Nfl Slot Receivers

Aug 04, 2020 The Arizona Cardinals have one of the league’s best receivers in the game in DeAndre Hopkins. In terms of outside receivers, Touchdown Wire ranks him third in the league. The Cardinals also have. Aug 12, 2020 The best NFL offenses use a variety of players in the slot, using big tall fast receivers like Chase Claypool, route running tight ends like Eric Ebron, versatile running backs like Jaylen Samuels. Jerry Rice is the only receiver who's records may not ever be broken. A player would have to have an all NFL pro bowl year every year for 16 years, then break them in his 17th season. He had blazing speed, could out maneuver any defense, and was t. Jul 13, 2020 Beasley is one of the best slot receivers in the league, and he’s been open on 77.1% of his targets over the past two years — the best rate in the league. The top three should have distinct roles, as should Isaiah McKenzie, who ranked third in the league with 120 yards on screens last season.

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In the 2019 regular and postseason, per Pro Football Focus data, slot receivers regardless of position (receivers, running backs, and tight ends) accounted for 32% of all targets, 31.6% of all receptions, 32.3% of all receiving yardage, and 34.3% of all receiving touchdowns. In a league where the three-receiver set is by far the default formation (it happened on 69% of all snaps last season, per Sports Info Solutions), having a versatile and productive slot receiver is an absolute necessity in the modern passing game.

Moreover, there is no one kind of slot receiver in the modern NFL. It used to be that you wanted the shorter, smaller guy inside, and your bigger, more physical receivers on the outside. Then, offensive coaches started to realize that by putting bigger receivers and tight ends in the slot, you could create mismatches with slower linebackers and smaller slot cornerbacks. Teams countered this by acquiring linebackers built like safeties, eager to do more than just chase after run fits, and also by moving their best cornerbacks into the slot in certain situations.

Now that offensive and defensive coaches have worked hard to create as many schematic and personnel ties in the slot as possible, the best slot receivers are the ones who consistently show the ideal characteristics for the position. These receivers know how to exploit defenders who don’t have a boundary to help them — they’ll create inside and outside position to move the defender where they want him to go. They understand the value and precision of the option route, and how you can hang a defender out to dry with a simple “if this/then that” equation based on coverage rules. They know how to work in concert with their outside receivers to create route combinations which create impossible math problems for defenses. And they know how to get open in quick spaces.

But don’t automatically assume that slot receivers are just taking the dink-and-dunk routes — they’re actually tasked to catch everything from quick slants to vertical stuff down the seam and up the numbers. Last season, per PFF data, the NFL average for yards per completion for outside receivers was 11.28. For slot receivers, it was 11.63. So, over time and based on the play design and the makeup of the receivers, teams could find just that many more yards by throwing to their slot targets.

The best slot receivers in the game bring unique and highly valuable traits to the game, and here are the best among them.

More Top 11 lists: Slot defenders Outside cornerbacks Safeties Linebackers Edge defenders Interior defensive linemen Offensive tackles Offensive guards Centers Outside Receivers

Honorable Mentions

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Had we dropped the qualifying floor to under 50% slot snaps, two guys would have easily made it — Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, and Baltimore’s Marquise Goodwin. Evans led all slot receivers with at least 25 targets with a passer rating when targeted of 151.3, and Brown was an absolute force against defenses in the slot — especially when he was using his speed in empty formations.

Lamar Jackson led the NFL with six touchdown passes out of empty formations last season. Because when you have to spy the QB, and you're facing one-on-one across, and the QB can drop it in like this, and you're catching up to Marquise Brown... well, yikes.

— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) July 24, 2020

San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel, who was probably the MVP of the first half of Super Bowl LIV before things started to go backward for his team, would have received a mention as well — Samuel had just 33 targets, but caught 28 of them and helped his quarterback to a 135.3 rating when he was targeted in the slot. Kansas City speed receiver Mecole Hardman had just 23 a lot targets, but he was also highly efficient with them, helping his quarterbacks to a 133.9 rating. Though Danny Amendola was the only Lions receiver to make the 50% threshold, both Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay were highly efficient when tasked to move inside. Other former slot stars like Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs and Minnesota’s Adam Thielen saw their roles change more to the outside in 2019 from previous seasons.

Of the receivers who actually qualified, Nelson Agholor of the Eagles was quietly efficient and had just two drops in the slot last season — which would go against several memes on the subject. Buffalo’s Cole Beasley just missed the cut, through he was one of several receivers on the Bills’ roster who didn’t always get the accuracy and efficiency they deserved from quarterback Josh Allen. And though Randall Cobb was productive for the Cowboys last season and should be so for the Texans in 2020, his nine drops as a slot man… well, we can only have one guy with nine slot drops on this list. More on that in a minute.

Now, on to the top 11.

Willie Snead IV Julian Edelman Tyler Boyd Jared Cook Golden Tate Keenan Allen Larry Fitzgerald Allen Robinson Cooper Kupp Chris Godwin Tyler Lockett

11. Willie Snead IV, Baltimore Ravens

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(Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

Last October, the Ravens signed Snead to a one-year, $6 million extension that will have him on the roster through the 2020 season. In 2019, he caught just 31 regular-season passes for 339 yards and five touchdowns, but he did have a bit of a bust-out game against the Titans in Baltimore’s divisional round upset loss. There, he caught six passes on eight targets for 56 yards.

Snead brought in all five of those touchdowns as a slot target, as well as 31 of his receptions for 381 yards. When targeted by Lamar Jackson last season in the slot, Snead allowed his MVP quarterback to put up a rating of 116.3, one of the highest marks in the league.

Snead is a bit of a throwback slot target. The undrafted free agent out of Ball State put himself on the map in 2015 and 2016 as a productive member of the Saints’ offense. He’s not the biggest guy at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, but he’s able to win against coverage because he has the skills required at the slot receiver position — everything from surprising speed to the ability to sell and break in and out of routes. Snead isn’t flashy, but he’s productive as an inside target when given the chance.

Marquise Brown was the Ravens' more explosive slot target, and Mark Andrews was big as a slot TE, but Willie Snead showed great command of the subtleties of the slot position in 2019. Using leverage to create space for the quarterback.

— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) July 24, 2020

10. Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

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(David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Last season, Edelman led all slot receivers in targets (102) and receptions (70), and he’s been one of the most productive slot targets of his era. He was also the one receiver on the Patriots’ roster who could get any level of separation against opposing defenders. So, why does he rank 10th here?

Several reasons. Edelman had the league’s most opportunities to succeed as a slot target, but he ranked fifth in slot yardage with 759, he caught just four touchdown passes, and he tied for the league lead with nine drops from the slot position — Dallas’ Randall Cobb was the other culprit there. Now, there can be several different reasons for dropped passes. Receivers will be dinged at times for their inability to catch helium balls and wormburners from less than accurate quarterbacks. And it’s not as if Tom Brady was the Tom Brady of old in 2019, but when we say that Brady didn’t get any help from his receivers, that includes Edelman.

As NESN’s Doug Kyed pointed out in 2018, Edelman’s drop issues are nothing new, but in 2019… well, the tape shows some real howlers.


So... I'm Team Edelman and all that, and I know New England's passing game was a hot mess last season, and his drop rate has been an issue for a while... but 2019 was specifically UGLY.

Nfl Slot Receivers By Team

— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) July 24, 2020

At age 34, Edelman is a high-volume receiver who shows up well in standard counting stats — his 1,117 overall yards in 2019 marked a career high, and his 100 total catches was the second-highest total of his career. But there are base numbers, and there is true efficiency and value, and it’s no surprise that Edelman ranked 55th among qualifying receivers in Football Outsiders’ season-cumulative efficiency metrics, and 62nd in per-play efficiency. It could be that time is running out for the veteran unless there’s a turnaround in 2020.

9. Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals

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First overall pick Joe Burrow will have to ramp things up quickly without any offseason programs to date in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, but he’s got a pretty decent receiver group in Cincinnati, especially if A.J. Green can stay healthy. Perhaps the biggest reason for excitement for Burrow should be Tyler Boyd, the 2016 second-round pick out of Pittsburgh who set career highs with 90 catches and 1,046 yards in 2019. And as a slot target, Boyd proved to be one of the NFL’s best for Ryan Finley and Andy Dalton. One wonders what he’ll be able to do with Burrow’s refined accuracy and velocity.

Sometimes, you can cover a guy well, and you still have to take the 'L.' Miami's Nik Needham learned that when Bengals slot receiver Tyler Boyd did the damn thing.

— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) July 24, 2020

In 2019, Boyd caught 57 passes from the slot on 88 targets for 776 yards, two touchdowns, and a passer rating of 86.0 when targeted by two quartebacks who probably shouldn’t have been starters. Now, give him Burrow as a quarterback, and watch Boyd cook at a different level.

8. Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints

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(Chuck Cook -USA TODAY Sports)

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Yes, tight ends can be slot receivers, too. And among all the slot targets on our list, nobody afforded his quarterbacks a higher passer rating than Cook did at 133.9. Cook caught 30 passes on 43 targets when detached from the formation for 482 yards and five touchdowns. Cook did drop four passes, but when he did take the ball in, he was a big play waiting to happen at 6-foot-5 and 254 pounds.

Jared Cook Is A Really Big Guy And You Should Wrap-Tackle Him: The first in a series

— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) July 24, 2020

Return of the Son of Jared Cook Is A Really Big Guy And You Should Wrap-Tackle Him

— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) July 24, 2020

Cook isn’t the fleetest of foot at age 33, and he missed time with a concussion in 2019, but in New Orleans’ offense, he gives Drew Brees an imposing target, especially after the catch. Just ask all the poor defensive backs Cook threw aside last season like so many five-pound sacks of potatoes.

7. Golden Tate, New York Giants

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Per Sports Info Solutions, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones threw 10 touchdowns to his slot receivers in 2019, and Tate caught five of those, with 41 catches on 67 targets for 552 yards. As has been the case throughout his career, Tate was able to get open on those plays with a nice combination of speed through the route and the strength to separate, but over the last few years, his route awareness — a problem during his time in Seattle — has really advanced.


Listening to Chris Cornell's version of GNR's 'Patience' when rolling through Golden Tate plays, and was struck by the patience he showed here in getting open.

You'll have to forgive Rasul Douglas for the PI call -- he was just tryin' to get it right.

— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) July 24, 2020

Tate’s first season with the Giants was marred by a four-game PED suspension and concussion issues, but over a full season, one can imagine that he’ll be an even more major part of the Giants’ passing offense, especially in the slot. An important position for a team that led the league with 25 passing touchdowns in three-receiver sets.

6. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

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(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Allen has been known as one of the NFL’s premiere route-runners almost from the moment he started in the league in 2013 as a third-round pick out of Cal. Allen caught a career-high 104 passes in 2019, and 54 of those, on 71 targets, came in the slot. Allen gained 587 yards and scored three touchdowns from the slot and allowed Philip Rivers to amass a quarterback rating of 92.0 when targeting him inside. That’s pretty efficient when you consider that Rivers threw 11 interceptions to just nine touchdowns overall when throwing to his slot targets.

Everything that makes Allen a great overall receiver comes into play in the slot. He can body defenders out and establish position with his physical nature, he can blow coverage away with quick, refined timing cuts, and few receivers have a better understanding of spacing across the field.

Keenan Allen, Professional Receiver. The cut, the jump, and a toe-tap that would make Cris Carter take notice.

— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) July 24, 2020

The Chargers’ future at quarterback is to be determined with veteran Tyrod Taylor as the starter for now, and first-round pick Justin Herbert very much under construction, but Allen will unquestionably be a stalwart in that passing game.

5. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports His 1,378 receptions place him second all-time behind only Jerry Rice, and he's an 11-time Pro Bowler.

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Fitzgerald was obviously one of the NFL’s best outside receivers early in his career, and he was also one of the league’s first marquee wideouts to switch to the slot more often as his career evolved under former Arizona head coach Bruce Arians. When Fitzgerald did so, he presented impossible matchups for linebackers (who weren’t generally quick enough to keep up with him) and defensive backs (who were going to lose physical battles).

Top Nfl Slot Receivers

They said Larry was washed until Bruce put him in the slot and he dropped 1215 yards and 9 TDs at 32 years old.

Don't be surprised when AJ Green slides inside a bit more. 6'5' Go-Go Gadget Arms too long for slot corners & too fast for safeties.

— JetPack Galileo (@JetPackGalileo) July 24, 2020

In 2019, Fitzgerald worked in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, where there were four receivers on the field on 227 of the Cardinals’ passing snaps. To put that into perspective, the Jaguars finished second in that category with 82 four-wide passing snaps. So, the slot position was kind of important, and Fitzgerald helped rookie quarterback Kyler Murray in all kinds of ways — especially on broken plays where the receiver’s acumen and persistence is the only difference between success and disaster.

Here's the ageless Larry Fitzgerald giving his annual class in How To Create A Touchdown Out Of Absolutely Nothing.

— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) July 23, 2020

Fitzgerald caught 60 slot passes on 86 targets for 668 yards, three touchdowns last season. As long as he wants to do it, you can expect more from the future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

4. Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears

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(Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

Nfl Slot Receivers 2020

If there’s one current NFL receiver who deserves the Andre Johnson Award for making things happen despite a series of bad quarterbacks (seriously — just look at what Johnson had with the Texans from 2003 through 2014), it would be Robinson, whose primary quarterbacks since he came into the league with the Jaguars in 2014 have been Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Chase Daniel, and Mitchell Trubisky. And now, here comes Nick Foles to the Windy City! Oh, goody. In any event, Robinson proved to be one of the NFL’s most productive and efficient slot targets last season, despite some serious QB issues.

Last season, from the slot, Allen Robinson caught 47 passes on 63 targets for 560 yards, four touchdowns, and not a single dropped pass.


— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) July 23, 2020

As a slot target in 2019, Robinson allowed his quarterbacks (Trubisky and Daniel) a rating of 105.1, which is the definition of lifting your teammates up beyond their own capabilities — Trubisky and Daniel combined for an overall rating of 83.9. Maybe someday, he’ll enjoy a connection with a quarterback worthy of his talents.

3. Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

© File Photo File photo

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

The Rams’ formerly vaunted passing offense fell off in 2019, dropping from fifth overall in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted efficiency metrics in the franchise’s Super Bowl season of 2018, to 13th in 2019. Some of that had to do with the running game falling apart, some of that had to do with defenses figuring Sean McVay’s offense out to a point, and a lot of it had to do with quarterback Jared Goff hitting his ceiling with the force of an Aaron Donald sack.

Didn’t matter to Kupp, though. The Rams’ third-round pick in 2017 had his most productive season as a slot target in 2019, with 69 catches on 99 targets for 853 yards, five touchdowns, and a passer rating of 101.1 when targeted inside. That was exactly Goff’s overall passer rating in 2018, but it dropped to 86.5 in 2019, while Kupp was the rare part of that passing game that actually presented improvement.

Kupp is especially good at reading and understanding coverage, which allows him to break to defensive openings and take advantage of those openings with his acceleration and downfield speed.

Cooper Kupp is so good at elongating his release and waiting for things to open up underneath. What makes him more than an average slot receiver is his burst after the catch.

— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) July 23, 2020

2. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

© File photo Tom Brady is taking his talents south, joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Two players who stand to benefit greatly from this move are tight end O.J. Howard and receiver Chris Godwin. During Brady's time in New England, two positions were heavily targeted by the veteran passer: The tight end and the slot receiver. (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

(Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

Godwin ranked fifth overall in my colleague Mark Schofield’s list of the NFL’s best outside receivers — two spots higher than Bucs teammate Mike Evans, who gets far more national recognition — so that gives you an idea how good Godwin is overall. But Godwin creates specific problems as a slot receiver due to his route understanding, impressive strength to break off defenders, and downfield speed to create plays downfield.

Schofield included this play in his analysis of Godwin, and I independently added it here before I read Mark’s piece. Because it’s just remarkable.

Chris Godwin: The best receiver we're not talking about enough. I suspect that will change with a different QB. Check, release, downfield, buh-bye.

— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) July 23, 2020

In 2019, Godwin brought in 50 slot receptions on 68 targets for 838 yards, five touchdowns, one dropped pass, and a quarterback rating of 100.2 when targeted. Now, add Tom Brady into that equation — Brady knows a thing or two about connecting over and over with great slot receivers — and it should come as no surprise if Godwin finds his name at the top of this list next year.

1. Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

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(Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Including the postseason, no slot receiver caught more touchdown passes than Lockett did in the 2019 campaign with six. He also allowed Russell Wilson a 122.9 passer rating when targeting him from the slot. Not that creating supernatural efficiency for his quarterback is a new thing for Lockett — in 2018, he became the first receiver since at least 2018 to take at least 20% of his snaps and still rack up a perfect passer rating overall when targeted.

Lockett has become a top-level receiver no matter where he lines up, but he’s a great slot target for the same reasons you’ll find for every receiver on this list — he knows how create separation with spacing and leverage, he has an extra gear when he needs it, and in Lockett’s case, there are things he’s learned about adjusting the speeds of his routes that make things very difficult for opposing defenders.

Outstanding job by that #2 WR of running up on Dean and having the patience to cause traffic while not making contact with his body.

Nfl Slot Receivers Videos

— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) July 23, 2020

In addition to those six slot touchdowns, Lockett caught 64 inside passes on 88 targets for a league-high 901 yards, and he dropped just one pass. As D.K. Metcalf becomes more of a force and a threat as an outside receiver, the Seahawks have one of the more dynamic duos at the position. But as much as Russell Wilson is the epicenter of Seattle’s passing game, this thing doesn’t work without Lockett’s presence — inside and out.

Slot Wide Receiver