The term Slot Receiver gets a bad rap, but it shouldn’t. Often, we associate this term with either a small, quick player or someone who doesn’t have the skill set to succeed on the boundary. This is flawed thinking, especially in today’s NFL. NFL teams pass 61% of the time and consistently have 3 receivers on the field.
Slot receivers are key for three reasons: 1) they work the middle of the field to pick up first downs; 2) they are the best-positioned players on the field to exploit matchups; and, 3) they can be instrumental to a team’s run game. The players who made this list of the top 5 slot receivers in the draft are not necessarily players who can only play in the slot, but they could do wonders for a team if they played them there
1.Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Corey Davis can play outside receiver in the NFL and be very successful doing it. However, if a team is smart enough to kick him inside, he can become one of the most dynamic players in football. Per Scott Barrett of PFF, Davis ran 28.2% of his routes out of the slot, but saw 46.7% of his targets there.
When you watch the film, you see why. Davis struggles at times with press, and that is likely to be a consistent issue for him early on. When he is moved inside, he gets a free release versus either a nickel corner, linebacker, or safety. Davis has size and speed advantages over anyone who will match up with him in the slot, and with the free release defenders can’t use press to stop him.
After the catch, Davis excels in his ability to turn it up field, and once he gets a head of steam he won’t be caught from behind. Allowing him to play in the slot will give him match up advantages, a free release and the ability to work in space. He can get quick throws and work the middle of the field, with play designs to allow him to turn up field.
Corey Davis is a nightmare matchup problem in the slot pic.twitter.com/0ZvF2xAign
— Eliot Crist (@EliotCrist) April 17, 2017
Per Brett Whitefield of PFF, Corey Davis caught 45 of 56 targets out of the slot for 600 yards and 4 touchdowns. On top of his skill in the open field, Davis’s blocking ability makes him attractive in the slot. Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona is a terrific example of what a big slot receiver can do for a team’s run game.
Davis is a physical blocker, showing an ability to drive his defender down the field. He can block in space and create running lanes, or come inside and deliver devastating crack back blocks. Davis should play outside on two wide sets, and kick inside when three or more receivers are on the field, if a team wants to use him to the best of his abilities.
2. Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss
Engram is one of the more polarizing prospects in the class. He is a tight end who lined up inline, at h-back, and in the slot. As a slot receiver, he can dominate using his combination of size and speed. At 6’3”, 234lbs Engram ran a 4.42 second 40-yard dash, and a 6.92 second 3-cone drill.
At Ole Miss, Engram showed the ability to run crisp routes, work both underneath and the deep part of the field, and catch in traffic. He lacks functional strength to consistently block inline, and a team is wasting his ability if they keep him in to block in passing situations. Engram is far too big for any nickel corner or safety to be able to match up with him, and he will run by any linebacker trying to cover him.
— Jared Tokarz (@NFLDraftInsider) March 30, 2017
He was consistently double teamed or ran his routes versus bracket coverage, and he still made plays. Any time a slot receiver requires two defenders to stop him, it opens up everyone else all over the field. On top of his athletic ability, Engram also has soft hands. He had issues with some concentration drops, but he shows the ability to make spectacular plays.
Running out of the slot, he may be a quarterback’s first look on third downs and he will be a reliable chain mover. Like Davis, Engram can be a successful blocker in the slot. He lacks the functional strength to hold his own versus defensive lineman in the NFL, but he can block in space and open up lanes on the outside for running backs. He may always be labeled as a tight end, but expect Engram to play most his snaps in the slot.