Spread Offense Analysis: Oregon’s XYZ Receiver Evolution

Jeremy Mosier Analysis 24 Comments

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If you’ve ever tuned in to football commentary you’ve probably heard talk about X, Y, and Z receivers. While these position names can change based on the system, there’s a history behind this labeling method. And the Oregon offense has played a part in the evolution of these positions over the past decade.

Offensive Evolution

The video above exemplifies the historical transition from traditional offensive sets to more modern spread sets. Georgia Tech was one of the last teams to run the Flexbone offense at the college level with the retirement of Paul Johnson in 2018. Georgia Tech made it evident they were going to join the modern era when they lined up in the Flexbone and then shifted into a spread formation on the first play of their 2019 spring football game.

Today, offenses have fewer running backs in the backfield and more players outside the tackles. With this change, wingbacks and fullbacks of yore have morphed into the X and Y receivers you see today.

X,Y, and Z Receivers Explained

X – This wide receiver can be on or off the line of scrimmage. The first and third play above show how a passing play will be designed to open up space to get the X receiver the ball on intermediate and longer routes. The most recent example of a good X receiver is Dillon Mitchell in 2018. 

Z– The Z receiver has also been referred to as a “slot” or “flanker.” This player can also be on or off the line of scrimmage but is typically a smaller, quicker receiver. The second play above shows the Z being used in a shorter route when the defense focuses on stopping the X receiver. Oregon may not have had a prototype X receiver before the transfer of Juwan Johnson, but they’ve had good Z receivers in Mycah Pittman, Jaylon Redd, and Johnny Johnson III.

Y – The Y receiver is more of tight end type of player. However, modern offenses have hybridized the traditional tight end into player that can align with the lineman, split out wide, or line up in the backfield to block right or left. The final play above shows the versatility of the Y position as Oregon utilizes Jacob Breeland as a run blocker and receiver.

Oregon’s Evolution of the “X” Receiver

Certain remnants of traditional offenses like the Wing-T and Flexbone are still utilized today, such as the jet sweep (video above) and pulling guards. With the spread offense, however, teams utilize one running back instead of three and now have two hybrid positions in the Z and Y receivers. That evolution has changed the game.

In the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Oregon brought the evolution of the hybrid athlete to an impressive level. Byron Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards in 2013, yet when Oregon’s all-time leading rusher Royce Freeman joined the team, the Ducks switched Marshall to the Z receiver position. Marshall proceeded to amass 1,003 yards and six touchdowns receivingOh, and he also rushed for 392 yards and a score.

Though it would be fun to imagine the Wing-T or the Flexbone offense with Marcus Mariota, Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner, and Byron Marshall, the coaches at Oregon have evolved the receiver positions for the Ducks to take advantage of their unique spread offense and rush the nation by storm.

Coach Jeremy Mosier
Geneseo, Illinois                                                                                               
Top Photo by Harry Caston

Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.



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The MEAC conference, (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) has announced today the cancelling of all fall sports. The MEAC is a conference of historically black colleges (according to Google) and consists of teams like Florida A&M, Delaware State, Coppin State, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina Central, Savannah State, etc….as the conference has 11 full members.

Add to this the eight teams in the Ivy League cancelling fall, and the ten members of the Patriot League and we now have 29 athletic programs announcing cancellation of fall sports thus far.

I think it’s time to cue up, Dandy Don: “Turn Out The Lights, The Party’s Over”.

Jon Joseph

Dandy Don! ‘Fair Hooker, I never met one yet.’

Fan at the end of a blow out, all alone and authoring the middle finger: ‘Yeap, we’re number1!’

NO ONE has come close to Howard and Dandy Don.

Brent McMurphy writes on Twitter…”How critical is the next two weeks? Mark Emmert told the NCAA Council if a decision had to be made now, then NCAA Championships (soccer, cross country, volleyball and FCS Football) likely would be cancelled, sources told @Stadium. FBS officials said they won’t make a decision before late July.”

NCAA President Mark Emmert:
“Today, sadly, the data points in the wrong direction. If there is to be college sports in the fall, we need to get a much better handle on the pandemic.”

(Directly above from Heather Dinich on Twitter)


My understanding is that the X receiver is on the LOS and not off or on as the article stated. Seven players have to be on the LOS. The TE and the X are the end caps and play on the opposite sides of the LOS.


This was an extra ordinary short write up and explanation Coach Mosier. Good Job.


Thanks for this, Coach. Taking a look at our Depth Chart, which can be easily accessed in the FishDuck Football Repository, the current WR corps looks to have X, Y & Z covered like it hasn’t before. This depth offers Morehead’s offense to go where no Ducks offense has before.


I agree 30D. If and when the Ducks play, I look forward to watching Oregon’s many X Y and Z’s who earn playing time.


Chili Duck’s depth chart is also extra ordinary. Thank you Chili Duck and Charles!

Santa Rosa Duck

Thanks Coach. So who would you plug into each of these positions plus who are their backups?

Off Topic: I just read from 247sports that the Oregon Ducks will travel to Utah for a September 12 matchup. Could this be fake news? How could this work with Governor Brown having the state locked down until Sept 3 or so, when would the team ever practice? Article by Steve Bartle and he says “according to multiple sources”????? I will believe it when I see it. Plus someone posted here a couple of days ago that the State of Utah was extremely hard hit by COVID 19.

Jon Joseph

Part of the revised conference schedule?


I think it might be wishful-thinking news. Otherwise we’d probably be hearing about it from other sources too. But–sometimes wishes come true.


Thanks Coach JM. Fun Thursday read.


Thanks coach. There are so many receiver formations and routes these days it’s really hard to keep track of them all. No wonder Wash State was so good at the passing game, if one concentrates on a pass orientated offense like they did. Must really be hard for the QB’s to know them all and keep track of who’s doing what on any given play.

Jon Joseph

BDF – Good against ‘us,’ not so much against the Air Force Academy that grounded the Wazzu O. Ditto for Coach Lake and UW.


Well we know that the Air Force is always up in the air stoping things. It’s in their name, a regular “Force against the Air raid”.

(sorry thats the best I could do on short notice)


Not to say that we should have lost to Wash State but a lot of the games were pretty unlucky. in that 4 game streak we lost in 2015 in double overtime on a 6 game series without a bye(Also our QB’s were Lockie and Allie). 2016 5th game without a bye, also prukop.(I think the worst part was our defense which has no excuse…

2017 Braxton Burmeister. Our defense did a lot better holding WSU to 24 completed passes. again the 6th game no bye.

2018 No major excuse other than Minshew lighting up our defense. I do think part of the 2017/2018 problem was the defense that leavitt ran. Leavitt would throw his Corners on islands where they had to play a ton of man coverage. in both 17 and 18 Lenior and Graham got burned a lot.

I can’t say i know enough about the AF Academy Defense to comment but Coach Lake at UW has created a pipeline of quality DB’s that has really been the strength of their Defense. It does not surprise me that leach could never beat the most consistent backfield in the pac 12.

Jon Joseph

Thanks UD. Sorry, at least in 2019, the Ducks should have blown the Cougars out of Autzen and back to Pullman.

A last drive walk off FG for a win?

Want to move on up, have to blow out teams like 2019 Wazzu, Oregon St and ASU.


So true. When a team is truly elite, it’s obvious. Be it last years LSU, or more sustained, Alabama, Ohio State. These teams walk on the field and the other team knows it doesn’t have a chance. Last years Ducks were good, but not of that pedigree.

David Marsh

I’ll just keep saying it … On a week to week basis the Leach system is tough to stop. However, Leach never won the Pac-12 north and his bowl game record isn’t great.

Though a whole lot of the success of Leach’s system is the confusing routes and the fast releases of the quarterback.

Jon Joseph

DM, good thoughts. But it’s not like the Ducks, just like the Huskies, did not face this O for the last 7 seasons.

This team had no business being on the same field with Oregon last season. The year before with a guy now starting in the NFL, OK.

But certainly not last season. For goodness sakes, UCLA put up 60+ points against these guys in Pullman

David Marsh

Oh Oregon should have out wsu away this last season. The defense played pretty passive zone and they seemed to figure out the WSU offense at times during the game but never consitently… A few drives were given life by really bad penalties … But games really shouldn’t hindge on a bad flag.