Stop me if you haven’t seen this before. Your team is on defense and needs a stop. The quarterback drops back to pass. Your defense is in great position; it looks like they expected the pass, and your defensive lineman are getting up field. Then the quarterback pulls the ball down on a draw and gets the first down. Awesome or awful depending on if your team has the ball.
Everyone knows the draw. The draw play is run by every college and professional football team. It is run one of three ways. All variations begin with the quarterback dropping back to pass. In the classic variation the quarterback sets up to pass, then runs the ball straight ahead himself. Another draw involves the same quarterback set up, then a handoff to a lone running back, who seeks a hole. In the last version, a lead blocker stays back and then leads either the running back or the quarterback through the hole. This is called the lead draw. Regardless of variety, the basics of draws are the same.
The draw is the opposite of the play action pass. Where the play action pass seeks to give the impression of run play before revealing a pass, the draw gives the impression of a pass before revealing a run. The draw is a slow developing play, so deception is key. If the defense is not fooled, the play will go for a loss. If the defense does take the bait, most of their second level players will be running to their coverage responsibilities away from the ball carrier.
Whenever the pass rush has become too aggressive, the draw is a counter tactic to employ. If linebackers are dropping deep they can be exploited with a draw as well. As defensive linemen go rushing up field, the offensive linemen need only slide them where they already want to go. They need to engage the rushers, but whether the defenders want to go left or right doesn’t matter on the draw. So long as they are occupied, they are ineffective. Most draw plays are designed to have the lineman pass block, but instead of forcing all defenders to the outside to create a pocket, they just push the defender where he wants to go.
The draw can be used in long yardage situations. The obvious and common approach to converting in long yardage is the deep throw. This is what the defense is primarily defending against which means many defenders will be deep down field. Combined with that defenses often like to be aggressive and blitz in long yardage situations, so there can be two favorable factors for the offense. The play call is conservative, too. It takes time to develop and gain the yardage, but the ball doesn’t get put in the air, so the chances or a turnover are slim in comparison to deep passes on obvious passing downs which have a high chance of turnover.
Draws can be employed in short yardage too. In those draws the blocking up front is usually more like a standard running play than a pass. There will usually be double teams at the point of attack and sometimes trap blocking. The backfield action showing pass takes advantage of defenders looking in the backfield instead of reading the line. Defenders reading the line will only see run and react accordingly. This is the trade off for using run blocking with a draw. The offense is more aggressive with that blocking and seeks to actively open holes, but the play is revealed quicker.
Like all football plays the draw doesn’t exist in a vacuum. A strong passing team forces the defense to respect the passing game. That makes the draw more effective. A team that doesn’t turn the draw often gets more surprise out of the play, but the biggest variable is the ball carrier. Strong runners with instinctive abilities to follow their blockers and cut back are always dangerous for defenses in space. The draw provides an opportunity to showcase their talent.