Football Terms – Wide Open Receivers
An open receiver is an offensive player running a pass route who has separation from any defending players. Most receivers are covered by a particular defensive player, which simply means the defender runs alongside the receiver and impedes his ability to catch the ball.
Receivers in football can be wide receivers/split ends, tight ends, h-backs, fullbacks, halfbacks or (rarely) even quarterbacks. Also, an offensive lineman can report to the official as a "tackle eligible", meaning for one play he is legally allowed to catch the ball.
For every eligible receiver, the defense tries to account for that player with a defender. This is called "covering" a receiver. In a basic defense, the player will be covered in
man-to-man coverage, though there are zone defenses which allow defenders to cover pre-allotted "zones" of the field.
Pass plays and pass routes are meant to beat the defense and get a receiver open. If a quarterback finds an open receiver when he drops back to pass, it’s his job to deliver the ball to the open receiver.
Split Second Decisions
Of course, there might be multiple open receivers on a play, so the quarterback must make split-second decisions on the best open receiver to hit, according to the risk of the play and the potential amount of yardage gained on the reception. Conversely, there might not be an open receiver on a play, which is a more dangerous situation for the offense.
When no receiver gets open on a play, the quarterback must decide whether he wants to "force the ball into coverage", which creates turnover situations for the defense. His other options are to wait longer for the receiver to get open, which exposes to the quarterback to hits from the oncoming rushers; to run with the ball, which again exposes the quarterback to hits, in this case from linebackers and safeties who might go unblocked outside of the pocket; or to throw the ball away altogether, ending the play with no advantage to the offense.
Since the throwaway has the less risk of injury or turnover, this play is sometimes the option the quarterback should take. Many inexperienced quarterbacks in the NFL must learn this lesson the hard way.
Hey, Man! I Was Open!
Finally, wide receivers are famous (or infamous) for returning to the huddle and telling the quarterback he was open on a play, even when the margin of error is slight. Therefore, "open receiver" can be a subjective term in the heat of battle. According to the skills and arm strength of the quarterback, there is a difference in how much separation a receiver must have from a defender to be considered an open receiver.