyone remember the Minneapolis Miracle? Diggs was open with enough space to run after a missed tackle. Thielen has been using his routes perfectly to have a record breaking season. Baldwin is a vet who's been torching younger, faster DBs for years now. And being a favorite target for Brady doesn't come without impressing someone, which Edelman has by constantly being a threat no matter who they play.
What I'm trying to say is that it always seems that when a WR emerges out of nowhere year in and year out, they excel at one thing, and that's running routes. We've seen plenty of WRs drafted early and fizzle out, like John Ross, Laquon Treadwell, Corey Coleman, etc. They can't get open, leading to tight coverage, leading to drops and low production, which hurts their confidence, which leads to even worse play. These route runners work their way up by always playing well in practice, get open in games, get easy catches, and then earn the starting jobs, which gives them the ability to work and develop other skills. By these measures, I expect DaeSean Hamilton to break out within the next few years. A late round pick to the Broncos who is an excellent route runner. Sanders is getting older, so Sutton and Hamilton will soon take the reigns from what once was a Thomas/Sanders combo.
All good route runners do is produce, then fade away, but people like me recognize the greatness of the route runner, and each and every year, someone new is going to pop up out of nowhere. Everyone will wonder "Where did this guy come from?", "Why was he drafted so late?", blah blah blah... But I'll know. And I hope you all will know as well. The quiet breed of football players who help out the most, but get the least amount of shine