With the innovation of the spread offense, slot receivers have become more significant. A slot receiver can often be mixed with other types of receiving positions.
A slot receiver is a receiver who lines up in the slot position, between the offensive tackle and the widest receiver. This player is often fast and is in position to catch the football or take a hand off.
The slot corner will cover the slot receiver. This position is often smaller, quick, and can cover the opposing slot receiver.
In this article we’re going to look at both the slot receiver and the slot corner.
What Is The Slot Receiver?
When it comes to the alignment of an offense or a defense you may hear the term “slot receiver” or “slot corner”. If a player is in a “slot” position, it means that they’re not furthest out to the boundary at their position. There can even be multiple slot receivers or corners on one side of the field.
If you’re looking for a more detail breakdown of receivers, we’ve created a Complete Football Guide to help you here.
As mentioned above, the slot receiver is a receiver who is between the nearest player on the line of scrimmage (Tackle or Tight End) and an outside receiver. The slot receiver was made prominent in pass heavy offenses such as West Coast systems.
The New England Patriots are an example of a team that has used slot receivers heavily in their offense. The circled player below is Wes Welker, lined up in the slot:
Slot receivers can line up on either side of the offense. There can be as many as 3 slot receivers on the field at once and they can be aligned all on one side or mixed between both sides. An example of multiple slot receivers is below from college football:
When there are multiple slot receivers, they are referred to as the “Inside Slot” then the “Outside Slot” moving from the center of the field to the boundary
Slot or Nickel Cornerbacks
A slot cornerback is also referred to as a “Nickel” cornerback. The slot corner is also dubbed the “Nickel” corner because Nickel is the package that brings the extra defensive backs to the field. This also means that there are 5 defensive backs (nickel = 5 cents) on the field. To learn more about defenses, as well as offensive packages, check out our football handbook.
The extra defensive back will often cover DB lines up in the slot. Below we highlighted who the slot cornerback is on the field:
Just like with slot receivers, they are lined up inside of a boundary cornerback. They typically are lined up to cover the slot receivers. One thing about slot corners, is they need to be able to play both press coverage, which is extremely hard to do from the slot and off-man.
Why Is The Slot Receiver Important?
Slot receivers emerging as a big piece of offenses forced defenses to adjust by adding slot cornerbacks. An offense using playmakers in the slot gives a speed player the ability to go inside or outside. This is much different than a boundary receiver who can only go straight downfield or go inward.
Slot receivers are becoming more prominent, especially in the NFL. For example, players like Tyreek Hill or Brandin Cooks are smaller receivers, who can stretch the defense vertically off of pure speed. They’re also extremely effective in the catch and run game, running shorter routes on the route tree such as slants and quick outs.
Why are Nickel Backs Or Slot Corner’s Important?
As we recently saw in the 2018 playoffs, the San Diego Chargers used 7 defensive backs to stop the Baltimore Ravens with their prolific passing attack and quarterback Lamar Jackson. Speed is everything, especially in the NFL. Safeties are now averaging around 5’11 – 6’1, and are able to run with these speedy receivers.
Although it’s nearly impossible to cover Tyreek Hill running vertically down the field, these longer players can help disrupt routes at the line of scrimmage with safety help over the top. As teams are starting to spread the field with 4 and 5 receiver sets, blitz happy teams are forced to take linebackers off the field and put defensive backs on to cover them.
Slot receivers are starting to replace the full back position in football. As the game has moved to a more traditional, spread offense, teams are using less power football and more athletes in space. This often gives the advantage to the offense as it allows for fast players to play slot receiver and be matched up against a linebacker.
However, if the defense has a slot corner, or a nickel back that’s able to play defense against the slot receiver, it neutralizes the advantage. It also forces the offense to win with scheme, rather than skill.
This is why football gets more difficult, as the player gets older. Skillful players will often dominate, however when they’re matched with other skillful players, the game becomes all about scheme.
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