Wide Receivers: Learn to Catch Every Jump Ball, Every Time

Use these drills and tips to improve your football jump ball skills and score more TDs.

The football is in the air. It's your job to go and get it. The jump ball is one of the biggest weapons in an elite wide receiver's repertoire, and if executed properly it either results in a big play or draws a defensive pass interference penalty. Guys like Jimmy Graham and Calvin Johnson are nearly unstoppable when it comes to jump balls.

Half the battle is athletic ability. The other half is technique. Here's how to use both to win every jump ball, every time. 

Jump Ball Drills and Exercises

Battle for the Ball Drill

To consistently win jump balls, you must learn how to catch the ball despite contact. This drill does exactly that. All you need is a ball, two teammates and a hand shield.

  • Have one teammate (playing quarterback) line up on the 10-yard line.
  • You and your other teammate line up across from each other on the 5-yard line, going into the end zone. The second teammate holds the hand shield and is on defense.
  • On the hut, beat the defender to his outside shoulder. The defender should pester you with the hand shield to simulate the contact you'll experience getting off the line.
  • Shortly after the hut, the quarterback lobs the ball and puts it in position for a jump ball.
  • When you get into the end zone, turn your head and locate the football. At this point, the defender raises the hand shield above this head, simulating a defensive player's arms. The hand shield can be held at various heights to alter the difficulty.
  • Time your jump and explode through or over the hand shield to make the catch.
  • The defender can attempt to jab the ball loose with the hand shield while you haul it in.
  • This drill works on the timing, concentration, hand strength and ball skills required to win a jump ball.

Rice Bucket

Winning jump balls requires strong hands. This exercise helps build your grip strength and makes sure that if you can touch the ball, you can catch it. You need only two things, rice and a bucket. If your weight room doesn't have a rice bucket, it's relatively simple and inexpensive to make your own. The results will be more than worth it.

  • Reach your whole fists into the bucket of rice.
  • Fully open and close your hands as fast as possible, squeezing hard against the rice.
  • You can do one hand at a time, or both hands at once.
  • One set is 30 to 60 seconds with as many reps as possible. Perform three sets.
Check out six more grip strength exercises.

Chain Box Squat

There's a reason they're called jump balls. You have to get some serious air to snag them. This exercise helps you out-jump the competition. Normal Squats are great, but Chain Box Squats offer dynamic resistance, meaning the exercise is as difficult at the top of the lift as it is at the bottom.

Think about when you jump during a game. Are you getting in a full squat position before you jump? No. You're maybe getting into a quarter-squat before exploding up. The Chain Box Squat ensures that you'll be explosive from that position.

  • With chains on either end of the bar, lower like you would during a normal Squat.
  • Don't "fall" onto the box; move slowly and in control.
  • When you touch the box, relax your legs while keeping your back tight.
  • Keep your feet flat on the ground throughout the lift.
  • Drive through your heels to explode back up to the starting position.
  • Perform three sets of 6-8 reps.

Proper Jump Ball Technique

Although it may seem like pure instinct, there is a right way and a wrong way to go after a jump ball. Here are some tips on how to win a jump ball, along with highlights of them being put to good use. Check out the video above to learn a competitive Jump Ball Drill you can do with your teammates.

1. Don't be afraid to get your hands on the defender to create some separation. Don't push off the defender. Simply putting your hands on him will force him to bring his hands down, and that should give you more space to operate. Calvin Johnson does a great job of this on this jump-ball touchdown.

2. To give yourself the best chance of winning a jump ball battle, you need to turn your torso toward the ball. This allows you to maintain eye contact with the ball and puts you in the best position to rip it away from the defender. On this Larry Fitzgerald jump-ball touchdown, watch him turn his torso to face the ball instead of attempting an over-the-shoulder catch. That puts him in position to outmuscle the defender.

3. To be in a good jumping position, both feet need to be on the ground slightly wider than shoulder-width. You can generate a lot more energy jumping off both feet than just one, and to win a jump ball you need all the upward explosion you can get.

Also, keep your hands down until you start your jump. It might be tempting to get your hands up in position to catch the ball, but you need to keep them down until the last second so you can use your arms to generate a greater vertical leap. Allen Robinson does this very well on this big play, launching off both feet and using his arms to generate more force. The height he gets is just insane.

4. To catch a jump ball, you have to time your jump perfectly. That means catching the ball at its highest point. If you wait for the ball, the defender will tip it or intercept it. If Robinson jumped a second earlier or later in that highlight, he wouldn't have caught the ball. Same goes for this Dez Bryant touchdown.

5. Going up for the ball, expect to take some contact from the defender. The Battle for the Ball Drill can help you learn how to explode through contact while keeping track of the ball. If you want to see someone who wins jump balls despite tremendous contact, check out Jimmy Graham. His explosiveness, body control and strength make him virtually un-guardable on jump balls.

6. Jump balls are battles. That means at the top of your jump, you have to be prepared to catch the ball around, through and above a defender's outstretched arms. Your number 1 job is to get your hands on the football and hold on for dear life. This is where hand-strengthening exercises like the Rice Bucket come into play.

Calvin Johnson almost pulled off a defender's helmet with his crazy-strong hands on this touchdown. And Larry Fitzgerald has some of the strongest hands ever, as he displayed when he wrestled away this jump ball in Super Bowl XLIII (you should probably watch that whole video, because Fitzgerald is a jump ball god).

7. Even if the defender initially seems to have intercepted the ball, don't give up on the play. Joint possession goes to the receiver, meaning that if you get both hands on the ball, it can be ruled a catch. Miles Austin does exactly that on this underthrown touchdown. We all remember when Golden Tate did it. The same goes if the defender tips the ball. Stay with the play and you can be rewarded, just like this Wake Forest player was.

RELATED: 5 Wide Receiver Drills to Help You Make More Catches


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: FOOTBALL | WIDE RECEIVER | READY FOR SUNDAY | DEFENDER | EXERCISE | DRILL