There are slot receivers, and there are receivers who get snaps in the slot. One is primarily skilled to work close to the line of scrimmage while the other gets moved around while trying to take advantage of mismatches. Davante Adams, Curtis Samuel, and Adam Theilen are common misconceptions as none of them play more than 30% of their snaps out of the slot. Players like Julian Edelman, Chris Godwin, and Keenan Allen are borderline as they didn’t play over 55% out of the slot. The real slot receivers, who play 55% or more from the slot, are the real sleepers. Their body of work typically goes unnoticed, causing their perceptive value to be significantly less than their fantasy production provides.
Veterans like Randall Cobb, Cole Beasley, and Golden Tate can all help contending teams win championships. Players entering their prime like Albert Wilson, Tyler Lockett, and Jameson Crowder could break out and take the Edelman road to become a reliable starting wide receiver. Even Steven Sims Jr., Anthony Miller, and Hunter Renfrow are young guys who people are picking to shock the fantasy community and outproduce expectations.
Every year the slot gets undervalued, but it’s understandably so: they don’t make Odell Beckham-esk catches, see many downfield targets, and aren’t the most dominant athletes on the field. Most know their job is to create separation using agility close to the line of scrimmage, catch the ball, and get as many yards as possible before the defense collapses. What people don’t realize is their utilization in the red zone. Of the six players who had at least 500 slot snaps and at least a 60% snap rate, five of them had at least a 15% target share in the red zone - Cobb had 14.5% for the Cowboys who didn’t target a single player in the air more than 19% of the time. Three of them had at least a 27.4% target share inside the 20.
Not all slot receivers are fantasy relevant, however. More likely than not, you get duds like Trey Quinn, Nelson Agholor, and Desean Hamilton. Guys who can give you start-worthy weeks are on offenses that like to pass significantly more than run, lack an alfa receiver, or has a system in place to operate through the slot receiver. Let’s not make the mistake of taking the wrong slot guys as we break down some of the options at the position.
The most underrated slot receiver in the NFL is Jets Jamison Crowder. How does a 27-year-old receiver entering his prime, who finished as the wide receiver 26 on the season, have an average draft position of 58? He finished as a top 20 receiver in 7 of Sam Darnold’s 13 games; 5 of them being wide receiver 1 finishes. Prior to horrific pass blocking, mono, and ghosts derailing Darnold’s season, we saw greatness from Crowder after most people had written him off. In Week 1 Crowder had 14 receptions on 17 targets for 99 yards while still having starting receiver Robby Anderson on the roster. Anderson left in free agency so they replaced him with receiver Breeshad Perriman who had a handful of good games over his entire career and unpolished rookie Denzel Mims. They also upgraded their entire offensive line. Crowder could be in line for monster production in 2020 and beyond.
Buy Buy Buy
We move on to the model of success at slot receiver Larry Fitzgerald. He’s played 250 of 256 possible games while amassing 1378 receptions, 17,083 yards, and 120 touchdowns. We are so used to his constant fantasy production we have ignored his subpar output over the past two years. Over the previous 32 games, Fitzgerald has only finished as a top 20 wide receiver 4 times while being outside the top 36 14 times. There’s not much hope for anything different following 2019 with Christian Kirk’s 24.5% target share in 2019 not likely to decrease, the expectation of Andy Isabella to emerge following splash plays, and the offseason acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans. Although he could still be a good football player in 2020, he is just a roster clog in fantasy, not knowing when to rely on him. Fitzgerald is a guy you need to trim off your roster because you could be missing an opportunity to stash a young player with upside.
Get what you can or cut him.
Cobb is up next. He’s stepping into an interesting situation with the Texans. Hopkins is leaving behind a 21.3% red zone target share with a 23.6% slot rate. If you take those 217 snaps in the slot with 194 snaps by Keke Coutee and 174 from Kenny Stills - who are both on the roster bubble - it could lead to a massive opportunity. Seeing that he signed a three-year contract for $27 million with $18 million of it guaranteed, they could seek to give him the majority of the work to maximize their investment. Having two field-stretching receivers who can pull the safeties off, in Brandon Cooks and Will Fuller, can only help Cobb’s case as he could see one-on-one matchups against linebackers and inferior nickel corners.
Must grab if you’re a contender.
A player who is getting some sleeper hype after finishing 2019 with a bang is Washington Football Team’s Steven Sims. The undrafted product out of Kansas was thought to be nothing more than a special teams contributor. After injuries rattled Washington’s depth chart, he had an opportunity to shine, putting up 15.5 points or more in each of the last three weeks. The concern with Sims is his scoring efficiency. He saw the end zone 4 times on 16 receptions while sporting a lackluster 55% catch rate during those three games, with two of them being against bottom five defenses versus the wide receiver. His 6 drops on 43 catchable targets and terrible workout metrics are both huge warnings for the undersized receiver. With rookies Antonio Gibson and Antonio Gandy-Golden both being drafted by the Ron Rivera regime, I don’t see Sims maintaining a significant workload.
Don’t waste your time and a roster spot.
With all the excitement with quarterback Tom Brady coming to town, acquiring tight end Rob Gronkowski, and drafting running back Ke’ Shawn Vaughn, everyone has forgotten about the guy who performed well when asked to step in. Although he went to a small school, Pennsylvania's Justin Watson dominated the second he stepped on the field, registering over 1075 yards and eight or more touchdowns in all three seasons. The more impressive part was he never played more than ten games in a season. He then drew rave reviews throughout the Senior Bowl practices and had the longest reception of the game for the North. The hype didn’t stop there as the 6’2, 215-pound receiver tested exceptionally well at the combine, knocking down an 86th percentile speed score, an 88th percentile burst score, and 92nd percentile catch radius. However, his agility score was a concern, only scoring in the 36th percentile, which begs the question: Is he a better fit on the outside or as a slot? While on the field, he played 38% of his snaps out of the slot in 2019. The rate was even higher before Mike Evans and Chris Godwin got hurt and forced him outside.
There are still some significant obstacles in his path to becoming a valid fantasy option: The use of two-tight end sets this upcoming year while having Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate; fifth-round rookie Tyler Johnson getting added to the mix; Chris Godwin being at his best operating from the slot. However, this raw receiver has proven he can overcome obstacles before, and Brady loves his guys in the slot.
Stash on the taxi squad.
Roster clogs can kill your squad. An inability to bring in youth with upside while holding on to a guy who sporadically gives you low-end flex-worthy fantasy points, plague the fantasy community. There’s a roster clog out there whose days could be numbered. Ravens receiver Willie Snead dominated the slot where he played 65% of his snaps. He played more snaps than any pass-catcher or running back in the Ravens offense outside of tight end Nick Boyle; however, he never scored above wide receiver 20 and understandably so. He doesn’t have great athleticism, as none of his workout metrics ranked in the top 25th percentile; there were superior pass-catchers at the slot level, with tight end Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst; and quarterback Lamar Jackson didn’t need a safety blanket, as he was able to escape defenders with his legs.
After drafting speed receiver Devin Duvernay and 6th rounder James Proche while having second-year receivers Miles Boykin and Marquise Brown expected to step up and see an improvement, Snead’s time is winding down. He will still be a part of this offense as he just signed a one-year, six million dollar contract; however, his lack of talent should show in camp and he should be relegated to the bench as a depth piece. If the Ravens want the best players on the field, Snead won’t see snaps.
Just let him go. He’ll be there if you want him later in the season.
Side Note: Marquise Brown is significantly under-valued as he will be the primary receiver in 11 personnel and slide into the slot in 21 personnel. His extraordinary athleticism should allow him to get downfield versus nickel corners and safeties.
The hype is rising on one player, but he’s still cheap considering his breakout potential. When finally getting the opportunity, the Bears Anthony Miller showed out. Five straight double-digit weeks from Week 11 to Week 15 before getting stoned walled by Chiefs Tyrann Mathieu and spraining his shoulder in Week 17. Plagued by inaccurate passes — only 67 of 85 were catchable — he was still able to put together startable weeks towards the end of the season, including two as a top ten wide receiver. The most impressive was his contested catch rate being 44.4%, sandwiched between Texans DeAndre Hopkins and Cardinals Larry Fitzgerald. A large part of those could be attributed to his mammoth 10 ⅝” hands. The target accuracy is likely to improve as quarterback Mitchel Trubisky is on the hot seat with newly acquired Nick Foles waiting in the wings to step in. We should see this soon-to-be 26-year-old receiver take a step forward as he moves into his prime especially with the Bears play calling ranked 11th for passing percentage in 2019. Best case scenario: the offense flourishes as Matt Nagy finally starts to figure things out while Miller sees a substantial increase in targets. Worst case scenario: Nagy gets fired after a terrible season and the Bears restart with a new coach and one of the top quarterbacks in the 2021 draft class.
Get him while you can.
There are some other interesting ones I’m keeping my eye on such as Chargers rookie Joe Reed who can slide in for slot duties, an aging veteran in Lions Danny Amendola, and Raiders Hunter Renfrow, who finished the season with a bang. Like I stated above, startable slot receivers are on offenses that like to pass significantly more than run, lack an alfa receiver, or have a system in place to operate through the slot receiver. For those three among others, the three things I’m looking for in a slot receiver don’t apply which leads to a spot being taken on your roster without any clue as to when you can start them. Be cautious while leaning towards the slot.
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