Stat Analysis
Advanced analytics on player and team performance

2019 Slot vs Wide: Wide Receivers

Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Every year since 2016, we've been able to break down receiving DVOA into slot-versus-wide splits, thanks to Sports Info Solutions' charting. Much of this data appears in Football Outsiders Almanac 2020 (available now!), and we're going to spend the next several weeks breaking down these splits, as has become yearly tradition around these parts.

With four years of data, there's a clear trend making itself clear -- throwing to the slot is notably more effective than throwing out wide. This year, all passes thrown to players charted as lining up out wide had a DVOA of -3.7%, while passes thrown to players lining up either in the slot or tight on the line had a DVOA of 3.4%. Limit that to only wide receivers, and the difference becomes even more prominent -- -3.3% to 4.1%, with a raw DYAR lead of 7,396 to 3,103 for the slot targets.

Slot targets have been more efficient than wide targets in each of the four years we've been able to do this study, although the size of the gap has varied; it was as low as 3.1% in 2016. This year's 7.1% gap is the biggest we've seen so far, though I would wager that that is mostly due to year-to-year variation rather than anything real and replicable going forward. But while the size of the gap has fluctuated, its presence has remained a constant. This makes a certain amount of sense -- lining up in the slot gives receivers more room to go either inside or outside, and often ends up with them lined up against a third corner or safety rather than one of the defense's top cover guys.

Offenses have picked up on this. In 2019, 56.9% of receiver targets went to players lined up in the slot, up from 51.8% in 2016. It's fairly universal, too, rather than one or two outlier teams pumping up the numbers. Eighteen teams saw more than 55% of their wideout targets go to players in the slot, and only three (Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Carolina) ended with more passes out wide than to their slot receivers. If anything, the DVOA gap suggests that teams should be throwing to the slot more until opposing defenses are able to clamp down on that extra efficiency.

But enough with the generalities; it's time to look at the players receiving those targets. The following table shows wide receiver target and performance splits in the slot and out wide in 2019. Those charting labels come from players' locations on the field regardless of the positioning of their teammates. A receiver on one side of the formation who was a few feet away from the offensive line was considered to be in the slot even if he was the widest receiver on that side. Receivers in motion were charted based on their original location, which tends to be in the slot on jet motions. We've grouped targets from the traditional tight end spot in with slot targets because of their similarity, but that's not a huge impact on the data; there were only 169 targets to receivers lined up tight, led by Chris Godwin's eight.

The table includes all receivers who qualified for our main receiving leaderboards, even though two of them (Adam Thielen and DaeSean Hamilton) fell under the 50-target qualifying mark when looking solely at slot/wide targets.

Wide Receivers Slot vs. Wide, 2019

    Slot/Tight Wide    
Player Team Tgt DYAR DVOA Tgt DYAR DVOA Slot% DVOA Dif
DK Metcalf SEA 17 78 43.1% 84 27 -8.5% 16.8% 51.5%
Michael Gallup DAL 22 69 27.3% 93 164 10.2% 19.1% 17.1%
Preston Williams MIA 12 -4 -17.5% 50 36 -3.3% 19.4% -14.1%
Darius Slayton NYG 17 120 78.8% 65 57 -1.3% 20.7% 80.1%
Robby Anderson NYJ 21 -19 -23.6% 79 84 1.1% 21.0% -24.7%
Chris Conley JAX 20 2 -11.0% 69 75 1.5% 22.5% -12.5%
Mike Evans TB 31 149 47.9% 93 171 11.1% 25.0% 36.9%
DJ Moore CAR 36 -3 -13.9% 99 178 10.5% 26.7% -24.4%
Alshon Jeffery PHI 21 80 32.2% 53 -30 -20.0% 28.4% 52.2%
Amari Cooper DAL 35 34 -0.5% 85 290 32.0% 29.2% -32.5%
Odell Beckham CLE 43 79 10.5% 98 0 -12.7% 30.5% 23.2%
Calvin Ridley ATL 30 91 26.9% 65 225 34.3% 31.6% -7.4%
Diontae Johnson PIT 30 3 -11.5% 61 28 -6.3% 33.0% -5.2%
Breshad Perriman TB 24 97 41.1% 47 58 3.9% 33.8% 37.2%
John Brown BUF 39 66 9.6% 76 139 11.8% 33.9% -2.2%
Terry McLaurin WAS 33 140 40.9% 63 97 7.1% 34.4% 33.7%
Curtis Samuel CAR 37 -8 -15.3% 70 -21 -16.5% 34.6% 1.2%
Ted Ginn NO 20 30 6.0% 37 -8 -15.7% 35.1% 21.7%
Stefon Diggs MIN 36 94 22.2% 60 181 26.2% 37.5% -4.1%
Phillip Dorsett NE 23 74 31.4% 34 -29 -23.5% 40.4% 54.9%
DeVante Parker MIA 53 149 24.4% 78 141 10.1% 40.5% 14.3%
A.J. Brown TEN 34 189 60.3% 50 62 3.4% 40.5% 56.9%
Auden Tate CIN 35 -42 -28.5% 50 37 -2.7% 41.2% -25.8%
Mike Williams LAC 40 84 15.4% 54 159 27.2% 42.6% -11.7%
Courtland Sutton DEN 55 114 14.0% 74 98 4.5% 42.6% 9.6%
Demarcus Robinson KC 25 58 17.1% 31 10 -8.5% 44.6% 25.6%
Marquez Valdes-Scantling GB 25 19 -2.2% 31 -19 -20.4% 44.6% 18.1%
Kenny Golladay DET 53 204 35.5% 64 75 2.8% 45.3% 32.7%
James Washington PIT 40 81 13.8% 43 94 16.6% 48.2% -2.8%
Michael Thomas NO 90 333 34.7% 95 216 16.3% 48.6% 18.4%
Julio Jones ATL 78 109 5.5% 81 190 17.5% 49.1% -12.0%
Davante Adams GB 63 99 7.5% 65 41 -4.8% 49.2% 12.3%
Tyrell Williams OAK 32 112 31.7% 32 97 25.7% 50.0% 6.0%
DJ Chark JAX 61 49 -2.0% 61 85 5.7% 50.0% -7.7%
T.Y. Hilton IND 37 40 1.5% 34 36 1.7% 52.1% -0.1%
Christian Kirk ARI 58 45 -2.6% 52 43 -2.1% 52.7% -0.5%
DeAndre Hopkins HOU 78 121 7.2% 68 111 7.7% 53.4% -0.5%
John Ross CIN 31 81 20.1% 24 -70 -51.2% 56.4% 71.2%
Demaryius Thomas NYJ 35 23 -3.7% 26 1 -12.1% 57.4% 8.3%
Adam Thielen MIN 29 80 24.0% 20 1 -12.1% 59.2% 36.1%
Alex Erickson CIN 45 -79 -34.7% 31 28 0.4% 59.2% -35.0%
Zach Pascal IND 45 138 26.4% 30 -17 -20.4% 60.0% 46.8%
Tyreek Hill KC 52 120 17.0% 33 116 35.5% 61.2% -18.6%
Will Fuller HOU 45 9 -10.3% 27 73 23.2% 62.5% -33.5%
Corey Davis TEN 45 50 1.5% 26 49 12.6% 63.4% -11.0%
Keenan Allen LAC 96 159 8.8% 54 75 5.8% 64.0% 3.0%
Allen Robinson CHI 104 206 12.5% 55 -41 -22.2% 65.4% 34.7%
Sammy Watkins KC 59 10 -10.4% 31 -5 -14.6% 65.6% 4.2%
Marvin Jones DET 61 138 16.0% 32 42 3.8% 65.6% 12.3%
Marquise Brown BAL 46 113 17.9% 24 -8 -16.9% 65.7% 34.8%
Brandin Cooks LAR 45 100 15.7% 23 -17 -23.0% 66.2% 38.7%
Sterling Shepard NYG 55 57 0.4% 28 -32 -28.0% 66.3% 28.4%
Emmanuel Sanders 2TM 69 134 12.0% 33 43 4.1% 67.6% 7.9%
Deebo Samuel SF 53 191 35.3% 24 -60 -46.2% 68.8% 81.5%
Allen Lazard GB 39 83 13.7% 15 35 16.9% 72.2% -3.2%
Kenny Stills HOU 37 105 21.8% 13 66 62.7% 74.0% -40.9%
Robert Woods LAR 93 120 4.3% 32 -3 -13.8% 74.4% 18.0%
Russell Gage ATL 56 18 -8.1% 18 -26 -31.6% 75.7% 23.5%
Jarvis Landry CLE 108 103 -0.3% 32 87 21.5% 77.1% -21.8%
JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT 54 46 -1.3% 16 -12 -23.1% 77.1% 21.7%
Tyler Boyd CIN 117 17 -10.8% 34 -18 -19.5% 77.5% 8.7%
Mohamed Sanu 2TM 69 1 -12.6% 19 -16 -23.4% 78.4% 10.8%
Chris Godwin TB 100 339 32.4% 22 77 34.2% 82.0% -1.7%
Dede Westbrook JAX 82 -55 -21.2% 18 -25 -30.3% 82.0% 9.1%
Steven Sims WAS 46 -68 -32.2% 10 27 26.4% 82.1% -58.7%
Jarius Wright CAR 47 -86 -36.4% 10 -21 -38.4% 82.5% 1.9%
Nelson Agholor PHI 57 -86 -32.1% 11 -22 -36.6% 83.8% 4.5%
Geronimo Allison GB 45 -46 -26.3% 8 -27 -57.8% 84.9% 31.5%
Julian Edelman NE 133 80 -4.5% 23 -15 -20.8% 85.3% 16.3%
Tyler Lockett SEA 93 349 36.2% 15 -19 -30.4% 86.1% 66.6%
Albert Wilson MIA 50 -51 -25.6% 8 -2 -16.5% 86.2% -9.1%
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 95 74 -2.4% 14 9 -4.7% 87.2% 2.3%
Anthony Miller CHI 74 63 -1.9% 10 -20 -39.0% 88.1% 37.1%
Jamison Crowder NYJ 104 58 -5.6% 14 -17 -28.2% 88.1% 22.6%
Cole Beasley BUF 95 65 -3.6% 12 47 41.1% 88.8% -44.7%
Danny Amendola DET 85 33 -7.4% 10 -22 -41.1% 89.5% 33.7%
DaeSean Hamilton DEN 44 -17 -17.7% 5 -11 -41.3% 89.8% 23.6%
Golden Tate NYG 78 37 -6.5% 8 39 55.4% 90.7% -61.9%
Cooper Kupp LAR 125 166 4.7% 11 40 36.2% 91.9% -31.5%
Hunter Renfrow OAK 68 116 9.6% 1 -7 -109.7% 98.6% 119.3%
Randall Cobb DAL 81 119 6.0% 1 -10 -113.4% 98.8% 119.4%

Tampa Two

Any discussion of the best receiving corps in the NFL has to start in Tampa Bay, as the Buccaneers boasted two of the top six DYAR finishers last season in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Each receiver has a pretty clear set of responsibilities, with Evans earning three-quarters of his targets when split out wide and Godwin getting more than 80% of his targets in the slot. That's business as usual for Evans, who has seen a larger and larger proportion of his targets out wide each year we've run this data. But Godwin wasn't a slot specialist in 2018; he was split fairly evenly between wide and slot targets two years ago. Adam Humphries was the Buccaneers' slot specialist then, but the job opened up when Humphries went to Tennessee. It's fairly safe to say that Godwin thrived in his new role, though the splits are interesting:

Evans and Godwin, Slot/Tight vs. Wide, 2018-2019

 

Player Season Slot% Slot Tgt Slot DVOA Wide Tgt Wide DVOA
Mike Evans 2018 28.6% 40 20.1% 100 28.7%
2019 25.0% 31 47.9% 93 11.1%
Chris Godwin 2018 49.5% 47 -6.2% 48 15.1%
2019 82.0% 100 32.4% 22 34.2%

It's interesting that Evans and Godwin both technically had a higher DVOA in the other's role, and that Breshad Perriman also had reverse splits (significantly more work out wide, significantly better DVOA in the slot). But all but one of Bruce Arians' qualified receivers in Arizona in 2016 and 2017 had better DVOA out of the slot; that is, to a certain extent, a basic tenet of his offense. In Pittsburgh, he put Hines Ward in the slot and let Santonio Holmes go vertical. In Indianapolis and Arizona, he moved existing top receivers (Reggie Wayne and Larry Fitzgerald) into the slot, to great results in each situation. From that history, and just looking at the 2018 numbers, there was some talk early on that Arians would make Evans into his new Fitzgerald, as he loves moving his best receivers around the field with plenty of interior action. But no, Arians was all in on Godwin from the beginning, saying that he was going to catch 100 balls and never come off the field. Most people -- us included! -- scoffed, but Godwin was on pace for 98.3 receptions had he played all 16 games. So, yeah, maybe Arians knows a thing or two about receivers in the slot.

We only have the last two years of Arians' run in Arizona charted, so take this with appropriately sized grains of salt, but the highest wide DVOA for any of Cardinals receivers in 2016 or 2017 was 4.5%, by J.J. Nelson. Evans and Godwin both blow that out of the water. At least some of that can be attributed to Jameis Winston being a better quarterback than the lingering ghost of Carson Palmer or the Blaine Gabbert/Drew Stanton Experience, of course. Even with that, it remains interesting that Godwin pipped Evans to the line in wide DVOA, but I think most of that can be chalked up to Jameis Winston's deep ball accuracy, or lack thereof -- Winston ranked 21st in accuracy on deep shots according to the Deep Ball Project. The average depth of target on passes to Evans was 15.9 yards while Godwin's aDOT was 8.1; you can't pick up DYAR if the pass is 20 feet over your head. This won't be an issue with Tom Brady under center, as I'm not entirely sure Brady can still throw the ball 20 yards downfield. We'll talk more about what the potential Brady-to-Godwin hookup will look like when we get to the quarterback version of this article.


Slot Machines

Godwin was joined by two other players in having more than twice as many slot targets as wide targets with a slot DVOA over 30%. It's a somewhat arbitrary set of criteria, I grant you, but it's a set of criteria that no receiver hit from 2016 to 2018. We had a couple people come close in 2018 -- Cooper Kupp was at 25.9% DVOA, while Chris Hogan was one slot target away from qualifying -- but no one actually put up such a high level of performance as a slot specialist until this season.

The first was Tyler Lockett. Lockett excelling in the slot is nothing new; he had a 54.8% DVOA in 2018 working out of the slot in his breakout year. What is new is his focus in the slot position. In 2018, Lockett was used in the slot only 57.9% of the time and had a significantly higher DVOA when split out wide (82.4%). But 2019 saw his wide targets cut by more than half -- Doug Baldwin's retirement opened up the primary role inside, with DK Metcalf and his less refined route tree making more sense gobbling up targets out wide. Lockett wasn't as efficient last season as he was two years ago, but considering he was shattering efficiency records then and saw his workload increase by half and lost out on having Baldwin drawing coverage away from him, that was never going to be in the cards. Lockett, Godwin, and Michael Thomas became the third, fourth, and fifth players to top 300 slot DYAR in a season. At gunpoint, I think I'd take Godwin as the league's best slot receiver, but Lockett now has two years under his belt to Godwin's one and had the higher DYAR and DVOA, so, you know, your mileage may vary.

The third player didn't even hit 200 DYAR out of the slot as he didn't really start coming on until the second half of the season: rookie Deebo Samuel. Samuel had 170 of his 191 slot DYAR from Week 9 on, leading the league over the second half of the season by a significant margin (Keenan Allen was second with 144 DYAR; Lockett and Godwin had 120 and 108, respectively). He had a 49.6% DVOA out of the slot over the second half of the season, exploding onto the scene as the 49ers made their playoff run. It will be very interesting to see if he comes close to that level of production over his sophomore season, with three major strikes against him -- he's recovering from a Jones fracture which may cost him part of the season; the 49ers lost Emmanuel Sanders, whose arrival corresponds with Samuel's boost in production; and in the first round San Francisco drafted Brandon Aiyuk, who also is a slot receiver who fits well into Kyle Shanahan's scheme. Someone needs to play out wide, presumably, but I'm not sure even San Francisco knows who that will be at this point. Still, that's a very promising start for the rookie out of South Carolina.


Wide Open

More than twice as many receivers were primarily slot receivers than had the majority of targets out wide, but there were still a couple receivers who excelled in a more traditional role.

The Cowboys were one of the three teams who threw wide more than to the slot, and one of the major reasons was Amari Cooper, who has been a more natural fit for Dallas than he was in Oakland. Remember, too, that Cooper was hampered by knee and ankle injuries over the last seven weeks of the season; Cooper had 215 DYAR and a 41.1% DVOA out wide over the first ten weeks. You can understand why the Cowboys would be eager to lock Cooper up to a long-term extension, if not so much why they weren't excited to lock the other half of that passing combo up to a similar deal. With the franchise tag already used on Dak Prescott and more than 70% of Dallas' wide passing DYAR at any position going through Cooper, Jerry Jones almost had to write Cooper a blank check, which is why he is now the second-highest-paid receiver in football.

The other player of note to top 200 DYAR out wide -- excluding Michael Thomas, who, again, was good at everything -- was Calvin Ridley, which is interesting. Somewhat like Lockett, Ridley's move to a more exclusive role is a change from 2018; he had 48 targets wide two years ago compared to 46 targets from the slot. But his DVOA splits two years ago showed him being better outside, and new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter split Ridley out wide far more often than Steve Sarkisian had the year before -- itself at least in part a knock-on effect from increasing Julio Jones' slot targets, though Jones was still targeted as a wideout more often than as a slot receiver in 2019. It's difficult for an offense to really support two high-usage outside receivers, at least according to the numbers we've gotten over the past four years. The departures of Austin Hooper, Mohamed Sanu, and Devonta Freeman leave some slot targets open for Atlanta, but do you move Ridley more inside after his great performance out wide in 2019? Do you move Jones more inside despite having a lower DVOA on slot targets than Ridley last season? There are some interesting decisions to be made in Atlanta, though having two wideouts excel at the same skill sets is far from the worst problem to have.


Odds and Ends

Another week, another receiving stat where Michael Thomas nearly laps the field -- 333 DYAR in the slot; 216 DYAR split wide. At some point, that stops being fair. Of course, some of that is due to his massive target share, but that massive target share is a result of massive amounts of value. Finishing third on both sides of the ledger is basically insane. Only Mike Evans and DeVante Parker joined Thomas in having even 140 DYAR in both splits; topping 200 is insane.

Adam Thielen has now put up better DVOA and DYAR totals in the slot than out wide in each of the last two seasons. That makes adding Justin Jefferson to the Vikings' offense interesting, as he's coming from an offense where he was mostly used out of the slot himself. The Vikings don't really have a natural replacement for Stefon Diggs out wide; Thielen's 20 targets were second-most on the team behind Diggs' 60. After him would come Bisi Johnson, who wasn't particularly effective on his 16 wide targets last season. In fact, the runner-up in wide DYAR behind Diggs last season for Minnesota was Laquon Treadwell, with 42 DYAR on six targets. Minnesota has a bit of work to do to figure this one out.

Most of the biggest gaps between slot and wide DVOA come from players with small sample sizes in one or the other categories -- Randall Cobb and Hunter Renfrow not catching their one wide target is not particularly indicative of their skill levels. The biggest gap for someone with at least 25 targets in both splits belonged to A.J. Brown, whose slot DVOA was 40.5% higher than his wide DVOA despite being targeted more when split out wide. That gap is almost exclusively present in his time with Ryan Tannehill; Brown hovered around a 0.0% DVOA regardless of lineup position under Marcus Mariota. Plenty of pre-draft talk had Brown pegged as a slot standout at the next level, but the Titans were happy to use Adam Humphries and Corey Davis there more often than not. I don't believe Tennessee is particularly upset with Brown's rookie performance, but finding ways to get him matched up inside going forward might make him even more dangerous.

Comments

5 comments, Last at 30 Jul 2020, 6:29pm

1 It's interesting that Evans…

It's interesting that Evans and Godwin both technically had a higher DVOA in the other's role

There was a lot of this. But then, change-ups work not because they are great pitchs on their own, but because the opponent is thinking fastball.

NE offers a cautionary tale of what happens when you have only slot receivers.

5 I don't think it needed…

I don't think it needed fixing.  Once Josh Gordon left the building, all the Patriots had were a handful of guys who worked in the 8-12 yard range.  There's not a whole lot of room to get open when 4 receivers and all the defenders are operating in the same range.  The guys didn't all suck...they just all ran the same routes.  Except for Philip Dorsett, who in theory should have been able to stretch defenses.

IIRC, Philip Dorsett was the fastest guy at his scouting combine.  I've never seen a guy who can run so fast so utterly unable to get open against any coverage other than busted.

4 I've been waiting for this.

Second year MVS has been better inside which is interesting. Still not good in either, but interesting. 

1st year Davante was better in the slot too. Gotta think that's do to Lafleur. Lazard better outside as one would expect from his body/skillset.

And presumably with ESB also being another out wide skill fit, the need for a slot WR becomes more apparent. Ross is an interesting target I've heard of.