Stat Analysis

Advanced analytics on player and team performance

2017 Slot vs. Wide: Wide Receivers

by Scott Kacsmar

This is the second year that we had data from our friends at Sports Info Solutions on where receivers were lined up on the field for their targets. The charting notes where the receiver lined up at the snap of the ball: out wide, in the slot, in the backfield, or at a standard tight end position. Much of this data appears in the newly released Football Outsiders Almanac 2018 (available here), and this is the first of a four-part study on the numbers from the 2017 season. You can read last year's study here.

We begin with wide receivers, because that's really where the meat of this data lies. Some tight ends and running backs are used more creatively than others, but the real value is in finding out which wide receivers moved around often and how effective that is for the offenses involved. For instance, Julio Jones was the only wideout in 2016 to rank in the top five in DYAR for both wide and slot targets. In 2017, Jones was again the only wideout with at least 140 DYAR for both wide and slot targets. He didn't rank as highly this time (No. 13 in slot, No. 8 out wide), but that's still an impressive display of versatility and production.

For the second year in a row, we observed that the shorter, higher-percentage throws associated with the slot produced better DVOA than throwing to receivers lined up out wide. DVOA on passes to slot receivers improved from 2.1% in 2016 to 4.6% in 2017. DVOA on passes to wide targets declined from -1.0% to -2.9%, so the gap between the two was even wider (no pun intended) last year.

We usually start with the quarterbacks when it comes to stats like this, but this time the wide receivers are up first since their roles will help us make more sense of the quarterback stats.

First, a couple of notes about the specifics of how players were marked. The listing of each receiver's position is based solely on where that receiver was on the field, not where other receivers were lined up. For example, if the only receiver on one side of the formation is standing just a couple of feet away from the offensive line, that player is marked in the slot, even though he is technically the widest receiver on that side. Also, if the player was in "jet" motion, then that was charted as the spot they originated from, which was usually in the slot.

The following table shows the data for 86 wide receivers with at least 50 targets in 2017. We made a few changes to this table from last year. Each player's DYAR, DVOA, and number of targets are still shown for both the slot and split wide, but players needed to have at least 30 passes in each category to qualify for rankings. The table is sorted by descending Slot%, which is simply the percentage of targets that came from the slot. Finally, the difference in DVOA from wide to slot is shown, and that ranking is only for players with at least 20 slot and 20 wide targets (59 out of 86 qualified).

Wide Receivers, Slot vs. Wide, 2017
Player Team Slot Wide Slot% Rk DVOA
Dif
Rk
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes
Danny Amendola NE 144 14 10.4% 26 82 9 -- 42.2% -- 2 97.6% 1 -31.8% --
Rashard Higgins CLE -49 62 -26.2% 62 47 9 -- 29.8% -- 3 94.0% 2 -56.0% --
Cooper Kupp LAR 223 3 23.3% 9 80 28 -- 58.1% -- 6 93.0% 3 -34.8% --
Bruce Ellington HOU -34 61 -21.4% 60 50 -3 -- -22.3% -- 4 92.6% 4 0.8% --
Seth Roberts OAK 32 50 -5.6% 52 61 2 -- -7.9% -- 5 92.4% 5 2.3% --
Nelson Agholor PHI 171 9 14.5% 20 83 -30 -- -66.6% -- 7 92.2% 6 81.2% --
Cole Beasley DAL 11 53 -10.3% 54 57 -29 -- -75.4% -- 6 90.5% 7 65.1% --
Jamison Crowder WAS 101 26 2.3% 43 90 -32 -- -50.0% -- 11 89.1% 8 52.3% --
Sterling Shepard NYG 107 22 5.7% 37 72 23 -- 19.3% -- 9 88.9% 9 -13.6% --
Kendall Wright CHI 61 43 -1.6% 46 77 17 -- 8.6% -- 10 88.5% 10 -10.2% --
Randall Cobb GB 97 28 5.3% 38 69 16 -- 7.1% -- 11 86.3% 11 -1.7% --
Trent Taylor SF 85 29 9.1% 29 50 26 -- 25.8% -- 9 84.7% 12 -16.6% --
Adam Humphries TB 105 24 7.1% 35 69 10 -- -2.4% -- 13 84.1% 13 9.5% --
Allen Hurns JAX 150 12 29.0% 5 46 6 -- -4.2% -- 9 83.6% 14 33.2% --
Robert Woods LAR 125 17 11.6% 23 69 49 -- 31.7% -- 14 83.1% 15 -20.2% --
Golden Tate DET 214 4 17.3% 16 94 -6 -- -16.3% -- 24 79.7% 16 33.6% 13
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 194 7 7.4% 34 122 -58 52 -36.4% 55 32 79.2% 17 43.9% 5
Mohamed Sanu ATL 195 6 19.8% 13 76 -11 -- -20.2% -- 20 79.2% 18 40.0% 7
Doug Baldwin SEA 192 8 16.6% 17 90 15 -- -4.4% -- 24 78.9% 19 21.1% 20
Jarvis Landry MIA 69 36 -5.0% 51 117 13 38 -8.0% 39 38 75.5% 20 3.0% 33
Bennie Fowler DEN 29 52 -2.9% 49 40 -9 -- -21.5% -- 13 75.5% 21 18.6% --
Chris Hogan NE 50 48 1.9% 45 43 22 -- 6.3% -- 16 72.9% 22 -4.4% --
Player Team Slot Wide Slot% Rk DVOA
Dif
Rk
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes
Jeremy Maclin BAL 6 55 -11.2% 56 51 -23 -- -28.1% -- 19 72.9% 23 16.8% --
Albert Wilson KC 103 25 21.1% 12 39 56 -- 31.7% -- 16 70.9% 24 -10.6% --
T.Y. Hilton IND 63 40 -1.9% 47 75 13 39 -8.0% 38 35 68.2% 25 6.1% 31
Tyler Lockett SEA 68 38 6.1% 36 47 -10 -- -19.5% -- 22 68.1% 26 25.6% 17
Jermaine Kearse NYJ 165 10 17.5% 15 70 -16 42 -18.8% 45 33 68.0% 27 36.3% 10
Eric Decker TEN 73 33 4.3% 39 55 14 -- -5.8% -- 27 67.1% 28 10.1% 26
Adam Thielen MIN 69 37 -2.1% 48 83 181 6 27.1% 5 59 58.5% 29 -29.2% 56
Ted Ginn NO 129 16 29.8% 3 39 139 -- 51.5% -- 28 58.2% 30 -21.7% 51
Brandon LaFell CIN 73 32 7.5% 33 48 -61 53 -34.8% 53 35 57.8% 31 42.3% 6
JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT 250 2 60.4% 1 44 51 30 6.5% 24 33 57.1% 32 53.9% 3
Ryan Grant WAS 115 20 28.8% 6 36 28 -- 1.3% -- 27 57.1% 33 27.6% 15
Marquise Goodwin SF 74 31 3.1% 41 60 80 21 9.5% 18 46 56.6% 34 -6.4% 39
Tyrell Williams LAC 59 45 8.2% 32 38 91 20 25.2% 6 31 55.1% 35 -17.0% 46
Keelan Cole JAX 121 18 21.5% 10 44 -63 55 -34.9% 54 37 54.3% 36 56.3% 2
Keenan Allen LAC 270 1 26.8% 8 89 114 14 6.6% 23 75 54.3% 37 20.2% 21
Kenny Stills MIA 140 15 18.4% 14 58 -33 47 -21.6% 49 49 54.2% 38 40.0% 8
Pierre Garcon SF -24 60 -21.6% 61 36 69 27 17.2% 10 31 53.7% 39 -38.8% 58
Travis Benjamin LAC 71 34 15.4% 19 35 4 40 -11.1% 40 31 53.0% 40 26.5% 16
Michael Thomas NO 211 5 21.3% 11 78 121 12 8.6% 20 72 52.0% 41 12.7% 24
Rishard Matthews TEN 157 11 35.5% 2 44 32 36 -2.7% 32 41 51.8% 42 38.2% 9
Julio Jones ATL 146 13 11.4% 24 76 164 8 16.4% 12 72 51.4% 43 -5.0% 38
Taylor Gabriel ATL -4 -- -14.9% -- 25 22 -- -2.3% -- 27 48.1% 44 -12.6% 43
Player Team Slot Wide Slot% Rk DVOA
Dif
Rk
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes
Jordy Nelson GB 52 47 2.2% 44 42 22 37 -6.9% 37 48 46.7% 45 9.0% 27
Marqise Lee JAX 56 46 3.4% 40 44 47 32 -0.1% 30 51 46.3% 46 3.4% 32
Sammy Watkins LAR 70 35 14.4% 21 33 151 9 34.7% 3 39 45.8% 47 -20.4% 49
T.J. Jones DET 41 -- 10.7% -- 22 33 -- 3.6% -- 28 44.0% 48 7.1% 30
Jaron Brown ARI 21 -- -2.9% -- 29 -43 51 -27.3% 51 39 42.6% 49 24.4% 18
DeSean Jackson TB 5 56 -11.1% 55 40 100 19 10.6% 16 54 42.6% 50 -21.7% 50
Tyreek Hill KC 75 30 8.9% 30 44 230 4 36.8% 2 60 42.3% 51 -27.9% 55
Amari Cooper OAK 61 44 8.5% 31 40 -37 49 -21.2% 48 55 42.1% 52 29.7% 14
Will Fuller HOU 58 -- 22.3% -- 21 65 28 14.1% 13 30 41.2% 53 8.2% 28
Chris Godwin TB 22 -- 0.3% -- 21 115 13 38.0% 1 31 40.4% 54 -37.7% 57
Deonte Thompson 2TM -7 -- -15.8% -- 28 70 26 8.7% 19 42 40.0% 55 -24.4% 54
Dede Westbrook JAX -70 -- -57.1% -- 20 35 35 2.1% 28 31 39.2% 56 -59.2% 59
Mike Evans TB 106 23 12.8% 22 54 50 31 -5.0% 35 84 39.1% 57 17.8% 22
John Brown ARI 18 -- -1.4% -- 22 -63 54 -36.5% 56 35 38.6% 58 35.0% 11
Devin Funchess CAR 99 27 15.9% 18 43 77 24 2.4% 27 70 38.1% 59 13.6% 23
Emmanuel Sanders DEN 63 39 10.9% 25 34 -92 56 -33.9% 52 56 37.8% 60 44.8% 4
Stefon Diggs MIN 117 19 29.1% 4 35 142 11 18.2% 9 59 37.2% 61 10.9% 25
Torrey Smith PHI -8 -- -16.8% -- 26 -21 45 -19.0% 46 46 36.1% 62 2.3% 34
Alshon Jeffery PHI 31 51 -3.7% 50 44 77 23 0.2% 29 79 35.8% 63 -3.8% 36
Paul Richardson SEA 52 -- 12.5% -- 29 109 16 13.9% 15 54 34.9% 64 -1.4% 35
Demaryius Thomas DEN -14 59 -16.3% 59 49 145 10 7.1% 22 94 34.3% 65 -23.4% 53
Michael Crabtree OAK -9 58 -16.1% 58 33 58 29 -2.4% 31 70 32.0% 66 -13.7% 44
Player Team Slot Wide Slot% Rk DVOA
Dif
Rk
DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes DYAR Rk DVOA Rk Passes
Dez Bryant DAL -53 63 -28.7% 63 43 44 33 -6.7% 36 93 31.6% 67 -22.0% 52
Robby Anderson NYJ 3 57 -11.7% 57 36 110 15 5.6% 25 78 31.6% 68 -17.3% 47
Davante Adams GB 62 42 9.2% 28 36 167 7 13.9% 14 79 31.3% 69 -4.7% 37
Mike Wallace BAL 119 -- 39.6% -- 29 -23 46 -17.2% 43 64 31.2% 70 56.8% 1
Zay Jones BUF 5 -- -10.0% -- 22 -117 58 -43.7% 58 49 31.0% 71 33.7% 12
J.J. Nelson ARI 64 -- 32.1% -- 19 -16 44 -18.1% 44 43 30.6% 72 50.3% --
Josh Doctson WAS 2 -- -11.7% -- 24 41 34 -3.6% 34 57 29.6% 73 -8.1% 42
Brandin Cooks NE 62 41 10.1% 27 34 196 5 16.9% 11 85 28.6% 74 -6.7% 41
Corey Davis TEN 15 -- -2.1% -- 18 -103 57 -41.5% 57 47 27.7% 75 39.5% --
A.J. Green CIN 8 54 -10.1% 53 37 79 22 -3.5% 33 109 25.3% 76 -6.6% 40
Martavis Bryant PIT 2 -- -11.1% -- 21 105 17 8.3% 21 66 24.1% 77 -19.5% 48
Kelvin Benjamin 2TM 22 -- 1.8% -- 19 104 18 10.1% 17 60 24.1% 78 -8.3% --
Terrance Williams DAL -12 -- -21.8% -- 17 77 25 5.1% 26 55 23.6% 79 -26.9% --
Marvin Jones DET 112 -- 51.7% -- 23 288 3 30.4% 4 90 20.4% 80 21.2% 19
Antonio Brown PIT 109 21 27.2% 7 34 336 2 19.9% 7 134 20.2% 81 7.3% 29
DeAndre Hopkins HOU 42 49 2.8% 42 36 348 1 18.4% 8 146 19.8% 82 -15.6% 45
Ricardo Louis CLE -3 -- -15.9% -- 11 -43 50 -24.6% 50 46 19.3% 83 8.7% --
Corey Coleman CLE -14 -- -33.1% -- 10 -16 43 -16.9% 42 48 17.2% 84 -16.2% --
Roger Lewis NYG 0 -- -12.8% -- 10 -35 48 -19.7% 47 63 13.7% 85 6.9% --
DeVante Parker MIA 0 -- -12.4% -- 13 1 41 -12.5% 41 83 13.5% 86 0.0% --
Minimum 50 passes

This is a huge table, so we broke our talking points down into small sections.

The Minnesota Dilemma

One of the top storylines going into the 2018 season is how quarterback Kirk Cousins will fit into Minnesota's offense. This is a Super Bowl contender, and one with arguably the top wideout duo right now in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. The Vikings also brought in Kendall Wright, a devoted slot receiver, and can still see if Laquon Treadwell wants to live up to his first-round draft status. Treadwell only had four slot targets last year, so he's not really suited for that role like Wright (No. 10 with 88.5 percent Slot%) is.

Minnesota has to figure out what its optimal offense will look like this season, because the last two years offer differing results with where to line up Diggs and Thielen to maximize their talents. Both are more than capable of winning against man coverage anywhere on the field, but Thielen's numbers have been excellent out wide, while Diggs took a big leap forward from the slot in 2017.

Minnesota's Two Star Receivers:
Slot vs. Wide (2016-2017)
Player Year Slot% Slot
Passes
Slot
DVOA
Wide
Passes
Wide
DVOA
Adam Thielen 2016 50.0% 46 20.1% 46 30.2%
2017 58.5% 83 -2.1% 59 27.1%
Stefon Diggs 2016 69.1% 76 3.6% 34 11.0%
2017 37.2% 35 29.1% 59 18.2%

Diggs was more of a slot receiver in 2016, but roles reversed last season. It was not necessarily for the best, with Thielen's slot DVOA dropping to -2.1%. In 2018, it might be best for this offense to put Wright in the slot on the same side with Thielen out wide, and to make defenses react to Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph on the other side of the field. If Treadwell ever shows anything, then the Vikings would have the strongest wide receiver corps in the league and could even field four of those players together. That was something the Vikings did only 19 times last year, with none of those plays gaining more than 9 yards. There is potential for something much greater here.

From Miami to Cleveland, Paul Warfield Wept

While we wait to see how Minnesota does things this year, the offenses could be fairly predictable in Cleveland and Miami after Jarvis Landry was traded to the Browns in March. Landry's role was always well-defined in Miami, where he had 117 slot targets last year, second to only Larry Fitzgerald (122). However, Landry only ranked 36th in DYAR and 51st in DVOA on those targets. Miami's best slot receiver was actually Kenny Stills, who finished 15th in DYAR and 14th in DVOA. Stills was one of the few receivers who had nearly a 50-50 split in his targets between the slot and wide.

This season, Stills may be out wide more often with the additions of Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, two accomplished slot receivers. Amendola led all wideouts with a 97.6 percent Slot%, as just two of his 84 targets were out wide in New England's offense. Wilson finished 12th in slot DVOA for the Chiefs. With those two players replacing Landry in the slot, Stills and DeVante Parker should see the majority of deeper targets out wide. Parker ranked last in Slot% at 13.5 percent.

In Cleveland, Landry's arrival should severely limit the snaps for Rashard Higgins, who finished second in Slot% (94.0 percent) last year. That's likely a good thing since only Dez Bryant finished behind Higgins in DYAR and DVOA in the slot. (Bryant remains a free agent in late July.) Landry should slide right into the slot role for Cleveland, but developing Corey Coleman and getting Josh Gordon back on track to star status should be bigger priorities for this offense than force-feeding Landry passes in the slot.

The Gang Adds Mike Wallace

Mike Wallace has largely been lost in this league after the Steelers discovered in 2011 that Antonio Brown was the future top receiver of the Pittsburgh offense. Wallace's 2016 debut with Baltimore went better than expected. It was his first 1,000-yard season since 2011 with Pittsburgh, but the sequel did not go so well last year. Wallace often played out wide where he struggled, posting a DVOA of -17.2% (ranked 43rd) in Baltimore's dink-and-dunk attack. Wallace did at least post impressive numbers from the slot, where he had 39.6% DVOA. That would have ranked second in the league with just one more target. This split meant that Wallace's DVOA increased by 56.8 percentage points from wide to the slot, the largest improvement in the league.

Now Wallace is back in Pennsylvania, but with the defending champion Eagles, where he should fill Torrey Smith's role. The two had some similar numbers last year, except Smith was even worse in wide DVOA (-19.0%) and his 26 slot targets weren't nearly as successful (-16.8% DVOA). With Alshon Jeffery returning and Nelson Agholor in the slot, Wallace actually could be a slight upgrade over Smith this year.

Slot Machines

Get used to seeing impressive advanced stats from Keenan Allen's 2017 season for the Los Angeles Chargers. Allen led the league with 270 DYAR from the slot, but Pittsburgh rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster more than doubled him with a league-best 60.4% DVOA. The only other player to rank in the top 10 in DYAR and DVOA in the slot last year was Rams rookie Cooper Kupp, who also ranked third in Slot% at 93.0 percent. Kupp may not need to expand much on his role in 2018 after the team added deep threat Brandin Cooks from New England. Cooks only ranked 74th in Slot%, but was fifth in wide DYAR.

Wide Studs

On wide targets, the All-Pros really stood out, with DeAndre Hopkins (348 DYAR) and Antonio Brown (336 DYAR) leading the way in DYAR and targets. However, Tyreek Hill and Marvin Jones were the only players to rank in the top five in both wide DYAR and wide DVOA. The speedy Hill's dominance out wide coincides well with his Slot% dropping from 55.7 percent as a rookie to 42.3 percent last year, but perhaps it needs to drop more to the levels of a Brown (20.2 percent) or Hopkins (19.8 percent) for Kansas City's offense to work best with Patrick Mahomes taking over at quarterback for Alex Smith.

The leader in wide DVOA may come as a surprise: Tampa Bay rookie Chris Godwin (38.0%). He barely qualified with 31 wide targets, but with Mike Evans' catch radius, the two tight ends, Adam Humphries in the slot, and an aging DeSean Jackson, this could be Godwin's role in which to shine in this season.

Those Other Rookies

We've already highlighted some standout rookies, but no one expected much from Jacksonville undrafted free agent Keelan Cole last year. His slot numbers were quite impressive (121 DYAR and 21.5% DVOA), but he was used almost as much out wide where he wasn't effective (-63 DYAR and -34.9% DVOA). That led to the second-largest increase in DVOA from wide to slot. Rookie teammate Dede Westbrook struggled in the slot and had the largest increase in DVOA from slot to wide. Clearly, the Jaguars need to figure out their roles better this year, especially after letting Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns go.

Finally, two rookies stood out for the wrong reasons: Tennessee's Corey Davis did not score a touchdown until the playoffs, and Buffalo's Zay Jones was a nightmare all season long. They finished last in wide DYAR and wide DVOA, but there should at least still be some hope left for Davis with Marcus Mariota as his quarterback. As you'll see next time, a quarterback's accuracy and playing style can dictate a lot of these numbers.

Comments

2 comments, Last at 25 Jul 2018, 2:13pm

1 Re: 2017 Slot vs. Wide: Wide Receivers

by billprudden // Jul 25, 2018 - 1:59pm

I look forward to, a few years from now, one of those spring / summer interesting articles about the ups and downs of the career of Ted Ginn. Those are damn respectable numbers above, no doubt facilitated by that QB + HC + supporting cast, but boy does it seem like each one of his seasons is a unique circumstance...

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2 Re: 2017 Slot vs. Wide: Wide Receivers

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Jul 25, 2018 - 2:13pm

Julio deserves props for being equally devastating from the slot and out wide.

Re: Wallace -- was it he who struggled out wide, or Baltimore's pass offense which struggled out wide? Flacco was playing hurt most of the year.

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