Different NFL routes produce varied results, based on the route itself, team tendencies and receiver profiles. So what are the most efficient route types?

We dove into the data to find the six most productive routes in the NFL, and then picked out the teams, receivers and quarterbacks who stand out in each concept, for better or worse. We also identified the least effective route — a risky upside play that doesn’t always pay off.

Route statistics are riddled with two issues: selection bias and small samples. We can’t completely solve the former, but looking at yards per route run rather than yards per target helps. Non-targets shouldn’t be considered neutral ground. And for sample size, it’s just a natural issue considering we track over 30 route names using our own route classification model with NFL Next Gen Stats data. For some of the sections below, we used data going back to the start of the 2021 season — rather than just four weeks of stats for 2022 — to increase the sample. Full explanation of the data is at the bottom of the story.

Let’s look at the top six routes in terms of efficiency, along with the best and worst performers for each.

Jump to:
Most efficient | Least efficient

1. Deep cross (3.2 yards per route run)

A deep cross (or deep over) is an in-breaking route with the receiver working across the field at a steep angle to attack man coverage or zone windows.

Teams and players that run this route the most: The New England Patriots‘ new offense hasn’t been particularly effective, but they are at least relying on the most effective receiver route. They not only lead the league in deep cross rate (3.7%) but also have an NFL-leading nine targets to deep crosses that have resulted in 146 total yards over the first four games. While Tom Brady‘s old team loves this route, his new one doesn’t; the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run the deep cross just 0.5% of the time.

Looking at the player-specific data, Kansas City receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling leads the way at 7.4%. He has substantially changed his route profile, for the better, since joining the Chiefs from the Packers. Deep crosses made up less than 1% of his routes in Green Bay. — Walder

Most and least efficient teams: The Patriots’ 6.6 yards per route make sense here given the pass-catching personnel in New England, along with the throwing traits of quarterback Mac Jones. He is a rhythm passer who wins with anticipation and location, which fits here on the deep cross against both zone and man-coverage.

The Buffalo Bills are at the bottom of the data (0.25), but I’m chalking this one up to sample. The deep cross, whether it’s to Stefon Diggs or Isaiah McKenzie, is still a core concept of Ken Dorsey’s system. Clear and replace — meaning let’s clear out the wide-side of the formation and drag the deep cross to the now vacated void. Easy money for quarterback Josh Allen. — Bowen

Most and least efficient pass-catchers: Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews dominates here at 7.6 yards per route, but the most interesting result is the other end of the spectrum. Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller has zero receptions on four targets while running 19 deep cross routes since the start of 2021. There doesn’t seem to be a singular cause for the inefficiency there, but Waller did actually get open some of the time. Part of the problem is that the Raiders’ offensive line just hasn’t been very good over the past two years. — Walder

Most and least efficient QBs targeting this route: With the personnel to win (Andrews and Rashod Bateman) and a solid offensive structure under coordinator Greg Roman, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson pops here. He has 15 attempts targeting the deep cross and a 99.3 QBR on those passes. Andrews can adjust to the ball or shield defenders using his frame on a crosser thrown inside of the numbers. That’s a second-level throw from Jackson with play-action pulling down the linebackers, and it doesn’t need to be a precision pass every time. With Bateman, Jackson gets into the third level shot plays — the schemed throws that create open grass for the receiver to attack.

The New York JetsZach Wilson struggles with this route (11.4 QBR targeting this route), and it’s all about repetitive throwing mechanics, which need to improve. Going back to the 2021 tape, Wilson has been frenetic at times in the pocket, which impacts the upper and lower body and leads to poor ball placement. — Bowen


2. Deep out (2.7 yards per route run)

The deep out breaks at a depth of roughly 15 yards, with the receiver releasing up the field before making a sharp cut outside towards the sideline.

Teams and players that run this route the most: Let’s start by saying that a quarterback has to have the requisite arm strength to throw a deep out, particularly from the far hash. So while an effective route when run, only some teams can run it. One of them is the Washington Commanders (4.2%), though they haven’t been super productive with them in a small sample, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. The Philadelphia Eagles run the route the least (0.8%).

New York Giants wideout Richie James has the highest route rate on deep outs this season (10.2%) but hasn’t been targeted yet. Jets rookie Garrett Wilson (9.4%) is second and has 43 yards on three receptions/seven targets on 13 deep outs run this year. — Walder

Most and least efficient teams: I like the New Orleans Saints (4.0 yards per route run) here for a couple of reasons. For starters, quarterback Jameis Winston has the arm talent to drive the ball there. Then, with highly detailed route runner Michael Thomas and vertical threat Chris Olave, the Saints can manipulate off-coverage defenders to create a window to the out ball.

On the other side of things lie the Indianapolis Colts. They run more in-breaking concepts in Frank Reich’s system, including crossers, overs and digs. And Matt Ryan‘s diminishing arm strength doesn’t fit with throwing deep outs consistently. No surprise Indy averages just 0.4 yards per route here. — Bowen

Most and least efficient pass-catchers: A.J. Brown had an NFL-leading 139 receiving yards on 26 deep outs last season while with the Tennessee Titans, but we haven’t clocked him running a single deep out this year with the Eagles. We’ll give him the top mark here considering Philly just doesn’t run the route much. Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox, meanwhile, only averages 0.8 yards per deep out run. — Walder

Most and least efficient QBs targeting this route: I’m all in on Josh Allen and his heater from the far hash. The ball explodes out of Allen’s hands, which means he can challenge tighter windows into the boundary. His 98.9 QBR leads the category, while Houston Texans passer Davis Mills is at the bottom (32.6). — Bowen


3. Slant (2.1 yards per route run)

This is a quick-game route, with the receiver pressing three yards up the field and breaking inside at a 45-degree angle.

Teams and players that run this route the most: Tampa Bay’s high slant usage (5.1%) is a significant change from last season (2.9%), jumping from 21st-highest to the most in the NFL. Injuries and changes to the Buccaneers’ receiving group play a part in the increase, but here’s something: Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans leads the NFL in slants with 10.6% of his routes — up from 3.3% in 2021. — Walder

Most and least efficient teams: The Arizona Cardinals top the numbers here (2.6 yards per route), but I’m really looking at two different teams: Philadelphia and San Francisco. It starts with the physical profiles of receivers A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel, who can both play through contact while using their ball-carrier traits to produce after the catch. And that puts quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Jimmy Garoppolo in a position to get the ball out with speed. — Bowen

Most and least efficient pass-catchers: This is already the second time that Mark Andrews has shown up as the most efficient pass-catcher for a route, as he averages 4.7 yards per slant. While he is good at getting open for a tight end, he really excels on these quick slants because of his contested-catch ability. He frequently has a defender right on him but is still able to snag a high-velocity throw from his quarterback.

Patriots receiver Nelson Agholor, however, hasn’t gotten it done here. He has zero yards on 22 routes. — Walder

Most and least efficient QBs targeting this route: Tom Brady is the best due to a quick release, great ball location and an ability to move second-level defenders. You want the slant to be thrown as a “runners ball,” which means delivered in-stride to the receiver. And when Brady doesn’t have that window to throw the route — facing a zone look or a robber coverage — he will use his eyes at the snap to force defenders to expand in their drops, creating a throwing lane.

His 98.7 QBR on slants tops the board, while Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence is at 36.6, worst in the category. — Bowen


4. Dig (2.0 yards per route run)

A dig route (or square-in) is a second-level route with the receiver releasing vertically and breaking inside at a depth of 12-15 yards to work the middle of the field.

Teams and players that run this route the most: The Patriots show up at the top of the list of another in-breaking route here, though digs haven’t been particularly productive for them. They run them 7.5% of the time but have just three receptions on five targets, averaging 1.1 yards per route in the small sample of this 2022 season. The Cardinals run them the least at 2.1%.

Prior to his season-ending injury, Giants receiver Sterling Shepard was running digs at a high 15.3% clip, though he made just one reception on the year on those patterns. The Jets’ Corey Davis has 19 dig routes this season, most of any player (12.8% of his routes). — Walder

Most and least efficient teams: Going back to his time in Los Angeles, Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff has earned his money throwing the heavily schemed dig ball — in-breakers off play-action. It gives him a clean throwing platform. So it’s no surprise for me that the Lions lead the NFL in yards per dig route run at 3.9. I’d also mention the Raiders, though, given Derek Carr‘s ability to either layer the ball or make a velocity throw to middle-of-the-field windows in Josh McDaniels’ offense.

As for the worst, the numbers point to the Giants. They average 0.8 yards per dig. It comes down to quarterback Daniel Jones‘ inconsistent accuracy and ball location. It’s all over the tape. — Bowen

Most and least efficient pass-catchers: Since the start of 2021, Cincinnati Bengals receiver Tee Higgins has five fewer receiving yards (208) than Minnesota Vikings standout Justin Jefferson (213) on digs — but on almost half as many routes (34 vs. 63). Higgins frequently has found space over the middle where quarterback Joe Burrow can hit him with relative ease.

Can I give a small-sample shoutout to Dallas Cowboys receiver Noah Brown, too? He has run just four digs all season, but they have resulted in three receptions. And he actually leads all players in yards off digs this season with 64. His teammate, Dalton Schultz, finds himself at the bottom of this category with 0.9 yards per dig. — Walder

Most and least efficient QBs targeting this route: Higgins topped the receiver part, and his QB is the guy here. Burrow has a 97.2 QBR throwing the dig. He can make this throw all day from clean platforms, and he’s up there with Brady in his ability to move in the pocket to reset his throwing window — while still delivering a catchable ball. But let me give you another name here: Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He’s a short-to-intermediate dart-thrower with timing and accuracy.

For the worst, I’d go back to Jones. The ball placement is just erratic. Oddly, the numbers actually suggest Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the worst here, with a 39.4 QBR throwing digs. I’m not buying that. I’ve seen him make this throw from multiple platforms and arm angles. — Bowen


5. Leak (2.0 yards per route run)

The leak route is a throwback concept usually run off misdirection, with the receiver releasing flat to the line of scrimmage before pressing vertically up the field on the opposite side of the formation.

Teams and players that run this route the most: We use a fairly broad definition of leak, which includes a receiver crossing behind the offensive line and releasing into the opposite flat, and that’s what most of Miami’s plays are here (with Tyreek Hill or Mike Gesicki filling that role). So take their league-leading 3.9% of total routes run with a grain of salt. (The Saints are last at 0.1%.)

Tight end Noah Fant is running routes on fewer than half of the Seattle Seahawks‘ dropbacks this season, but a hefty portion of those have been leaks (9.2%). Unfortunately, they have only resulted in a total of five receiving yards. — Walder

Most and least efficient teams: I tend to lean toward 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and Rams coach Sean McVay for the best at this concept, as the leak route (or tight end/wide receiver throwback, as I call it) is much more about the setup than the personnel. You don’t need an elite route runner or thrower in this situation. These two teams’ systems can disguise the concept using formation and misdirection to get the receiver loose with no one home on defense.

The numbers point to the Jaguars as the best (4.8 yards per route) and the Jets as the worst (0.5). I’d imagine the Jets’ number would be higher given Mike LaFleur’s playbook and coaching background, so maybe we see a bump with the return of Zach Wilson. Look for more pre- and post-snap movement. — Bowen

Most and least efficient pass-catchers: Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown’s production (5.6 yards per route) stems primarily from one picture-perfect leak he ran for a 37-yard touchdown last year against the Cardinals, splitting and getting past two defenders as Goff lofted the ball to him.

The low end of this route falls on Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth, who averages minus-0.1 yards per leak route. — Walder

Most and least efficient QBs targeting this route: Lamar Jackson fits here, leading the way with a 97.8 QBR. But so does Aaron Rodgers. Russell Wilson. Patrick Mahomes. Justin Herbert. Joe Burrow. We can name a lot of quarterbacks given the structure of the route concept. Still, you need the ability to put some touch on this ball, especially if there is an underneath defender to the backside lying in the weeds. — Bowen


6. Post (1.9 yards per route run)

This is a deep, inside-breaking route where the receiver releases vertically before breaking towards the goal posts.

Teams and players that run this route the most: The Dolphins have run posts at a high rate (6.2%), but they’re also effective with them, recording 214 receiving yards this season. No other team has managed more than 100. The Jets’ Corey Davis has run posts at the highest rate in the league in 2022 (12.1%), but Miami’s Tyreek Hill is second at 11%. — Walder

Most and least efficient teams: I’m with you on the Dolphins because this is more of a skinny post or “Bang 8” at times. Like I said earlier, Tua Tagovailoa’s throwing traits fit. Same goes for the game-changing speed of Jaylen Waddle and Hill. If this ball is thrown on time and in rhythm, it’s time to strike up the band and play the fight song. Lights out for the defense.

I’m kind of surprised at the lowest number, though. The Buccaneers average just 0.4 yards per post. It’s still an in-breaking route, and Brady has mastered those throws. Plus, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin can get loose here. — Bowen

Most and least efficient pass-catchers: Rams receiver Cooper Kupp has been extremely efficient and productive on post routes (5.2 yards per route). His 247 receiving yards on posts since the start of 2021 is far more than anyone else (Stefon Diggs is second at 192). Chiefs wideout Mecole Hardman, meanwhile, has been just the opposite. We have him running 39 post routes since the beginning of last season and recording just two targets and zero receptions. — Walder

Most and least efficient QBs targeting this route: The numbers like Titans signal-caller Ryan Tannehill and his 99.3 QBR on post-route targets, and I could see it if we’re defining the post as a deeper in-breaker/stem to the middle of the field. But on a true deep post, then I look at Josh Allen and the Bills. They can get it done with a deep cross paired with a post. The cross influences the top of the secondary, which will create a vertical window for Allen to throw a rocket ball downfield. — Bowen


Least efficient: Go (0.9 yards per route run)

A fly route or 9 route, the go is a deep throw to a receiver on a straight, vertical release.

Teams and players that run this route the most: Running straight downfield may be more useful than the box score stats suggest, including opening up space for others, but it is not generally a productive play for the player actually running the route. Buffalo’s Gabe Davis has run 20 go routes this year and has been targeted just one time: a 47-yard reception.

From a team perspective, Washington is running go routes at the highest clip (6.0%) for an inefficient 0.9 yards per route run, with receivers Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson getting the majority of the calls. The Colts have been the least likely to run it at just 2.8%. — Walder

Most and least efficient teams: Jameis Winston is one of the league’s most aggressive deep throwers, and the addition of Chris Olave to this Saints’ offense really opens the door to taking a vertical shot outside the numbers. New Orleans averages 3.5 yards per shot here. — Bowen

Most and least efficient pass-catchers: One target can make a big difference in terms of yards per go route run, even over a year-plus sample. It’s just a matter of whether it was caught. Chase Claypool of the Steelers has 105 receiving yards off go routes since the start of 2021 (47 routes). Shockingly, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans is on the other end of this route, though. We do separate go routes from deep fades, and Evans has been very productive on the latter. But the straight shots downfield simply haven’t yielded results: four targets, no receptions. — Walder

Most and least efficient QBs targeting this route: I like a lot of quarterbacks here. Arm strength and accuracy on deep-ball shots are key. While we can all see that the Packers are going through a major transition at the receiver position, Aaron Rodgers is still the best at identifying and throwing the one-on-one go ball in my opinion. Derek Carr, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes fit, too. — Bowen


QUALIFIERS

  • For teams and players that run the route the most or least, we looked at the highest/lowest percentage of routes for each type in the 2022 season only.

  • For teams that run the route the best or worst, we looked at the highest/lowest yards per route run among the 10 teams that have run the most total routes for each type, 2022 season only.

  • For the pass-catchers who run the route the best or worst, we looked at the highest/lowest yards per route run among the 30 receivers with the most total routes of each type, spanning both 2021 and 2022.

  • For the quarterbacks who target the route the best or worst, we looked at the highest/lowest yards per attempt when targeting each route, among 15 quarterbacks with most total targets to that route type, spanning both 2021 and 2022.

  • Screen and running back checkdown routes both scored high here, but we ignored them in our rankings because both are designed to have an open target and the data is not a good representation of those two easy-target routes’ efficiency. We also looked past the short fade for the least efficient route. The data there is a catch-all tag for non-true routes. Think when a receiver simply jogs a few yards because he knows the ball is going to the other side of the field on a quick pass.




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