How Do Slot Targets Affect Fantasy Football?
How many times have you heard opportunity means production from a fantasy football analyst? I know I’ve said it countless times, though it’s not a complete thought or process. There are many things that go into how many fantasy points a player scores. Their own talent, their quarterback’s talent, the offense they play in, the talent around them, etc.
But can we learn anything from where they line up on the field? The NFL is moving more and more to three- and four-wide receiver sets, which is allowing creative offensive coordinators to move top-tier wide receivers into the slot in order to create mismatches. Does it translate to more fantasy points, and if so, how many?
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. To do that, I’ve gone through the last three seasons of targets to receivers, which amounts to more than 30,000 targets in our sample size. This study will be based on half-PPR formats, as it’s a good middle ground.
Just about any novice football fan can tell you the catch-rate would be higher in the slot, as they’re typically shorter, quick-hitting passes. But did you expect it to be a full 10.4 percent higher? Probably not. Wide receivers catch just 57.4 percent of their perimeter targets, while hauling in 67.8 percent of passes while they’re in the slot.
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
“Ok Mike, we all know the catch percentage is higher in the slot, but the difference in actual production can make up for that, as the depth of target is significantly higher on the perimeter.” Well, receivers average 13.5 yards per reception on the perimeter while that number dips down to 12.2 yards per reception in the slot.
“See, I told you.” Not so fast. When you factor in the 10.4 percent lower completion rate, you have 7.73 yards per target on the perimeter, compared to 8.27 yards per target in the slot. The raise in yards per reception does not make up for the lowered catch-rate. So, not only are we piling up more receptions, but we’re also adding more yards per target when in the slot.
There’s a common misconception out there that slot receivers don’t score as many touchdowns. Again, we’re kicking that narrative to the curb. Wide receivers score a touchdown once every 22.1 targets on the perimeter, while scoring one every 18.5 targets in the slot.
The reason slot receivers don’t score more often is due to sheer volume, as there’ve been 866 perimeter touchdowns compared to 579 slot touchdowns over the last three seasons. That’s 33.1 percent fewer touchdowns despite seeing 44 percent fewer targets overall.
Actual Value of Targets
You probably understand that slot targets are worth more by now, right? They outperformed perimeter targets in every major statistic. Now it’s time I provide you with that hard percentage I promised earlier. In a half-PPR format, slot targets are worth 10.8 percent more than perimeter targets.
What does that amount to? The difference in fantasy points between Stefon Diggs and Jamison Crowder last year was 12.1 percent. The difference between Terry McLaurin and Cole Beasley was just 7.1 percent. You can see just how significant 10.8 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.
MOST SLOT RELIANT
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 unlikely that Phillip Dorsett is a big factor in fantasy football, but knowing how much he relies on slot work to produce, it doesn’t look great for him in Seattle, as that’s Tyler Lockett‘s position on the field (who has also been better with slot targets).
Now that we know the Packers didn’t draft a single wide receiver and allowed Geronimo Allison to walk in free agency, it’s likely that we see Marquez Valdes-Scantling take over in the slot, which is a great thing when you look at this chart. We know Devin Funchess doesn’t play the slot and Allen Lazard was there just 40 percent of the time last year.
Kenny Stills is someone who’s become practically valueless over the last few months, as the Texans brought in Randall Cobb to play the slot (he doesn’t play anywhere else), and now have Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller on the perimeter. Even if one of them were to miss time, Stills hasn’t been good on the perimeter.
I mentioned this last year, but Sterling Shepard hasn’t been nearly as good on the perimeter as he’s been in the slot, which is why the addition of Golden Tate hurt his appeal. He’s scored 17 touchdowns in his four-year career, with 16 of them coming from the slot.
NOT SLOT RELIANT
Remember when I said there were rare cases where a wide receiver didn’t perform better in the slot? Of the 68 wide receviers who tallied at least 40 targets in each of the last two seasons, just 15 players posted better numbers on the perimeter than in the slot, with just nine of them averaging 10-plus percent more. Here’s a look at the players who performed better while getting targets outside the slot:
It’s a good thing Will Fuller isn’t reliant on slot targets to produce now that the Texans have three slot-heavy wide receivers. The same thing can be said for new Texans receiver Brandin Cooks, as he’s No. 6 on this list and has also played better while on the perimeter. It’s rather crazy to see four Texans wide receivers (Fuller, Cooks, Stills, Cobb) on the two lists.
It’s kind of crazy to see both Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley on this list as well, though it’s probably important because Russell Gage isn’t someone you want playing on the perimeter very often. Some have suggested the Cowboys should move Amari Cooper into the slot with the acquisition of CeeDee Lamb, but that doesn’t make much sense when he’s been even better on the perimeter. It’s likely we see Lamb fill a large part of the slot role, as it’ll make his transition to the NFL easier.
With both Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk healthy and on the field, it’s unlikely DeAndre Hopkins makes it into the slot very often, and that’s okay based on his production over the last few years, as he’s averaged more fantasy points per target on the perimeter.
When all is said and done, we know that slot targets are worth 10.8 percent more than perimeter targets. So, ideally, our wide receivers are moving into the slot more often in 2020. However, when you have a receiver who stretches the field with his speed, don’t be concerned with it, as they might actually suffer when they move into the slot.
This study would certainly vary if you went team-to-team and quarterback-to-quarterback, as some are better targeting the slot than others, but we know fantasy football isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, we look to take every little statistical advantage we can. We look for that 1-2 percent difference, and from what we’ve learned here, slot targets are likely to get you more than 1-2 percent.