Spread Offense Analysis: Oregon’s XYZ Receiver Evolution

Jeremy Mosier Analysis

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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