The slot position is becoming more and more important as offenses rely on three wide receiver sets more often than in the past. Slot receivers are a key cog in the blocking wheel for running plays, and they must be precise with their routes and timing to help the quarterback make big plays downfield.
They also need to have a great awareness of the field and know where defenders are located. It takes a lot of practice for them to develop this symbiotic relationship with the quarterback, but when they do it is a beautiful thing that can result in some really big plays.
Because of their positioning pre-snap, slot receivers are able to run a variety of routes up, in, and out of the slot. This versatility makes them a valuable asset for offensive coordinators who can find ways to get them the ball with varying coverage.
In some cases, the slot can even be used as a decoy to mask the route of a running back or tight end. This allows the slot to run a quicker, more direct route that could result in a bigger gain for the offense.
Unlike the outside receivers, who line up in front of the defense, the slot often lines up slightly off the line of scrimmage. This opens up the door for easy motions and shifts in formation, which helps the quarterback read the defense. It also increases the distance between the defender and the receiver, which gives the slot receiver more room to cut, run, or catch.
Slot receivers must be excellent blockers, too. They’re a key part of the offense’s blocking wheel and must be able to seal off nickelbacks, safetys, and outside linebackers on running plays. Depending on the play, they may even need to chip defensive ends.
They can also be used to create a more even matchup against one-on-one coverage. This allows the outside receivers to focus more on their routes and open up other opportunities for the team. In some instances, the slot can even be utilized to help a struggling running back or tight end make a big play.
Although many people consider the slot to be a “third-tier” position, this is not necessarily the case. Despite not getting the same recognition as outside receivers, there are some very talented slot receivers in the league today. Players like Tyreek Hill, Cole Beasley, and Keenan Allen have all made a name for themselves as some of the best in the game at what is quickly becoming an increasingly crucial position. They’re also some of the most difficult players to defend, making them key cogs in the offenses of the top teams in the NFL.