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Football 101: Utilizing The The Slot Receiver

In today's NFL the use of the slot receiver has been one of the reasons that some teams can score over 30 points a game on a regular basis.

Cole Beasley
Cole Beasley
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The slot receiver, (who is sometimes designated the Y receiver, other times the F receiver if there is a tight end), has become a significant part of some of the high scoring offenses in the NFL these days. The slot receiver does not have to have a unique set of skills, but there have been two schools of thought on how to best assemble a group of wide receivers that can challenge a defense. The first school of thought is to have all of the receivers be the same type, such as all of them need to be tall receivers, while the other school of thought is to have the three main receivers be different. Let's look at those dynamics.


If you study what type of receivers seem to be needed in an offense, you will automatically remember that one of the receivers you need is a "possession receiver."  But, then you pause and ask yourself..."shouldn't all of your receivers be capable of being that type?"

Here is my opinion on what types of receivers a team needs.

  1. A Great Possession Receiver.
  2. A Great Deep Threat Receiver.
  3. A Great Quick Threat Receiver.

Now let me give the reasoning.

Possession Receiver - This one is very obvious to all, the possession receiver has to have great hands and can go over the middle and not get what they call "Alligator Arms", meaning if the receiver sees a defender bearing down on him and he needs to reach out to get to the ball, you want him to reach and not pull his arms back and prepare for the hit. Seldom drops a ball that he can touch or reach.

Deep Threat Receiver - One of the outside receivers needs to have great speed because these guys will usually demand a safety to play over the top so he can't get behind the defense. Getting double coverage is very key to having a both a great passing attack and a great running attack because one of the safeties is not able to support the run if he is playing deep over the top.

Quick Threat Receiver - The prototype is Wes Welker. Guys with short legs have a built in advantage in quickness. Speed is not the same as quickness. Quickness is usually guys with great 10-yard dash times, while speed is the guys with great 20- to 60-yard times. This guy needs to get quick separation so he can be the guy that gets the pass from the QB when he has to get the ball out quick and can't wait for the routes to develop because he is either being blitzed or hurried by a great pass rush. This guy is usually the slot receiver.

Before we give some details about his routes, I should mention something about putting your best receiver in the slot and disregard having the quick twitch receiver always being there. One of the tenants on offense is to try to create match-up problems for the defense such as having a formation where you force the defense into an advantageous match up for your offense. One mismatch is to put your best receiver who is often the X receiver in the slot. This article talks about how your best receiver is usually the X receiver.

Nelson would be the Packers' most obvious star X receiver, but that doesn't mean he is one. He has the requirements: height (he's the tallest of the corps, at 6'3"), size and leaping ability (have you seen his acrobatic catches?)

The attributes of Nelson's teammates would also seem to suggest that he's best-suited as a traditional X receiver. Jones is a little shorter but still very physical at 6'1", and he could also play the X but often plays the Z, or flanker. Cobb, of course, is a multi-threat, but at 5'10", he is the prototypical slot receiver who is smart, small and quick. [emphasis added]

By putting your best receiver in the slot, it forces the defense to make a decision about getting their corners out of their normal alignment such as having your best corner move from where he normally covers the X receiver outside, to follow him down into the slot position. If he doesn't move with him, then you now have what is usually the defenses third best corner matched against your best receiver.


Without talking about the "receiver route tree", ( Select the 2nd line in the drop down below ),

we will talk about the choices of routes the Slot receiver has available. These routes are usually determined by the way the DB lines up in front of him. Usually they line up one of three ways:

  1. Outside Leverage
  2. Straight-Up Leverage
  3. Inside Leverage

The DB may want to try to direct the slot receivers choice to the two choices that the DB likes. If the DB thinks he can match up better if he tries to make the seam or slant the better choice for the slot receiver, he will line up with outside leverage as shown below:


If he uses straight-up leverage, the slot receiver will have the slant or the out routes available to him.


If he uses inside leverage, then the slot receiver will think the seam or the out are his best options.


Based upon how the DB plays him, the slot receiver will choose an option, and this choice will need to be talked about by the receivers, the quarterback and the offensive coordinator as part of the playbook because the receiver and the quarterback must both make the same "read" or it could lead to an incompletion or worse yet, an interception. That is what is talked about as far as the quarterback and the receiver being on the same page. If the receiver makes the wrong read, then often the interception will be the fault of the receiver, but the casual fan will often say,

what a stupid quarterback, he threw it right to the linebacker. What's wrong with him, can't he see?

Below is a good visual of the different routes possible for the slot receiver. Notice in this photo, the DB is playing with slight inside leverage, probably because he suspects that a slant is the likely play call here. This picture came from a very good article on the route tree.


So, there you have it. If you like it, please re-tweet, like on Facebook, and/or give it a rec on that same line.

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