2023 Fantasy Football Strategies: Slot WR Concepts
Andrew Cooper breaks down the slot WR role and the type of slot WR you want to draft vs. the one you don't.
We don’t want slot wide receivers in fantasy football. There, I said it. And you might say “Look Coop, I watch NFL Redzone every week on Sunday Ticket. I know my stuff. What about guys like Cooper Kupp? Or Chris Godwin? Or Keenan Allen? Those guys play slot and top the fantasy football rankings and ADP every year? They even won me my dynasty league! I finally beat Mark!” And to that I would say, “hush your little mouth up about Mark - and listen to what I’m trying to tell you.”
We don’t want slot wide receivers - we want guys who play slot AND flanker. There are three basic wide receiver “roles” in real-life football:
Split End: You need seven players “tethered” to the line every play, with their foot up on the line of scrimmage. If you notice a wide receiver checking with the line judge before every play, that’s what he’s doing. The two widest players are eligible to catch passes. On one side you typically have a tight end and, on the other, you have a split end. This player cannot go in motion unless another player steps up, and someone else steps back. Some folks also call the split end the “X receiver”. They are shown in red below.
Flanker: The flanker lines up OFF the line of scrimmage, typically on the other side outside of the tight end. If they were ON the line of scrimmage, that would make the tight end ineligible to catch passes as they would be “covered up”. Since flankers line up a step back off the line, they are free to go in motion whenever. It’s also easier to beat any corner trying to jam you as you have a couple feet of buffer zone. This position is sometimes referred to as the “Z receiver”.
Slot Receiver: The “slot” is the space in between the split end and the tackle or the flanker and the tight end. This is where a “slot receiver” would line up. They’re called slot receivers, slot backs, or tight ends lining up there are often either called “move” tight ends or “big slot”. They are also often off the line and free to go in motion.
Now, the formation in the example above is called “single back”. It’s just one of many formations. I will now show you another formation - one that uses two tight ends
Do you understand why this formation would be a problem for the slot wide receiver? For anyone having trouble with the concept, it’s because there isn’t one.
Pure Slot Receivers
Here is a look at all the players that had at least 15 targets in 2022 and ran at least 70% of their routes from the slot (courtesy of ProFootballFocus). This is sorted by slot percentage.
Do you notice a pattern there? Only the guys who move outside and stay on the field for two WR sets are finishing in the top 24. In fact, over the last three years, the only player to play more than 80% of his snaps in the slot and finish in the top 24 is 2020 Ceedee Lamb in his rookie year where he finished exactly WR24. At that time, he was coming out of the game on two WR sets in favor of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Obviously, he proved his worth and has since become a full time player. In 2020, he played 504 slot snaps, 35 out wide, and finished as WR24 in fantasy. Last year, he played 376 slot snaps, 218 out wide, and finished as the WR5. We already wrote about Jaylen Waddle as well who took a BIG step in year two after going from 60.1% slot snaps as a rookie to only 24.5% as a sophomore. He is a flanker now.
So, when people get excited about the idea of their guy lining up in the slot, they are ACTUALLY hoping they play slot in three WR sets but move to flanker for two WR sets. That gives you the best of both worlds because you get the matchup benefits from the slot. A guy like Sauce Gardner played 935 snaps out wide last year and only eight in the slot. Some guys just don’t go in there. THAT is the secret formula.
Let’s take a look at the players who ran the most routes from the slot in 2022 while ALSO running at least 150 routes out wide. This is sorted by total routes run from the slot.
NOW we’ve got some players in there! Not pictured is also Keenan Allen as he missed half the season so he missed the 150 snap threshold. In the eight games he played after returning from injury, he was the WR2 behind only Justin Jefferson.
How Do We Use This Info?
Well, there are two ways really. On the positive side, we want to look for guys that are trending in the Ceedee Lamb direction - guys that were once only slot wide receivers and are now transitioning to a full-time role. Both Parris Campbell and Wan’Dale Robinson are now with the Giants and will be battling for those snaps, for instance. In that wide receiver room, there is a path for someone to grab a huge chunk of snaps and targets. We wrote about the concept of looking at ambiguous wide receiver rooms in our article The Art of the Wide Receiver Dart Throw and those offenses are usually the best place to look. The Giants, Panthers, Texans - there is a lot of uncertainty out there where you can get discounts at ADP.
On the flip side, we need to beware of players going the path of Tyler Boyd. We wrote about his journey in full here but the short and sweet is that he was once a player who played flanker opposite A.J. Green then moved into the slot for three WR sets. He had back to back 1,000 yard seasons with that setup and even a season with 148 targets. Now, with the addition of Tee Higgins at split end and Ja’Marr Chase at flanker, he plays slot in three WR sets then comes out of the game for two WR sets. That explains why he has cooled off lately despite entering the age apex for wide receivers. No team uses three or more WRs for the whole game so you have to ask yourself - who is the odd man out?