How Do Slot Targets Affect Fantasy Football?
There are many things that go into how many fantasy points a player scores, but can we learn anything by where they line up on the field? The NFL has moved to plenty of three- and four-wide receiver sets, allowing some of the bigger wide receivers to move into the slot in order to create mismatches. Does this translate to more fantasy points? That’s our goal here today.
With all of the advanced statistics available nowadays, I’m going to be able to give you an actual hard percentage when it applies to how much more the slot target is worth than the perimeter target. How can we apply this? Well, for instance, the Bucs have talked about Chris Godwin playing a lot more in the slot this season. Should we bump him up because of that? Or how about Sterling Shepard moving to the perimeter on a regular basis now that Golden Tate is on the team?
I’ve gone over the last two full seasons and compiled more than 20,000 total targets among wide receivers for this sample, so you can say it’s probably enough to give us accurate results. I’ll also be judging this from a half-PPR standpoint, as that’s a middle ground between the old standard and full-PPR.
Everyone and their grandma can tell you the catch-rate would be higher in the slot, but did you know it’s 11 full percent higher? When targeted on the perimeter, wide receivers haul in just 57.0 percent of their passes, while snagging a super-high 68.0 percent of them in the slot. You didn’t need me to tell you that, but the percentage is even higher than I would have thought.
This obviously favors those in PPR formats, because if your wide receiver is going to be moving to the slot on a more regular basis, you should expect his catch-rate to rise, hence give you more of those one-pointers.
Yards Per Reception and Yards Per Target
This is where things are a bit unclear among most fantasy players. Sure, slot targets mean they catch a bit more targets, but at what cost? The average depth of target shrinks, as do the yards per reception, down from 13.34 yards per reception on the perimeter, to just 12.16 yards per reception in the slot. Again, you probably knew the perimeter would be higher, but I would’ve guessed there was an even bigger gap.
Factoring in the catch-rate and yards per target, that’s where we see the value in overall yardage per target. Despite the drop-off in yards per catch, slot targets are worth much more than perimeter targets. The average perimeter target is worth 7.61 yards, while the average slot target is worth 8.27 yards. So, we’re not only adding more receptions, but we’re averaging more yards with the targets we’re given.
“But Mike, everyone knows slot receivers don’t score touchdowns!” Is that true? Let me be clear… No. Over the last two seasons, wide receivers average one touchdown every 21.8 targets on the perimeter, while they average one touchdown every 18.6 targets in the slot.
There have been more touchdowns scored on the perimeter than in the slot over the last two years (221 to be exact), but that’s because there’s more targets to that part of the field. If all targets were to remain the same, receivers who play in the slot would score 5.4 touchdowns on 100 targets, while receivers who play strictly perimeter would score 4.6 touchdowns on 100 targets.
We all know that slot targets are worth more by now, right? They out-did perimeter targets in every single category, but now it’s time for the hard percentage that I promised you. In a half-PPR format, slot targets are worth 11.5 percent more than perimeter targets.
What does that translate to? The difference between fantasy points between JuJu Smith-Schuster and Robert Woods last year was 6.1 percent. The difference between Calvin Ridley and T.Y. Hilton was 13.0 percent. You can see how significant 11.5 percent is now, right?
How This Impacts Certain Players
Now onto the question as to how this matters and how we can apply it to help us get better in 2019 and beyond? There are certain players who benefit even more than the norm on slot targets, while others are somewhat unaffected. There are also rare cases where a player has actually been better while on the perimeter.
Let’s start with those who benefit the most from slot targets and try to determine whether they may see more or less in 2019. Here’s a list of the players who relied heavily on their slot production (minimum 40 targets in each of the past two seasons):
It’s no wonder the Bengals were trying to move A.J. Green around the formation in 2018, as he went from just 13.9 percent slot routes in 2017 to 29.0 percent in 2018. Most don’t realize it, but Green was the No. 6 wide receiver in fantasy football before hurting his foot. Knowing he takes advantage of the slot is big for his 2019 prospects, as Zac Taylor says he’ll start with the Rams playbook. Here’s the slot percentages for Rams wide receivers: Cooper Kupp 69, Robert Woods 55, Brandin Cooks 28. This tells you that Green’s numbers should be right on the money, if not better in 2019.
Now that DeSean Jackson is back in Philadelphia, it means Nelson Agholor is going back to the slot, which is massive for his production. Of the 66 wide receivers who totaled at least 40 targets in each of the last two seasons, Agholor ranked as the No. 63 receiver in points per target on the perimeter, while he ranked No. 12 in points per target in the slot. While the volume concerns are real with Agholor, he should be much more efficient in 2019.
Another highlight from this group is Tyler Lockett, who will be assuming the slot duties left by Doug Baldwin. This is a massive development because Lockett posted the third-best numbers in the league from the slot over the last two years, behind only Tyreek Hill and A.J. Green. In the games that Baldwin missed all/most of in 2018, Lockett played in the slot on 59.4 percent of his snaps. His efficiency will have a hard time remaining as high as it was in 2018, but his increased snaps in the slot can help make up for it.
The Giants may have made a mistake, as they now have two wide receivers who do extremely well in the slot, but not so much on the perimeter. Sterling Shepard has yet to score a perimeter touchdown in his career, while Tate is aging and pretty much delegated to slot-only. Among the 66 receivers who’ve seen at least 40 targets in each of the last two seasons, Shepard ranks 49th in non-slot performance, while Tate ranks 55th. It would be great if we hear the Giants will push Tate outside a bit more than expected, as it would help support Shepard to a more efficient role.
NOT SLOT RELIANT
Remember when I said there were rare cases where a wide receiver didn’t perform better in the slot? Of the 66 wide receviers who tallied at least 40 targets in each of the last two seasons, just 10 players posted 11.5 percent or better numbers on the perimeter than in the slot. Here’s a look at the players who performed better while getting targets outside the slot:
It shouldn’t surprise you to see speed receivers here, as they get targeted way down the field and typically have one-on-one coverage. The names that are somewhat surprising here are Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and Amari Cooper, as they’re considered alpha wide receivers and you’d think they’d benefit from a move to the slot. But is this where the team and quarterback matters even more? Cooper posted 2.29 half-PPR points per target with the Cowboys, though it’s not a very large sample size. Still, he averaged just 1.23 points per target in the slot with the Raiders the last two seasons.
It was shocking to see Jones and Evans not dominate the slot as much, but it appears their coordinators were somewhat aware of it, as Jones played just 21 percent of his snaps in the slot, while Evans was at just 17 percent. Guys like Michael Thomas (30 percent), A.J. Green (29 percent), and Tyreek Hill (45 percent) were there much more often.
There was one big takeaway from this list that applies to 2019, and it’s that Chris Godwin doesn’t need more slot snaps in order to do well, as he actually performed 7.0 percent better while on the perimeter over the last two years. The Bucs have talked about having Godwin play in the slot more this year, and while it’s typically a really good thing, Godwin may not see a huge spike in production, as he’s really good on the perimeter as well.
Another few things to note are that even though Cooper Kupp is returning to the slot from his torn ACL, Robert Woods is just fine on the perimeter and averaged nearly identical points per target. Sammy Watkins did 9.6 percent better on the perimeter than in the slot, so even if Tyreek Hill misses time, it may not give him a massive boost in efficiency on his targets. T.Y. Hilton played 28 percent of his snaps in the slot last year. The addition of Parris Campbell might knock that number down, but in Hilton’s case, it’s not detrimental to his production.
So, in the end, we know that slot targets are worth 11.5 percent more than perimeter targets, so ideally, our wide receivers are moving into the slot more often in 2019. However, when you have a receiver who stretches the field with his speed, don’t be concerned with it, as they’ll actually suffer when they move into the slot.
You should also know that this study would vary if we went from team-to-team and quarterback-to-quarterback, as we saw with Amari Cooper‘s results once he went to the Cowboys. This is not a perfect math equation that will work 100 percent of the time. In fact, nothing in football is, and that’s why we love it as much as we do. But again, if we can get that one-percent edge in anything we do, it’s worth it. When it comes to slot targets, you’re likely going to get more than a one-percent increase in production.