The NFL is a pass-heavy league, and slot wide receivers have become more dominant than ever before. Once only thought of as players used primarily in third down passing situations, teams have now utilized their slot wide receivers in regular passing formations to take control of the middle of the field, and move the ball with their shifty, agile receivers.
Once the big name receivers on the outside have jumped off the draft boards, the best way to optimize your fantasy football roster in terms of wide receivers becomes how you evaluate and select the potential target hogs out of the slot.
Successful slot receivers in terms of fantasy football are few and far between. Not many teams have the quarterback, offensive scheme and talent at wide receiver to churn out fantasy relevant players in the slot, but as with everything there are the anomalies. Here we identify those anomalies, and give you some insight to the help you dominate the slot while those on the outside of the RotoUnderworld falter.
Note ADPs referenced:
Jamison Crowder, Washington (2016 Slot Rate: 55.7-percent)
Only three wide receivers saw more time in the slot than Jamison Crowder in 2016, and two of them (Sterling Shepard and Tyler Boyd) are prime candidates for negative regression in their Slot Rate for 2017 given the players their teams have brought in this offseason.
One player due for a positive regression is Jamison Crowder, who dominated out of the slot in 2016, averaging 14.5 yards per reception in the slot, which is the highest among receivers who totaled at least a 50-percent Slot Rate. Not only is Crowder a high volume receiver in the slot (99 targets in 2016), he also plays on a team that was No. 8 in the league in passing plays (630), but he plays on a roster that is similarly constructed to that of last season. Granted, DeSean Jackson has been replaced with Terrelle Pryor, but that switch could bode well for Crowder, as Pryor is more than just a deep threat on the outside.
Crowder, much like the aforementioned Cole Beasley also reeled off plenty of yards after catch, racking up 363 yards after catch (No. 19), and finishing the season with 847 yards and seven touchdowns (No. 15).
Jamison Crowder added 12.0 fantasy points per game last season (No. 38), and saw 21-percent of Washington’s red zone target share (No. 32), converting three of those targets into touchdowns. With a +17.8 Production Premium score, and an 80-percent Contested Catch Rate (No. 11), Jamison Crowder is a wide receiver you want to own in the slot. Kirk Cousins is set for another year of high distribution, and Washington isn’t looking to establish the run anytime soon.
Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks (2016 Slot Rate: 56.1-percent)
If the list seems obvious to you thus far then congratulations, you know your stuff. Doug Baldwin is next up, and justifiably so. Despite playing with a hobbled Russell Wilson for most of 2016, Doug Baldwin still made a productive fantasy haul in 2016, finishing the year with 94 receptions on 125 targets for 1,128 yards and seven receiving touchdowns. His 15.8 fantasy points per game was good for 10th overall in 2016 among wide receivers, along with his 11 red zone receptions.
Check out Doug Baldwin on the Updated PlayerProfiler Seasonal & Dynasty Rankings:
Often overlooked and under appreciated, Doug Baldwin has been a model of consistency for two consecutive seasons, notching 1,000-plus yards in 2015 and 2016, and an absurd 14 receiving touchdowns in 2015. He’s drawn 228 targets over those last two seasons, and has been one of the most efficient receivers during that span, with a +55.8 Production Premium in 2015 (No. 1) and +19.8 Production Premium in 2016 (No. 14). Baldwin, like most players on this list, is an elite player after the catch, as he notched 447 yards after catch in 2016 (No. 7), and 408 in 2015 (No. 11). He has leaped into the top 15 among wide receiver ADP in MFL rankings this season, the No. 14 wide receiver off the board, compared to the No. 22 WR ADP in 2016.
With Russell Wilson expected to comeback healthy in 2017, and no other receiver on the roster vying for significant target shares, Doug Baldwin is a valuable asset, and should see another season of 120-plus targets and 1,000-plus receiving yards.
Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints (2016 Slot Rate: 42.7-percent)
Of all the receivers on this list, Willie Snead has the lowest Slot Rate, but a chance to churn out big numbers with the emergence of Michael Thomas in 2016, and of course his established history with Drew Brees. Despite spending less than 50-percent of his snaps in the slot, Willie Snead is the unquestioned slot receiver for the Saints, and could be an elite one at that.
Even with Snead having to share his target distribution with Michael Thomas and Brandin Cooks last season, he still turned in a solid fantasy season, posting 12.8 fantasy points per game (No. 27) and 72 receptions for 895 yards and four touchdowns on 104 targets.
Gone from the Saints is Brandin Cooks and his 117 targets from last season, and it’s hard to imagine a large portion of them going to go to newly acquired Ted Ginn. It’s no secret that the Saints aim to throw and throw often, racking up the second most pass plays in the league last season (701), while Drew Brees had yet another 5,000 yard passing season, and was third in the league in passing touchdowns (37), while completing a league high 51.4-percent of his deep ball attempts.
Willie Snead has an opportunity to be fantasy gold this season for his owners. He is currently coming off the board at wide receiver No. 31 in MFL rankings, falling behind players like Tyreek Hill (No. 21), Corey Davis (No. 22) and Donte Moncrief (No. 29) in redraft league formats. His overall ADP currently sits at 76.95, making him readily available around the fifth or sixth round in 12-team PPR leagues.
Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys (2016 Slot Rate: 50.1-percent)
If you’re looking for a true anomaly, look no further than Dallas’ Cole Beasley, who has turned an undrafted start to his career into NFL success, thanks in large part to Dak Prescott, who turned to Beasley early and often his rookie year.
Based on his unimpressive metrics and workout profile, Cole Beasley provided little reason for analysts to believe he would breakout into one of the best slot receivers in the game. He falls well short of the median in nearly every metric on PlayerProfiler.com, with a 22.4-percent College Dominator Rating (29th-percentile), 12.1 College YPR (17th-percentile) and a 21.4 Breakout Age (28th-percentile).
Cole Beasley was a stud PPR receiver in 2016, notching 75 receptions on 98 targets, good for a 76.5-percent Catch Rate (No. 2), while hauling in five touchdown passes. Beasley finished 2016 with 833 receiving yards (No. 39) and displayed elusiveness in the open field with 378 yards after catch (No. 15). Despite seeing the field on only 61.3-percent of Dallas’ offensive snaps in 2016, Beasley vastly outperformed “No. 2 receiver” Terrance Williams, who appears to be more of an on-field decoy, than a legitimate option in the passing game.
Having been the 70th wide receiver in 2016 ADP in MFL draft rankings, Cole Beasley finished his 2016 season as the No. 40 wide receiver in fantasy points per game with 11.8 points per game, posting a better points per game average than players taken ahead of him like Jeremy Maclin (9.1 points per game), Allen Hurns (9.2 points per game) and Tajae Sharpe (6.6 points per game). Even with a successful 2016, Cole Beasley still comes at a great value in 2017, as his current ADP in MFL rankings has him coming in as the No. 76 wide receiver in redraft leagues, behind wide receivers like Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Chris Conley and Laquon Treadwell, just to name a few.
The Cowboys ran the fewest pass plays of any team in 2016 (510), but with a rookie quarterback and dominant offensive line to pave the way for Ezekiel Elliott, the lack of passing made sense. With Prescott having another year to build a rapport with Beasley and the rest of the offense, the wheels should be up for Cole Beasley, who has a chance to see an increase in targets, receptions, yards, snap share, everything!
Beasley’s current ADP is an egregious mistake being made by fantasy footballers, who appear to be chasing hype and potential scenarios over production that could easily increase in 2017.
Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions
This take is not for the faint of heart, but until I see Kenny Golladay playing primarily on the outside, I will not believe that his spot for the Lions in 2017 will be most often in the slot. Last season for the Lions, it was veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin who dominated the team’s Slot Rate, showing up in the slot 54.5-percent of the time. Prior to last season, Boldin had never been perceived as much of a slot player as he was a big target on the outside, but now that spot could, and should belong to Kenny Golladay.
The Lions ran 627 pass plays last season (No. 10 in the NFL), and were one of the top teams in running three wide receiver sets in 2016, as evidenced by Anquan Boldin‘s absurd 87.9-percent snap share as the team’s third receiver. Prototypical PPR gem Golden Tate saw only 17.1-percent of his snaps come in the slot last season, while Marvin Jones saw only 5-percent of his snaps come in the slot. Last season with the Lions, Anquan Boldin was a very reliable receiver out of the slot, despite his age and drop in speed and athleticism. He displayed reliable hands, and was the benefactor of a 26.7-percent Red Zone Target share, resulting in 15 red zone receptions and eight total touchdowns on the season (No. 10). Boldin drew 95 targets on the season and posted 67 receptions for 584 yards.
If the Kenny Golladay slot prediction comes true, the rookie wide receiver could take advantage of elite size (6-foot-4, 218 pounds), and a strong athletic profile that features a 110.7 Speed Score (92nd-percentile), 10.17 Catch Radius (79th-percentile) and 118.2 SPARQ-x Score (84th-percentile). His 41.8-percent College Dominator Rating (83rd-percentile) is exactly what we want to see out of a wide receiver who could be garnering early playing time, and his 19.8 Breakout Age (68th-percentile) is encouraging.
A successful rookie season for Kenny Golladay in the slot is strictly based on his likely replacement of Anquan Boldin, and the assumption that the Lions, like in years past, will be the pass-heavy team they have been over the last few seasons.