What Is a Draw Play in Football? The Ultimate Guide

The Air Force QB hands the ball off to the running back during a draw play.

When it comes to running plays in football, teams have a lot of options, which can be broken up into running or passing plays. Many of these plays are straightforward but others, such as the draw play, involve some misdirection.

So, what is a draw play in football?

A draw play in football is a running play often used in long-yardage situations that is disguised as a passing play. The goal is to draw the defensive line toward the quarterback before he hands the ball off to a running back or runs the ball through the hole created in the defensive line.

Draw plays come in various forms, the most common being the simple draw to a running back, but you also have quarterback draws, sprint draws, and wrap-around draws. So, let’s now go into more detail about the draw play.

What Is a Draw Play in Football?

If you’ve watched American football at any level, you’ve seen a draw play run before. The key is to make the defense think you’re passing the ball before surprising them with a run-up the gut of the defense.

A more detailed summary of the elements involved in running a successful draw play is as follows:

  • The quarterback either drops back to pass or is lined up in the shotgun formation. If run ideally on a long-yardage situation, the defenders should be trying to apply maximum pressure on the quarterback. The quarterback should allow the pass rush to come towards him to expose the middle of the defensive line as much as possible.
  • The offensive linemen initially show a pass-block look to the defense to aid in the deception, but then the interior offensive linemen attempt to push the defenders to the outside, which will create a running lane in the middle of the defense.
  • The receivers run routes downfield to draw the defensive backs and coverage linebackers away from the line of scrimmage and out of the play. Some may run shorter routes to act as blockers after the fake passing play has turned into a draw running play.
  • The running back will initially fake a pass-blocking assignment until he takes the unexpected hand-off from the quarterback and bursts through the hole opened by the offensive linemen in the middle of the defensive line.

What’s the Purpose of Draw Plays?

The purpose of a draw play is to attack a pass-rushing defense, especially on long-yardage downs, by “drawing” the opposing defensive linemen across the line of scrimmage towards the quarterback.

Meanwhile, the defensive backs and linebackers are drawn away from the line of scrimmage by the offense’s receivers, who run passing routes downfield. The play is meant to use a defense’s aggressiveness against itself.

Another purpose of a draw play is to mitigate the risk in long-yardage passing situations, especially when the offense is deep inside their own territory. A turnover by an interception deep in your end of the field is almost always a significant play in the outcome of a game, so teams become conservative in those situations.

A draw play introduces an element of surprise and trickery into what essentially is a rather safe running play up the center of the field; it is that element of surprise that can lead to a much longer gain than if a standard running play were called.

History of the Draw Play

The running back runs the ball on a draw play.

There are two generally plausible origin stories for the draw play.

The first is that the draw play was invented when, during a Cleveland Browns game in the late 1940s, Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham ran a botched passing play and improvised a handoff to running back and fellow Hall of Famer Marion Motley, who went on to collect a big gain on the play.

Coach Paul Brown, one of the great innovators in NFL history, noted the success of the botched play and went on to incorporate it into his playbook with several variations of the draw play schemed out.

The second story of how the draw play came into existence is that Chicago Bears Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman came up with the idea in a game against the Green Bay Packers in the early 1940s to try and deal with the pass rush of Packers defensive middle guard “Buckets” Goldenberg.

Both stories are credible enough, even though the botched-play origin seems to be the more popular version told.

Why Is It Called a Draw Play?

The draw play gets its name because the intent is to “draw” the opposing defensive line toward the quarterback. By drawing the defensive linemen in toward the quarterback, the middle of the defensive line is exposed so that a handoff to the running back can result in a sizeable gain for the offense.

How Often Are Draw Plays Called?

Draw plays used to be called with much greater regularity in decades past, especially in college football. Now, with the advent of spread formations and short passing games, the need for the draw play isn’t as great.

Also, since the quarterback often operates from the shotgun formation in both the NFL and in college football offenses, the effectiveness of the play is decreased because the quarterback is not dropping back to pass from under center, which aided in the deception.

However, the draw play is still run at the NFL and college levels, just with less frequency. Statistical analysis has shown that only 2.2 percent of all rushing attempts in 2018 came from draw plays to the running back position.

The number of draw plays run per team has dropped from a little over two draws per game in 2008 and 2009 to just a bit above one-half draws per game during the 2018 season.

How to Run a Draw Play

The Cal football player gets tackled by multiple opposing players.

The key to running a successful draw play is to convince the defense that a passing play is being run. It’s all about deception and disguise.

The essential players to run a successful draw play are the quarterback, running back, and offensive linemen. The play assignments for running a draw play to the running back are as follows:

  • The quarterback will either take the snap from under center or while in the shotgun formation. He then continues his drop and looks downfield like he is going to pass the ball to his receivers in an attempt to draw the defensive backs and linebackers away from the line of scrimmage and to lure the defensive lineman towards him.
  • The offensive linemen initially will set up in pass-blocking formation, but upon the snap their goal is to steer the defensive linemen away from the middle of the field by using seal blocks and double teams. The center and offensive guards need to clear out the middle of the field, before moving to the second level to block any linebackers or safeties near the line of scrimmage.
  • The running back will shuffle toward the gap between the guard and center and scan the field like he normally does in pass protection. He then will receive the ball from the quarterback deep in the offensive backfield and take off toward the hole in the center of the defense created by the offensive linemen.

Best Quarterbacks at Running Draw Plays

As shown earlier, the draw play is not run very often in today’s NFL. However, there are a few teams that run the play much more than your average team and do so successfully.

The Kansas City Chiefs run the play quite a bit compared to their fellow NFL teams. Coach Andy Reid learned the West Coast offense from Bill Walsh and Walsh learned the offense when he was an assistant to head coach Paul Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals.

In Patrick Mahomes, Reid has a perfect quarterback to run draws with, as Mahomes is a prolific passer who must be respected on third-and-long situations, but he’s also a sneakily-quick runner when he decides to take off.

The other team that has been notably successful for running draws is the Buffalo Bills. Quarterback Josh Allen is powerful and fast for a quarterback, which has helped him run draws successfully over the years.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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