Stat Analysis

Advanced analytics on player and team performance

2017 Slot vs. Wide: RBs and TEs

by Scott Kacsmar

Last week, we looked at data from Sports Info Solutions on where wide receivers lined up on their targets and how often quarterbacks threw to a receiver from the slot or out wide. Our next step is to look at running backs and tight ends. You can see last year's study here.

The main difference with these positions is that running backs often line up in the backfield and tight ends often line up at their natural in-line spot. We are very interested in knowing how well they do at those traditional spots and also when they move to the slot or (less common) out wide.

A quick reminder that the player's position is based on where he was on the field rather than where other receivers were lined up. For example, if Travis Kelce is the most outside receiver in a bunch formation that is close to the offensive line, then he and all the other receivers are charted as "Slot." This way we'll know that any back or tight end marked as "Wide" was truly lined up outside the numbers in a spot that has been traditionally reserved for wide receivers.

2017 Running Backs

Here is a breakdown on the success of passes to running backs in 2017. aDOT is the average depth of target.

  • Backfield passes: 3,075 targets, 2,437 DYAR, 0.7% DVOA, o.4 aDOT.
  • Slot passes: 321 targets, 348 DYAR, 5.0% DVOA, 4.9 aDOT.
  • Wide passes: 253 targets, 184 DYAR, -1.0% DVOA, 5.1 aDOT.

The quantity of passes to running backs was up across the board in 2017. That probably shouldn't come as a surprise with close to a full season from Le'Veon Bell, a career season from Todd Gurley, and rookies Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara each catching at least 80 balls. However, success when moving the running back around was not as good as it had been in 2016. DVOA fell from 13.0% to 5.0% on slot passes and from 4.0% to -1.0% on wide passes. We know passing success in general was down last year, but it could perk up again in 2018 if there are fewer injuries to franchise quarterbacks.

Our first table features 61 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 uncommon tactic from the table since the league leader was San Francisco fullback Kyle Juszczyk with just four targets.

Running Backs, Slot vs. Wide, 2017
Player Team Targets Backfield Slot Wide Backfield% Rk Slot% Rk Wide% Rk
Isaiah Crowell CLE 43 43 0 0 100.0% 1 0.0% 50 0.0% 51
Chris Ivory JAX 29 29 0 0 100.0% 1 0.0% 50 0.0% 51
Orleans Darkwa NYG 28 28 0 0 100.0% 1 0.0% 50 0.0% 51
Benny Cunningham CHI 24 24 0 0 100.0% 1 0.0% 50 0.0% 51
Shane Vereen NYG 53 52 1 0 98.1% 6 1.9% 47 0.0% 51
Frank Gore IND 36 35 0 1 97.2% 7 0.0% 50 2.8% 44
Mark Ingram NO 70 68 2 0 97.1% 8 2.9% 42 0.0% 51
Javorius Allen BAL 55 53 1 1 96.4% 9 1.8% 48 1.8% 50
Leonard Fournette JAX 48 46 1 1 95.8% 10 2.1% 46 2.1% 49
Wayne Gallman NYG 48 46 0 2 95.8% 10 0.0% 50 4.2% 38
T.J. Yeldon JAX 40 38 0 2 95.0% 12 0.0% 50 5.0% 32
C.J. Anderson DEN 39 37 1 1 94.9% 13 2.6% 44 2.6% 45
Alex Collins BAL 36 34 2 0 94.4% 14 5.6% 33 0.0% 51
Todd Gurley LAR 85 80 2 3 94.1% 15 2.4% 45 3.5% 40
Jay Ajayi 2TM 34 32 0 2 94.1% 15 0.0% 50 5.9% 26
Jordan Howard CHI 32 30 2 0 93.8% 17 6.3% 31 0.0% 51
Kareem Hunt KC 63 59 0 4 93.7% 18 0.0% 50 6.3% 23
Marshawn Lynch OAK 30 28 1 1 93.3% 19 3.3% 39 3.3% 41
DeAndre Washington OAK 44 41 2 1 93.2% 20 4.5% 37 2.3% 46
Player Team Targets Backfield Slot Wide Backfield% Rk Slot% Rk Wide% Rk
Damien Williams MIA 28 26 2 0 92.9% 21 7.1% 27 0.0% 51
Melvin Gordon LAC 82 76 1 5 92.7% 22 1.2% 49 6.1% 24
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 38 35 1 2 92.1% 23 2.6% 43 5.3% 28
Kenyan Drake MIA 49 45 0 4 91.8% 24 0.0% 50 8.2% 20
Jerick McKinnon MIN 69 63 3 3 91.3% 25 4.3% 38 4.3% 35
Jamaal Williams GB 34 31 0 3 91.2% 26 0.0% 50 8.8% 17
Bilal Powell NYJ 33 30 1 2 90.9% 27 3.0% 41 6.1% 25
Charcandrick West KC 32 29 2 1 90.6% 28 6.3% 31 3.1% 42
Giovani Bernard CIN 59 53 3 3 89.8% 29 5.1% 36 5.1% 31
Lamar Miller HOU 45 40 3 2 88.9% 30 6.7% 30 4.4% 34
Joe Mixon CIN 34 30 4 0 88.2% 31 11.8% 15 0.0% 51
Dion Lewis NE 34 30 0 4 88.2% 31 0.0% 50 11.8% 11
Marlon Mack IND 32 28 1 3 87.5% 33 3.1% 40 9.4% 15
Devonta Freeman ATL 46 40 5 1 87.0% 34 10.9% 19 2.2% 47
Kyle Juszczyk SF 38 33 3 2 86.8% 35 7.9% 25 5.3% 28
Jamaal Charles DEN 28 24 4 0 85.7% 36 14.3% 11 0.0% 51
Chris Thompson WAS 54 46 5 3 85.2% 37 9.3% 22 5.6% 27
Carlos Hyde SF 87 74 6 7 85.1% 38 6.9% 29 8.0% 21
Theo Riddick DET 71 60 8 3 84.5% 39 11.3% 16 4.2% 37
Devontae Booker DEN 38 32 2 4 84.2% 40 5.3% 35 10.5% 14
Player Team Targets Backfield Slot Wide Backfield% Rk Slot% Rk Wide% Rk
Jalen Richard OAK 35 29 5 1 82.9% 41 14.3% 11 2.9% 43
DeMarco Murray TEN 46 38 6 2 82.6% 42 13.0% 14 4.3% 35
Ameer Abdullah DET 34 28 3 3 82.4% 43 8.8% 23 8.8% 17
LeSean McCoy BUF 77 62 12 3 80.5% 44 15.6% 10 3.9% 39
Duke Johnson CLE 94 75 17 2 79.8% 45 18.1% 6 2.1% 48
Le'Veon Bell PIT 104 82 17 5 78.8% 46 16.3% 9 4.8% 33
Matt Breida SF 37 29 4 4 78.4% 47 10.8% 20 10.8% 13
Matt Forte NYJ 45 35 5 5 77.8% 48 11.1% 17 11.1% 12
Ty Montgomery GB 29 22 5 2 75.9% 49 17.2% 7 6.9% 22
James White NE 70 53 5 12 75.7% 50 7.1% 27 17.1% 8
Andre Ellington 2TM 58 43 10 5 74.1% 51 17.2% 7 8.6% 19
Elijah McGuire NYJ 26 19 2 5 73.1% 52 7.7% 26 19.2% 5
Tevin Coleman ATL 38 27 4 7 71.1% 53 10.5% 21 18.4% 7
Rex Burkhead NE 37 26 2 9 70.3% 54 5.4% 34 24.3% 3
Austin Ekeler LAC 36 25 4 7 69.4% 55 11.1% 17 19.4% 4
Christian McCaffrey CAR 110 72 24 14 65.5% 56 21.8% 5 12.7% 10
Alvin Kamara NO 98 64 25 9 65.3% 57 25.5% 4 9.2% 16
Charles Sims TB 47 30 4 13 63.8% 58 8.5% 24 27.7% 2
Danny Woodhead BAL 38 22 14 2 57.9% 59 36.8% 1 5.3% 28
J.D. McKissic SEA 45 23 6 16 51.1% 60 13.3% 13 35.6% 1
D.J. Foster ARI 26 13 8 5 50.0% 61 30.8% 3 19.2% 5
Tarik Cohen CHI 67 33 23 11 49.3% 62 34.3% 2 16.4% 9
Minimum 25 targets.

The Rigid: Giants and Jaguars

There were 11 running backs with at least 95.0 percent of their targets coming out of the backfield. Six of those players (three for each team) played for the Jaguars and Giants. Jacksonville may not see any noticeable changes this year with Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon still there as the primary backs, but enter Penn State rookie Saquon Barkley in New York. Barkley's receiving ability has been one of the selling points on why the Giants drafted him No. 2 overall when there were more logical options available. This is going to be on new head coach Pat Shurmur to get Barkley involved in ways that Ben McAdoo just wasn't willing to try with Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa, and Wayne Gallman last season. It is also worth noting that the Giants have never had a running back with 60 receptions in a season during the whole Eli Manning era. Barkley's usage will be one of the main stories to track with the Giants this year.

The Flexible

Only eight running backs had fewer than 70 percent of their targets come from the backfield. A few of those players (Charles Sims, J.D. McKissic, and D.J. Foster) should see their roles decrease this season after their teams drafted running backs and Arizona gets the versatile David Johnson back. Danny Woodhead retired after his brief stint with the otherwise rigid Ravens.

Rookies Alvin Kamara (25) and Christian McCaffrey (24) led all backs in slot targets last season, but they had much different levels of success in doing so. We compiled a table of every running back with at least seven targets in either the slot or wide last season. There were only 10 such backs for each category.

Best DYAR and DVOA, Slot and Wide, Running Backs, 2017
Player Team Slot
Player Team Wide
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Targets DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Targets
Alvin Kamara NO 84 1 48.0% 1 25 J.D. McKissic SEA 61 1 54.1% 3 16
Duke Johnson CLE 63 2 46.1% 2 17 Alvin Kamara NO 38 2 55.7% 1 9
Tarik Cohen CHI 22 3 4.2% 4 23 Austin Ekeler LAC 27 3 48.0% 4 7
Andre Ellington 2TM 14 4 10.8% 3 10 Tevin Coleman ATL 24 4 54.8% 2 7
Le'Veon Bell PIT 12 5 -3.3% 5 17 Rex Burkhead NE 24 5 28.8% 5 9
LeSean McCoy BUF 5 6 -5.5% 6 12 Christian McCaffrey CAR 16 6 5.6% 6 14
Danny Woodhead BAL 4 7 -8.7% 7 14 Carlos Hyde SF 7 7 1.9% 7 7
D.J. Foster ARI -14 8 -42.8% 9 8 James White NE -3 8 -18.0% 8 12
Christian McCaffrey CAR -20 9 -28.3% 8 24 Charles Sims TB -4 9 -18.8% 9 13
Theo Riddick DET -33 10 -77.2% 10 8 Tarik Cohen CHI -37 10 -71.2% 10 11
Minimum seven targets either in the slot or out wide.

Kamara had the most DYAR (84) and highest DVOA (48.0%) on slot targets. He also had the best DVOA on wide targets, but was outdone in DYAR by Seattle's J.D. McKissic, who also led the league with 16 wide targets. McKissic played some wide receiver in college at Arkansas State, and he had some opportunities there last year after Seattle could not find a running back to consistently take the field. C.J. Prosise would likely take McKissic's role as a receiving back if he could ever stay healthy, and the team also drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round.

Duke Johnson was quite impressive for the Browns, which is another reason why I never liked the thought of that team drafting Barkley given Johnson's ability as a receiver. McCaffrey's -20 slot DYAR was only above Theo Riddick's -33 DYAR in Detroit, but he did have 16 DYAR on 14 wide targets. It'll be interesting to see if new offensive coordinator Norv Turner gives any modern thought to using C.J. Anderson in the backfield and McCaffrey in the slot or out wide this year.

Your Move, Matt Nagy

The Bears will be one of the most interesting offenses to track this season under rookie head coach Matt Nagy. He comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree, so passes to running backs are definitely in his wheelhouse, but how will the Bears use their trio of backs? We know Jordan Howard has been a poor receiver in his first two years, but Nagy seems to think he can do more in that department. Just don't expect to move Howard into the slot or out wide as his Backfield% was 93.8 percent. Benny Cunningham was one of four backs with a 100 percent Backfield% last season, but that was under the old coaching staff.

However, even Kareem Hunt (93.7 percent Backfield%) and Charcandrick West (90.6 percent Backfield%) were rarely ever used in the slot or out wide with Nagy in Kansas City last season. Hunt in particular had zero slot targets. We'll have to see what that does to Tarik Cohen's usage after the rookie had 23 slot targets and 11 wide targets last year. The slot worked pretty well for Cohen, but he had the worst DVOA and DYAR on his wide targets. Still, this is a way for the Bears to get Cohen and Howard on the field together. After adding tight end Trey Burton, and wide receivers Taylor Gabriel and rookie Anthony Miller, the Bears may simply have better legitimate receiving weapons to use this year.

The Elite: Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell

Last week, Todd Gurley reset the running back market with a four-year, $60 million contract extension with $45 million guaranteed. Le'Veon Bell had recently turned down an offer of $70 million over five years from the Steelers, and has claimed that he wants to be paid like an elite offensive weapon rather than just a running back.

A comparison of Bell to other receivers would not be a favorable one for him. Even just a comparison of Bell to other running backs as receivers does not speak well for his contract demands. Last season, Bell finished 11th in DYAR and 29th in DVOA among receiving backs. When we break the numbers down here, Bell only had 12 DYAR on 17 slot targets and -3.3% DVOA. His five wide targets produced just 35 yards. That's 22 plays a year after Bell had 20 slot or wide targets in 2016. The versatility is nice, but are the Steelers willing to shell out over $17 million per season for 119 receiving yards from unorthodox spots on the field? Never mind that Bell's rushing value only saw him rank 11th in both DVOA and success rate.

Meanwhile, Gurley had an excellent season as a receiver (No. 2 in DYAR and No. 4 in DVOA) despite the fact that 94.1 percent of his targets came from the backfield. He also happened to lead the league with 12.47 YAC per reception, the second-highest figure in a season since 2006 in ESPN's database. Bell's YAC per reception was down to 8.0 last year, and he did not even rank in the top 20 in our YAC+ study for running backs.

Bell will have to play on the franchise tag in what could very well be his final season in Pittsburgh. Someone may break the bank for him next offseason and outdo the Gurley contract, because he is an excellent combo back (rushing and receiving). But based on all the numbers we have, there's nothing to suggest that Bell is playing the position in a way that no one else can compare to. We're more inclined to save that talk for Rob Gronkowski when looking at the tight ends -- which we'll do now.

2017 Tight Ends

We'll start with a breakdown of success on passes to tight ends in 2017. We did not include plays where the tight end lined up as a running back, but we'll highlight that Indianapolis' Jack Doyle led the league for the second year in a row with nine such targets after six in 2016.

  • In-line tight end: 1,895 targets, 794 DYAR, -1.0% DVOA, 7.0 aDOT.
  • Slot: 1,383 targets, 1,029 DYAR, 4.5% DVOA, 9.3 aDOT.
  • Wide: 245 targets, -10 DYAR, -7.8% DVOA, 9.6 aDOT.

Again, we only have two seasons of this data, and last year was one where an abnormal amount of starting quarterbacks went down. With that said, the success on moving tight ends around really changed from 2016, when DVOA was 1.4% for both slot and wide targets. It increased to 4.5% in the slot in 2017, but fell sharply to -7.8% on wide targets, which also increased a bit in quantity (from 195 to 245).

The following is a large table with 51 tight ends with at least 25 targets. We included the breakdown of their targets as an in-line tight end, in the slot, and out wide. The tight ends are ordered by descending Move%, which is the percentage of total targets that were slot or wide. All 51 tight ends had at least one slot target, though Rhett Ellison was the bottom man with just one. Seven players had zero wide targets, including both returning Houston tight ends (Stephen Anderson and Ryan Griffin). Players needed at least 20 targets for in-line and 10 targets for slot to be ranked for DYAR and DOVA. There just aren't enough wide targets among tight ends to include rankings for DYAR and DVOA. Only seven tight ends had at least 10 wide targets: Jimmy Graham (26), Travis Kelce (20), Evan Engram (17), Rob Gronkowski (16), Julius Thomas (16), Jared Cook (12), and David Njoku (10). Gronkowski easily led the way with 61 DYAR, but consider that he had a league-low -41 DYAR on nine wide targets in 2016.

Tight Ends, Slot vs. Wide, 2017
Player Team In-Line Slot Wide Move% Rk
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Targets DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Targets DYAR DVOA Targets
Antonio Gates LAC -22 -- -36.5% -- 10 42 15 9.9% 14 41 -- -- 0 80.4% 1
Jordan Reed WAS -12 -- -29.1% -- 8 -5 31 -11.1% 29 21 10 17.3% 6 77.1% 2
Coby Fleener NO 15 -- 25.1% -- 7 92 4 58.0% 2 23 -- -- 0 76.7% 3
Trey Burton PHI 9 -- 8.3% -- 8 56 10 35.3% 6 21 20 133.3% 2 74.2% 4
Travis Kelce KC 66 6 24.7% 6 31 149 2 25.9% 10 68 -1 -8.3% 20 73.9% 5
Jared Cook OAK -13 29 -15.0% 32 24 48 13 7.2% 17 52 18 16.8% 12 72.7% 6
Jimmy Graham SEA -24 34 -19.7% 35 29 30 17 3.7% 21 41 11 -2.2% 26 69.8% 7
Cameron Brate TB 27 13 10.2% 10 24 108 3 30.8% 8 46 17 33.9% 6 68.4% 8
Jason Witten DAL 55 10 22.2% 8 28 4 24 -6.1% 24 57 -7 -92.9% 1 67.4% 9
Greg Olsen CAR -12 -- -20.0% -- 13 -26 37 -23.5% 37 25 -5 -94.3% 1 66.7% 10
Zach Miller CHI 15 -- 12.9% -- 12 10 22 0.9% 22 22 -1 -34.3% 1 65.7% 11
A.J. Derby 2TM -48 -- -58.4% -- 15 0 27 -7.2% 27 21 -21 -108.9% 3 61.5% 12
Lance Kendricks GB 28 -- 23.1% -- 13 -15 34 -20.7% 35 17 -13 -88.2% 2 59.4% 13
Demetrius Harris KC -13 -- -20.6% -- 14 -3 28 -9.7% 28 18 -11 -100.3% 2 58.8% 14
Austin Seferian-Jenkins NYJ -21 33 -17.0% 33 32 -28 38 -19.1% 34 39 -22 -56.7% 5 57.9% 15
Martellus Bennett 2TM 7 -- -1.9% -- 19 -14 33 -16.4% 33 23 12 55.8% 3 57.8% 16
Eric Ebron DET 7 23 -4.2% 23 37 1 25 -6.6% 26 40 41 55.1% 9 57.0% 17
Rob Gronkowski NE 97 3 26.1% 5 47 177 1 54.5% 3 45 61 43.5% 16 56.5% 18
Julius Thomas MIA 8 22 -3.0% 21 28 16 21 7.7% 15 18 -54 -51.9% 16 54.8% 19
Delanie Walker TEN 50 11 7.9% 13 49 -17 35 -12.0% 30 56 -18 -81.7% 3 54.6% 20
Player Team In-Line Slot Wide Move% Rk
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Targets DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Targets DYAR DVOA Targets
Hunter Henry LAC 75 5 31.4% 3 29 79 6 31.5% 7 32 7 57.9% 2 54.0% 21
Tyler Kroft CIN 0 24 -7.0% 24 27 21 19 4.9% 19 27 24 120.1% 3 52.6% 22
Jack Doyle IND -19 32 -13.8% 29 47 32 16 3.7% 20 47 -10 -40.1% 4 52.0% 23
Zach Ertz PHI 107 2 23.0% 7 53 49 12 7.4% 16 53 -1 -11.6% 4 51.8% 24
Ed Dickson CAR 60 8 31.0% 4 22 20 20 10.4% 13 19 -8 -39.1% 3 50.0% 26
Gerald Everett LAR -46 -- -54.9% -- 16 1 26 -6.6% 25 13 26 100.0% 3 50.0% 25
Seth DeValve CLE 16 17 2.5% 16 29 -52 40 -44.2% 40 23 22 64.5% 4 48.2% 27
George Kittle SF 22 15 2.1% 17 33 46 14 19.6% 12 28 -4 -86.4% 1 46.8% 28
Austin Hooper ATL 13 20 -1.9% 20 37 58 8 23.6% 11 28 -- -- 0 43.1% 29
Evan Engram NYG 14 19 -4.1% 22 68 -41 39 -28.4% 38 29 5 -3.3% 17 40.4% 30
David Njoku CLE 40 12 9.4% 11 38 5 23 -2.1% 23 14 -49 -82.1% 10 38.7% 31
Garrett Celek SF 15 18 3.5% 15 20 83 5 116.6% 1 10 -6 -51.7% 2 37.5% 33
Darren Fells DET 7 -- -0.1% -- 15 29 -- 48.3% -- 8 7 126.2% 1 37.5% 32
Vernon Davis WAS -5 26 -9.0% 27 43 72 7 49.6% 4 20 -10 -44.4% 5 36.8% 34
Ricky Seals-Jones ARI -2 -- -9.2% -- 17 8 -- 14.1% -- 6 10 43.1% 3 34.6% 35
Nick Boyle BAL -31 37 -26.5% 37 21 24 -- 48.5% -- 7 -30 -113.4% 4 34.4% 36
Benjamin Watson BAL -24 35 -14.2% 30 52 23 18 6.5% 18 27 -- -- 0 34.2% 37
Tyler Higbee LAR -1 25 -7.6% 25 30 -5 30 -13.6% 32 11 -5 -34.5% 3 31.8% 38
Kyle Rudolph MIN 62 7 9.3% 12 55 49 11 26.9% 9 22 -11 -80.7% 2 30.4% 39
Marcedes Lewis JAX 26 14 3.8% 14 34 -18 36 -36.9% 39 11 15 50.8% 3 29.2% 40
Player Team In-Line Slot Wide Move% Rk
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Targets DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Targets DYAR DVOA Targets
Dion Sims CHI 9 21 0.5% 18 20 -10 -- -26.7% -- 7 -7 -129.6% 1 28.6% 41
Charles Clay BUF -36 38 -17.6% 34 54 58 9 39.8% 5 18 0 -6.9% 3 28.0% 42
Stephen Anderson HOU -18 30 -14.3% 31 40 -4 29 -12.9% 31 14 -- -- 0 25.9% 43
Jesse James PIT -5 27 -9.0% 26 48 -13 32 -21.0% 36 14 -4 -159.6% 1 23.8% 44
Jonnu Smith TEN -26 36 -28.0% 38 20 -7 -- -39.5% -- 3 -12 -70.1% 3 23.1% 46
O.J. Howard TB 108 1 45.8% 1 30 -15 -- -39.7% -- 8 8 141.1% 1 23.1% 45
Brent Celek PHI -7 28 -12.6% 28 20 -7 -- -27.0% -- 5 -- -- 0 20.0% 47
Nick O'Leary BUF 78 4 40.7% 2 26 0 -- -9.0% -- 5 -5 -102.9% 1 18.8% 48
Jermaine Gresham ARI 17 16 -0.3% 19 39 -11 -- -27.6% -- 7 16 192.7% 1 17.0% 49
Ryan Griffin HOU -19 31 -22.6% 36 20 12 -- 156.3% -- 2 -- -- 0 9.1% 50
Rhett Ellison NYG 59 9 20.7% 9 30 3 -- 32.4% -- 1 -6 -103.8% 1 6.3% 51
Minimum 25 targets.

Gronk and the Gang

Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, and Hunter Henry were the only tight ends to rank in the top 10 in DYAR both in-line and in the slot. The Chargers are already down Henry in 2018 after he tore his ACL in May. Gronkowski (177) and Kelce (149) easily led the way in slot DYAR too last year, as no tight end but Kelce can really compare to Gronkowski right now. Tampa Bay rookie O.J. Howard actually led the league in in-line DYAR and DVOA thanks to some huge plays with blown coverage, but we'll have to see more from him this year in an offense that still features Cameron Brate, the third tight end to top 100 DYAR from the slot last year.

Cleveland's Seth DeValve had the worst slot DYAR (-52) and DVOA (-44.2%); the Browns really need to unleash second-year player David Njoku this season. Evan Engram also struggled as a rookie in the slot last year, but fared better in-line where he can afford to be more often this season with Odell Beckham Jr. back in the offense.

Antonio Gates led the way in Move% at 80.4 percent, but he remains unsigned. He could be an option for the Chargers to replace Henry. Coby Fleener is also a free agent with plenty of move experience, but concussions have held him back. The Saints released him in May. By Move%, Trey Burton and Jimmy Graham should fit in well in their NFC North digs with the Bears and Packers. Those can be big upgrades over Zach Miller and Lance Kendricks.

In-line vs. Slot

There were 20 tight ends with at least 20 in-line targets and 20 slot targets. Our last table shows just those players ranked by their difference in DVOA from in-line to slot. The other rankings for DYAR and DVOA are updated to reflect just these 20 players.

Tight Ends, In-Line vs. Slot, 2017
Player Team In-Line Slot IN-S Dif Rk
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Targets DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Targets
Vernon Davis WAS -5 15 -9.0% 15 43 72 5 49.6% 2 20 58.7% 1
Rob Gronkowski NE 97 2 26.1% 2 47 177 1 54.5% 1 45 28.3% 2
Austin Hooper ATL 13 12 -1.9% 11 37 58 6 23.6% 7 28 25.5% 3
Jimmy Graham SEA -24 19 -19.7% 20 29 30 12 3.7% 14 41 23.4% 4
Jared Cook OAK -13 16 -15.0% 18 24 48 9 7.2% 10 52 22.2% 5
Benjamin Watson BAL -24 20 -14.2% 17 52 23 13 6.5% 11 27 20.7% 6
Cameron Brate TB 27 8 10.2% 6 24 108 3 30.8% 4 46 20.6% 7
Kyle Rudolph MIN 62 5 9.3% 7 55 49 7 26.9% 5 22 17.6% 8
George Kittle SF 22 9 2.1% 10 33 46 10 19.6% 8 28 17.6% 9
Jack Doyle IND -19 17 -13.8% 16 47 32 11 3.7% 13 47 17.5% 10
Tyler Kroft CIN 0 14 -7.0% 14 27 21 14 4.9% 12 27 11.9% 11
Travis Kelce KC 66 4 24.7% 3 31 149 2 25.9% 6 68 1.2% 12
Hunter Henry LAC 75 3 31.4% 1 29 79 4 31.5% 3 32 0.0% 13
Austin Seferian-Jenkins NYJ -21 18 -17.0% 19 32 -28 18 -19.1% 18 39 -2.1% 14
Eric Ebron DET 7 13 -4.2% 13 37 1 16 -6.6% 16 40 -2.5% 15
Zach Ertz PHI 107 1 23.0% 4 53 49 8 7.4% 9 53 -15.6% 16
Delanie Walker TEN 50 7 7.9% 8 49 -17 17 -12.0% 17 56 -19.8% 17
Evan Engram NYG 14 11 -4.1% 12 68 -41 19 -28.4% 19 29 -24.3% 18
Jason Witten DAL 55 6 22.2% 5 28 4 15 -6.1% 15 57 -28.3% 19
Seth DeValve CLE 16 10 2.5% 9 29 -52 20 -44.2% 20 23 -46.7% 20
Minimum 20 targets from both positions.

There was some good consistency from 2016 at the extremes for this table. For the second year in a row, Jimmy Graham's DVOA increased by more than 20 percentage points in the slot. He should do really well with Aaron Rodgers this year. In 2016, Vernon Davis had the second-largest DVOA increase in the slot (+28.4%), and he more than doubled that in 2017 with an increase of 58.7 percentage points. The Redskins still have Jordan Reed, but Davis should be a familiar face and viable target for new quarterback Alex Smith. Davis' slot DVOA was higher than all of these players except for Gronkowski, who also finished second in wide DVOA.

Finally, Jason Witten's last season saw him have the second-biggest drop in DVOA when going to the slot (-28.3%). We just wrote last summer that Witten was better suited for a traditional tight end role after he had the biggest drop in the slot in 2016. It's not helpful that Dallas used him even more in the slot in 2017, producing a split of 57 slot targets with -6.1% DVOA and just 28 in-line targets with 22.2% DVOA. Dez Bryant is somewhere nodding (or tweeting) in agreement about that poor Dallas play calling.

After the Hall of Fame weekend, we'll conclude with a look at defenses broken down by wide and slot targets.

Comments

5 comments, Last at 02 Aug 2018, 8:59pm

1 Re: 2017 Slot vs. Wide: RBs and TEs

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Jul 30, 2018 - 1:21pm

Look at Detroit, sneakily with two TEs who were positive in DYAR in all three positions.

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2 Re: 2017 Slot vs. Wide: RBs and TEs

by LionInAZ // Jul 31, 2018 - 4:39pm

And yet combined, they put up less than 1/3 as many DYAR as Gronkowski...

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3 Re: 2017 Slot vs. Wide: RBs and TEs

by LionInAZ // Jul 31, 2018 - 4:45pm

The results suggest there's not much value in lining up RBs outside the backfield, unless it's Alvin Kamara. Only a handful of backs managed to produce positive DYAR or DVOA. Not sure what it means, except that Kamara is a unique talent.

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4 Re: 2017 Slot vs. Wide: RBs and TEs

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Aug 01, 2018 - 9:18am

Who was the last receiver in NO who was inefficient?

I wonder how much of this is players, how much is scheme, and how much is Brees.

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5 Re: 2017 Slot vs. Wide: RBs and TEs

by LionInAZ // Aug 02, 2018 - 8:59pm

Ingram wasn't very good receiving last year, on 71 targets, so it wasn't as if he wasn't getting chances.

Hard to say what's going on with so little data, but looking at commonalities...

McCaffrey was adequate lined up wide but sucked in the slot.

Tarik Cohen was adequate from the slot but sucked wide.

Over in NE, Burkhead was good lined wide, while James White sucked.

Limited results. Draw your own conclusions.

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