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19 Jul 2017

2016 Slot vs. Wide: RBs and TEs

by Scott Kacsmar

On Monday, we looked at new data from the upcoming Football Outsiders Almanac 2017 (available next week) on passes thrown to receivers lined up in the slot versus out wide. We started with wide receivers and quarterbacks, but will look at running backs and tight ends today.

Again, this only counts plays on which a given player was targeted. This data comes from the charting done by our friends at Sports Info Solutions, and it is based on where the player was lined up at the snap. If the player was in "jet" motion, then that was charted as the spot they originated from, which was usually in the slot.

2016 Running Backs

Our first table features the 53 running backs with at least 25 targets last season. Their splits show how many targets they had out of the backfield, in the slot, and lined up out wide. Some backs also lined up as tight ends, but we excluded that from the table since only John Kuhn had five plays. It's not a common tactic. Players are sorted by their percentage of targets on routes out of the backfield.

Player Team Passes Backfield Slot Wide Backfield% Rk Slot% Rk Wide% Rk
J.Ajayi MIA 35 35 0 0 100.0% 1 0.0% 42 0.0% 50
C.Thompson WAS 62 61 1 0 98.4% 2 1.6% 40 0.0% 49
M.Gordon SD 57 56 0 1 98.2% 3 0.0% 43 1.8% 41
C.West KC 34 33 0 0 97.1% 4 0.0% 44 0.0% 51
J.Forsett 2TM 28 27 1 0 96.4% 6 3.6% 35 0.0% 47
C.Ivory JAC 28 27 0 0 96.4% 5 0.0% 45 0.0% 52
J.Starks GB 26 25 0 0 96.2% 7 0.0% 46 0.0% 53
T.West BAL 45 43 0 1 95.6% 8 0.0% 47 2.2% 38
R.Jennings NYG 43 41 0 2 95.3% 9 0.0% 48 4.7% 21
S.Draughn SF 39 37 1 1 94.9% 10 2.6% 37 2.6% 35
T.Gurley LARM 58 55 3 0 94.8% 11 5.2% 24 0.0% 46
R.Turbin IND 35 33 0 1 94.3% 12 0.0% 49 2.9% 32
C.Hyde SF 34 32 0 2 94.1% 14 0.0% 50 5.9% 17
J.Howard CHI 51 48 1 0 94.1% 13 2.0% 39 0.0% 48
L.Murray OAK 43 40 0 3 93.0% 15 0.0% 51 7.0% 15
J.Hill CIN 27 25 0 2 92.6% 16 0.0% 52 7.4% 14
D.Williams PIT 27 25 1 1 92.6% 17 3.7% 33 3.7% 27
J.Langford CHI 27 25 1 1 92.6% 18 3.7% 34 3.7% 28
Player Team Passes Backfield Slot Wide Backfield% Rk Slot% Rk Wide% Rk
J.McKinnon MIN 53 49 2 2 92.5% 19 3.8% 31 3.8% 25
T.Hightower NO 26 24 1 1 92.3% 20 3.8% 30 3.8% 24
B.Rainey NYG 25 23 1 1 92.0% 22 4.0% 29 4.0% 23
J.Ferguson IND 25 23 2 0 92.0% 21 8.0% 18 0.0% 45
D.Murray TEN 67 61 4 1 91.0% 23 6.0% 23 1.5% 43
I.Crowell CLE 53 48 2 2 90.6% 24 3.8% 32 3.8% 26
K.Dixon BAL 41 37 3 1 90.2% 25 7.3% 20 2.4% 37
T.Yeldon JAC 69 62 1 2 89.9% 26 1.4% 41 2.9% 31
L.Miller HOU 39 35 2 1 89.7% 27 5.1% 26 2.6% 34
M.Ingram NO 58 52 3 1 89.7% 28 5.2% 25 1.7% 42
M.Asiata MIN 38 34 1 2 89.5% 29 2.6% 36 5.3% 18
D.Booker DEN 45 40 1 2 88.9% 30 2.2% 38 4.4% 22
G.Bernard CIN 51 45 5 1 88.2% 31 9.8% 16 2.0% 39
E.Elliott DAL 40 35 3 1 87.5% 32 7.5% 19 2.5% 36
F.Gore IND 48 41 2 3 85.4% 33 4.2% 28 6.3% 16
T.Riddick DET 67 57 8 2 85.1% 34 11.9% 11 3.0% 30
L.McCoy BUF 59 49 6 3 83.1% 35 10.2% 14 5.1% 19
B.Powell NYJ 75 62 11 2 82.7% 36 14.7% 8 2.7% 33
Player Team Passes Backfield Slot Wide Backfield% Rk Slot% Rk Wide% Rk
F.Whittaker CAR 33 27 5 1 81.8% 37 15.2% 7 3.0% 29
Du.Johnson CLE 76 62 5 6 81.6% 38 6.6% 21 7.9% 13
Da.Williams MIA 31 25 2 3 80.6% 39 6.5% 22 9.7% 10
D.Sproles PHI 71 56 7 8 78.9% 40 9.9% 15 11.3% 6
T.Montgomery GB 56 44 11 1 78.6% 41 19.6% 4 1.8% 40
L.Bell PIT 95 73 11 9 76.8% 42 11.6% 12 9.5% 12
M.Forte NYJ 43 33 8 2 76.7% 43 18.6% 5 4.7% 20
S.Ware KC 42 32 2 4 76.2% 44 4.8% 27 9.5% 11
C.Michael 2TM 29 22 0 7 75.9% 45 0.0% 53 24.1% 2
D.Freeman ATL 66 50 9 7 75.8% 46 13.6% 10 10.6% 8
K.Juszczyk BAL 49 37 7 0 75.5% 47 14.3% 9 0.0% 44
J.White NE 86 63 9 11 73.3% 48 10.5% 13 12.8% 5
T.Coleman ATL 40 29 7 4 72.5% 49 17.5% 6 10.0% 9
C.Sims TB 32 21 3 8 65.6% 50 9.4% 17 25.0% 1
J.Richard OAK 40 26 8 6 65.0% 51 20.0% 3 15.0% 3
Da.Johnson ARI 122 76 28 18 62.3% 52 23.0% 2 14.8% 4
T.Cadet NO 55 30 18 6 54.5% 53 32.7% 1 10.9% 7

Jay Ajayi really could use a boost in his receiving ability if he wants to be a more versatile weapon for the Dolphins and stay on the field for more third downs. Ajayi was the only back to take 100 percent of his targets from out of the backfield. On the flip side, Travaris Cadet was only in the backfield for 54.5 percent of his targets in New Orleans. He's still there, but the depth chart is deep for Sean Payton and Drew Brees to play with.

David Johnson was really the "do-everything back" for Arizona last season. He had 28 slot targets, 10 more than the next-highest running back (Cadet). Johnson also was targeted out wide a league-high 18 times, while Super Bowl star James White was second with 11. The back with the most similar usage to Johnson was Oakland's Jalen Richard, who had the third-highest rate in both slot and wide targets. Even with Marshawn Lynch in town, Richard should continue to develop in Oakland's offense as a receiving weapon.

Tampa Bay's Charles Sims was out wide the most often at 25.0 percent of his targets, but we're only talking about eight plays out of 32. The Buccaneers might be more interested in getting DeSean Jackson and rookie O.J. Howard involved than fooling around with the backs this year.

Compiling this data, Le'Veon Bell was one of the first names I looked for, and I was a little surprised to not see some more flexibility given his route-running skills. Bell had 11 slot targets and nine wide targets, but it sure felt like he was used in this manner more than 20 times last year. He was not able to reach a long-term deal with the Steelers this week, but with skills like this, you can see why Bell will be the highest-paid running back in football this year.

Here is a breakdown on the success of passes to running backs in 2016:

  • Backfield passes: 2,904 attempts, 1,962 DYAR, -1.7% DVOA (air yards per target: 0.5).
  • Slot passes: 261 attempts, 404 DYAR, 13.0% DVOA (air yards per target: 4.0).
  • Wide passes: 196 attempts, 204 DYAR, 4.0% DVOA (air yards per target: 5.6).

While the DVOA between wide and slot was much closer with wide receivers, running backs in the slot have a more considerable advantage in efficiency over those out wide. Since not too many backs have a lot of slot or wide targets, we're just going to show the DYAR and DVOA for everyone with at least eight slot targets and six wide targets (so that there are 11 players in each table).

Player Team SLOT PASSES Player Team WIDE PASSES
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes
Da.Johnson ARI 99 1 48.5% 3 28 Da.Johnson ARI 46 1 35.2% 3 18
J.Richard OAK 51 2 116.5% 1 8 J.White NE 43 2 39.7% 2 11
L.Bell PIT 38 3 46.1% 4 11 J.Richard OAK 22 3 64.4% 1 6
T.Cadet NO 35 4 15.6% 7 18 Du.Johnson CLE 15 4 24.5% 4 6
L.Dunbar DAL 30 5 50.1% 2 9 T.Cadet NO 8 5 11.0% 5 6
T.Montgomery GB 25 6 25.0% 5 11 D.Sproles PHI 4 6 -4.9% 6 8
D.Freeman ATL 17 7 18.9% 6 9 D.Freeman ATL 3 7 -5.9% 7 7
T.Riddick DET 5 8 -5.9% 9 8 D.Lewis NE -2 8 -17.4% 8 9
M.Forte NYJ 5 9 -2.3% 8 8 L.Bell PIT -3 9 -18.8% 9 9
B.Powell NYJ -16 10 -40.5% 10 11 C.Michael 2TM -4 10 -26.3% 10 7
J.White NE -19 11 -51.6% 11 9 C.Sims TB -7 11 -29.4% 11 8

Again, it's a small number of plays, but Richard had the highest DVOA in the slot and split wide, and David Johnson had the most DYAR in both categories. Other notable receiving backs, such as Darren Sproles and Theo Riddick, show up as well to little surprise.

White's numbers in the slot weren't good, but that was just a matter of Tom Brady and White failing to hook up on five of nine short throws. Again, no biggie. They made quite a few plays in Super Bowl LI.

2016 Tight Ends

We have a bit more to digest with the 46 qualifying tight ends of 2016. These players could line up virtually anywhere on the field, including the backfield, which was done most by Jack Doyle (six targets) and Greg Olsen (five). Setting the backfield aside, these 46 tight ends all had at least two slot targets, but eight players had zero targets out wide.

Here is the breakdown for all tight ends by where they lined up:

  • In-line tight end passes: 1,996 attempts, 956 DYAR, -0.1% DVOA (air yards per target: 7.1).
  • Slot passes: 1,531 attempts, 856 DYAR, 1.4% DVOA (air yards per target: 8.5).
  • Wide passes: 195 attempts, 118 DYAR, 1.4% DVOA (air yards per target: 8.4).

Running backs only had one more wide pass than tight ends, though the efficiency is practically identical for tight ends between slot and wide. The average pass is roughly the same length, as is the DVOA. Again, this is the first season for which we have this data, so we'll have to see how things develop down the road, but the slot seems to lean towards producing slightly more efficient offense -- if you have the right talent in place, of course.

We'll show the wide numbers in the table, but there really aren't enough of those plays to bother with adding the rankings too. Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed were really in a class of their own for production out wide. Kelce had the most targets (16) and the second-most DYAR (65), while Reed had a league-high 83 DYAR on 13 targets. Martellus Bennett also had 13 wide targets in New England, but only for 1 DYAR. He'll play with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay this year. If the Bennett numbers surprise you, then consider that Rob Gronkowski had a league-low minus-41 DYAR on nine wide targets. He dropped one pass, and was twice overthrown on fade routes in the red zone.

The following table shows the tight ends by their in-line tight end production, as well as in the slot and out wide. The table is sorted by percentage of targets in wide or slot (Move%).


Player Team IN-LINE TIGHT END SLOT WIDE Move% Rk
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes DYAR DVOA Passes
89-J.Cook GB -3 31 -11.5% 32 10 -8 32 -11.0% 31 32 -9 -21.9% 9 78.8% 1
85-A.Gates SD -25 37 -23.4% 39 21 8 26 -5.3% 26 68 21 40.6% 6 77.9% 2
88-G.Olsen CAR 37 17 12.2% 14 27 113 2 11.5% 18 94 4 4.0% 5 75.6% 3
82-D.Walker TEN 40 13 15.4% 13 27 68 10 8.5% 19 70 3 0.0% 6 73.1% 4
87-T.Kelce KC 26 21 4.8% 20 32 170 1 29.5% 11 69 65 54.8% 16 72.6% 5
84-C.Brate TB 59 11 31.1% 6 23 91 7 19.3% 15 53 -1 -8.6% 6 72.0% 6
86-J.Reed WAS -11 32 -13.6% 34 27 19 21 -1.3% 25 48 83 78.8% 13 68.5% 7
47-T.Burton PHI -29 38 -30.8% 43 19 -50 43 -28.2% 36 36 -4 -22.7% 4 66.7% 8
86-Z.Ertz PHI 38 15 8.3% 18 37 48 12 3.8% 22 66 -12 -64.2% 4 65.4% 9
85-E.Ebron DET 38 14 11.0% 15 31 93 6 28.3% 12 46 17 16.5% 10 64.4% 10
87-R.Gronkowski NE 75 8 68.4% 1 15 101 4 99.0% 1 15 -41 -68.5% 9 61.5% 11
81-M.Rivera OAK 10 26 10.5% 16 9 23 18 16.6% 16 15 - - 0 60.0% 12
82-R.Rodgers GB -21 36 -23.5% 40 19 23 19 6.2% 21 26 -2 -35.4% 2 58.3% 13
88-C.Walford OAK 32 19 17.2% 12 18 3 28 -5.3% 27 26 -13 -46.1% 4 57.7% 14
85-T.Eifert CIN 10 27 -0.2% 24 21 70 8 33.3% 9 24 -23 -104.6% 3 56.3% 15
88-D.Pitta BAL -32 39 -16.6% 35 53 -49 42 -19.6% 33 66 -8 -50.4% 3 56.1% 16
Player Team IN-LINE TIGHT END SLOT WIDE Move% Rk
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes DYAR DVOA Passes
82-C.Fleener NO 12 25 -2.5% 25 37 5 27 -5.6% 28 42 -1 -10.9% 4 55.4% 17
82-J.Witten DAL 85 5 21.8% 9 44 -81 45 -34.6% 39 49 -6 -107.2% 1 52.6% 18
84-D.Harris KC -59 44 -60.7% 46 15 -6 31 -15.0% 32 12 2 -1.9% 4 51.6% 19
86-Z.Miller CHI 77 7 31.4% 5 29 -4 30 -9.5% 30 31 17 114.1% 2 51.6% 20
86-H.Henry SD 65 9 29.8% 7 26 67 11 36.6% 7 23 16 37.6% 4 50.9% 21
87-C.Uzomah CIN 1 30 -6.4% 30 18 31 15 16.5% 17 18 -8 -113.0% 1 50.0% 22
83-D.Allen IND 6 29 -4.1% 29 27 101 5 51.1% 3 26 - - 0 49.1% 23
85-V.Davis WAS 33 18 7.6% 19 31 68 9 36.0% 8 25 -4 -24.8% 3 47.5% 24
88-M.Bennett NE 159 1 51.0% 2 41 36 14 21.2% 14 21 1 -5.8% 13 45.3% 25
80-J.Thomas JAC 15 22 0.5% 23 29 -48 41 -40.5% 40 21 10 73.8% 2 44.2% 26
84-J.Doyle IND 106 2 37.3% 4 37 16 23 -0.1% 23 33 - - 0 43.4% 27
88-J.Graham SEA 104 3 21.1% 10 57 113 3 41.9% 6 37 -13 -45.8% 4 41.8% 28
81-J.James PIT -38 41 -23.4% 38 35 10 25 -1.2% 24 23 2 7.1% 2 41.7% 29
82-G.Barnidge CLE 84 6 22.3% 8 46 24 17 7.6% 20 27 -10 -28.9% 6 40.2% 30
88-L.Kendricks LARM 14 23 -3.0% 28 53 -88 46 -52.2% 42 30 2 1.1% 4 38.2% 31
82-K.Rudolph MIN 43 12 0.7% 22 81 -62 44 -27.2% 34 46 7 20.3% 4 37.6% 32
Player Team IN-LINE TIGHT END SLOT WIDE Move% Rk
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes DYAR DVOA Passes
89-L.Green PIT -36 40 -34.7% 44 22 40 13 50.2% 4 10 10 108.7% 2 35.3% 33
85-C.Clay BUF 32 20 2.0% 21 57 -36 39 -29.3% 37 26 5 10.2% 4 34.1% 34
84-R.Griffin HOU -72 46 -29.1% 42 50 -2 29 -8.4% 29 23 -4 -36.1% 2 33.3% 35
83-J.Tamme ATL 7 28 -2.8% 27 22 19 22 25.1% 13 9 - - 0 29.0% 36
81-A.Hooper ATL 86 4 50.6% 3 20 25 16 46.6% 5 7 -4 -180.6% 1 28.6% 37
87-C.Fiedorowicz HOU -14 33 -10.5% 31 67 -46 40 -42.6% 41 20 -1 -80.5% 1 23.6% 38
89-T.Higbee LARM -69 45 -56.1% 45 23 -27 37 -106.5% 46 4 -13 -139.2% 2 20.7% 39
89-M.Lewis JAC -17 34 -17.8% 36 24 15 24 31.4% 10 5 -14 -112.3% 1 20.0% 40
88-G.Celek SF 14 24 -2.5% 26 41 -14 34 -31.9% 38 8 -6 -95.9% 1 18.0% 41
84-J.Gresham ARI -18 35 -12.2% 33 52 -30 38 -55.5% 43 10 - - 0 16.1% 42
45-W.Tye NYG -46 43 -19.9% 37 57 -16 35 -27.6% 35 11 - - 0 15.7% 43
89-V.McDonald SF 64 10 18.3% 11 39 -23 36 -62.7% 44 6 - - 0 13.3% 44
85-V.Green DEN -38 42 -24.5% 41 33 20 20 74.3% 2 4 - - 0 10.8% 45
80-D.Sims MIA 38 16 9.5% 17 32 -11 33 -77.7% 45 2 8 55.3% 1 8.6% 46

Yes, Gronkowski struggled when split out wide, but you knew he still had to have great numbers elsewhere, and that was the case with the highest DVOA in both tight and in the slot. Bennett also had the most DYAR tight and was No. 2 in DVOA. If you ignore Virgil Green's four slot targets in Denver, the Patriots actually now have the top two slot DVOA tight ends in Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. Atlanta rookie Austin Hooper had efficient numbers with Matt Ryan, and rookie standout Hunter Henry was pretty evenly used in the slot and out wide in San Diego, and finished No. 7 in DVOA in both.

Many of the league's notable pass-catching tight ends had a Move% of 60.0 percent or higher. Jared Cook (78.9 percent) was the highest, which should work well for Oakland, and could give us an idea of how Bennett could be used this season. Miami's Dion Sims (8.6 percent) was dead last with only three of his targets coming in the slot or out wide.

Cameron Brate was featured often for the Buccaneers last season, but how the offense looks to use him alongside Howard now is one of the more interesting tight end stories to watch for 2017.

There were 18 tight ends with at least 25 in-line targets and 25 slot targets. Our last table shows just those players ranked by their difference in DVOA from tight to the slot. The other rankings for DYAR and DVOA are updated to reflect just these 18 players.

Player Team IN-LINE TIGHT END SLOT IN-S DIFF Rk
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes
83-D.Allen IND 6 16 -4.1% 16 27 101 4 51.1% 1 26 55.2% 1
85-V.Davis WAS 33 11 7.6% 10 31 68 6 36.0% 3 25 28.4% 2
87-T.Kelce KC 26 13 4.8% 11 32 170 1 29.5% 4 69 24.6% 3
88-J.Graham SEA 104 2 21.1% 5 57 113 3 41.9% 2 37 20.8% 4
85-E.Ebron DET 38 8 11.0% 8 31 93 5 28.3% 5 46 17.3% 5
86-J.Reed WAS -11 17 -13.6% 17 27 19 10 -1.3% 11 48 12.3% 6
88-G.Olsen CAR 37 10 12.2% 7 27 113 2 11.5% 6 94 -0.7% 7
82-C.Fleener NO 12 15 -2.5% 14 37 5 12 -5.6% 12 42 -3.1% 8
88-D.Pitta BAL -32 18 -16.6% 18 53 -49 15 -19.6% 14 66 -3.1% 9
86-Z.Ertz PHI 38 9 8.3% 9 37 48 8 3.8% 9 66 -4.5% 10
82-D.Walker TEN 40 7 15.4% 6 27 68 7 8.5% 7 70 -6.9% 11
82-G.Barnidge CLE 84 4 22.3% 3 46 24 9 7.6% 8 27 -14.6% 12
82-K.Rudolph MIN 43 6 0.7% 13 81 -62 16 -27.2% 15 46 -27.9% 13
85-C.Clay BUF 32 12 2.0% 12 57 -36 14 -29.3% 16 26 -31.3% 14
84-J.Doyle IND 106 1 37.3% 1 37 16 11 -0.1% 10 33 -37.3% 15
86-Z.Miller CHI 77 5 31.4% 2 29 -4 13 -9.5% 13 31 -40.9% 16
88-L.Kendricks LARM 14 14 -3.0% 15 53 -88 18 -52.2% 18 30 -49.2% 17
82-J.Witten DAL 85 3 21.8% 4 44 -81 17 -34.6% 17 49 -56.4% 18

Only a third of these players saw their DVOA go up in the slot, none moreso than Dwayne Allen. Kelce did well in the slot, which is good given the down numbers for all of the Chiefs' wide receivers there. Jason Witten had the biggest drop in DVOA in the slot. At this stage of his career, the veteran may just be best served as a more traditional tight end. The 35-year-old has still missed only one game in his career, and that was back in his rookie year in 2003.

Later this week, we'll conclude with a look at defenses against receivers out wide and in the slot.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 19 Jul 2017

7 comments, Last at 31 Jul 2017, 3:46pm by Scott Kacsmar

Comments

1
by Led :: Thu, 07/20/2017 - 2:42pm

From the Jonathan Kinsley tweet re: the Le'Veon Bell play: "This is a really well designed route by Todd Haley. Having the best back in the game enhances it further." So does the TE cut blocking the back's defender while the ball is in the air. God I hate OPI-based offense.

3
by jtr :: Fri, 07/21/2017 - 10:07am

The rulebook specifies that it's only pass interference if the contact is more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage. I think the contact from Decastro (OG, not TE) is right at one yard.

4
by nat :: Fri, 07/21/2017 - 11:34am

I also thought it was OPI at first view. But you're right. This was more like a screen.

Cleverly designed.

5
by Led :: Fri, 07/21/2017 - 12:14pm

I realize it may be legal, but it shouldn't be. It's still intentionally interfering with the defender while the ball is in the air.

2
by toma1 :: Thu, 07/20/2017 - 3:12pm

Interesting analysis. One Q: did you make the wide vs. slot difference based on the player's absolute position on the field, or position relative to the WRs? So, say in a trips formation, if the RB motions outside the TE, does it count as wide?

6
by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 07/31/2017 - 11:54am

why does DeAngelo Williams have 2 top table entries?
-------------------------------------
The standard is the standard!

7
by Scott Kacsmar :: Mon, 07/31/2017 - 3:46pm

My bad. The bottom one is MIA's Damien Williams.