Fantasy Football 2013: Slot Receivers to Steal in a Fantasy Football Draft

Mike PlogerContributor IIJuly 25, 2013

Fantasy Football 2013: Slot Receivers to Steal in a Fantasy Football Draft

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    Slot receivers often fall as the third wide receiver on a team's depth chart, but they can often provide the biggest impact within an offensive system.  The trick for any fantasy owner is to identify that special playmaker.

    They're not the lengthy, strong, deep-threat guys taking on a defense's best cornerback.  They're the quick, flashy ones who do their best to find a seam and exploit a weaker opponent over the middle.

    Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and A.J. Green are three guys anyone can expect to put up huge numbers this coming fantasy season; not a single one of them is a slot receiver. 

    The Jets, Giants, Patriots and Vikings (as well as others) all had a slot receiver lead the team in catches last year.  Just because a name is lower on the depth chart doesn't mean the player is any less talented or important.

    The slot receiver position is growing to become one of the most crucial positions in football.  With more and more players possessing quickness and soft hands, and teams finding ways to utilize them, a special slot man is a dime a dozen.  They must have the vision, agility and feel for the open field in order to stand out.  As for 2013, five players tower above the rest with the most potential to produce numbers that can top anyone.

Honorable Mention: Danny Amendola, T.Y. Hilton

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    Danny Amendola could easily be a top-five option this year considering his new scenario in New England.  He possesses the ability to change a game at the snap of a finger.  The one problem is the fifth-year player has appeared in only 12 games over the past two seasons.  His durability is as questionable as anyone in the league, which is why he is a risk to draft early. 

    Colts second-year man T.Y. Hilton.  He popped onto the scene out of nowhere last season, aided by the arrival of Andrew Luck.  The rookie duo hooked up 50 times for 861 yards and seven touchdowns. 

    A big part of Hilton finding this list is the addition of Darrius Heyward-Bey in Indianapolis.  He adds playmaking ability on the outside as a deep threat, which will open the middle and take away top cornerbacks from Hilton.  NFL.com has even put this receiving corps as a top-10 unit in the league.

5. Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams

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    The possibilities for this man are endless.  The West Virginia stud was one of, if not the, most electrifying men in all of college football last season.  The scary part is he continues to get faster, quicker and stronger as each year goes by.

    Austin has the ability to make anyone miss in the open field.  He showed that his 4.34 40-yard dash speed may be enough to outrun any defender as well.  Combine the two and you have a playmaker any team would dream of having.

    The St. Louis Rams now have a glut of receivers to help an ailing Sam Bradford.  West Virginia teammate Stedman Bailey was also brought into town, along with returners Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and Brian Quick.

    Both Quick and Pettis bring a size factor to the table as they both stand above 6'3''.  Givens gives St. Louis a deep threat down the field again in 2013, as he had a catch of 50 yards or more in five consecutive contests last season.

    Austin will fit into the mold perfectly working the inside.  There are questions of his ability to learn NFL routes and when and where to sit against a zone, but he had a lot of that freedom in Dana Holgorsen's offense at WVU.  His pure talent is enough to immediately make an impact and make up for the targets the Rams lost when Danny Amendola left for New England.

4. Wes Welker, Denver Broncos

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    When thinking of the epitome of a slot receiver, Wes Welker is one of the first faces to pop up.

    He runs crisp routes, finds spaces and has solid hands to catch mostly anything coming his way.  Heck, he's averaged 112 receptions over the past six seasons.  Yes, it was with Tom Brady, but if anybody out there is capable of matching that, it's Peyton Manning.

    He's as durable as it gets (he's missed just three games since 2005) which is why he's ranked above his replacement in New England, Danny Amendola.  He saw more passes his way than anyone in New England saw in a long time.  Then again, the competition for passes in New England is nothing like what he's going into in Denver.

    Now he has to share time with fellow receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.  Both of them placed in the top 10 in fantasy points for receivers in 2012, according to Pro-Football Reference

    Where Welker potentially passes that duo is in PPR leagues, as he has caught more balls than his new teammates in each of the past three seasons.

    Another big thing to watch is Peyton Manning's arm strength and comfort level with Welker.  The two are rumored to be close so all looks good thus far.  As for arm strength, it was evident Manning's power sloped downward after returning from neck surgery.  If he is less confident on reaching the outside, Welker in the slot is an even more viable option to take over as the Broncos' leading receiver.

3. Victor Cruz, New York Giants

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    The highest-paid player in this group comes in at the third spot for fantasy slot men.  After inking a $43 million deal, Cruz is locked up for the next six years in New York.

    Cruz exploded onto the scene in 2011 when he caught 82 passes for more than 1,500 yards.  He showed that same production last year as Pro-Football Reference ranked him as the fourth best receiver in all of football with similar numbers.

    He's Eli Manning's favorite target with 43 more looks than teammate Hakeem Nicks.  Chances are that Rueben Randle will be the other starting wideout, and Manning looked his way 110 less times than Cruz last season (Cruz had 142 targets in 2012).

    Cruz has paved the way for slot receivers to make it big in the NFL.  His contract shows his importance in the changing NFL as coaches are constantly looking to get receivers mismatched with linebackers or cornerbacks low on the depth chart.  Cruz has explosiveness with quick feet to change direction or stop-and-go on a dime, separating him from his competition.

    Cruz has been playing for a contract, and now he has earned his dues.  Could that change his aggressiveness this coming season?  Doubtful.  This man dreams for the salsa dance and has reached the end zone 19 times over the past two seasons.  He understands what it takes to get to a Super Bowl, and he'll push to get back there (not to mention it's in his home stadium in 2014).

2. Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks

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    Halfway through last October, Percy Harvin had put together a résumé worthy of MVP consideration.  But an ankle injury he suffered in Week 9 ultimately pushed him onto the injured reserve list.

    Fast forward and he's traded to the Seattle Seahawks for two draft picks.  The move immediately pushed the Seahawks into a serious contender for the top team in the NFC.

    Percy Harvin was a one-man band while in Minnesota.  Teams knew if Christian Ponder was throwing the ball, his early read would be Harvin before others.  Yet Harvin still managed 62 receptions (league-high) for 677 yards.

    But then again, his situation in Seattle isn't exactly any better.  The team didn't have anyone with more than 1,000 yards receiving as the offense was No. 29 in passing.  Harvin immediately changes their air attack over the middle.

    A big plus for Harvin in fantasy this season is his return to work with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who was the coordinator in Minnesota for Harvin's first two seasons.  Harvin caught 131 passes for 1,658 yards in 21 games over that time.

    There's no doubt he has a presence on the field no matter where he lines up.  He now has a quarterback with a strong arm who loves the deep ball.  While he may not be a down-field threat, the offensive scheme will change where opposing teams will follow other receivers down the field and give Harvin more space to work with.

1. Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers

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    Three years into the league and the former Kentucky Wildcat earns the top spot for a slot-receiving fantasy football machine.

    Judging strictly from experience doesn't give him this spot.  He caught 80 passes for nearly 1,000 receiving yards in 2012, nothing spectacular.  Go back to his rookie season stats and this post could be borderline crazy (just 25 receptions, one touchdown).

    However, fantasy football is about the next up-and-coming thing, and that's exactly what Randall Cobb is.  He has perhaps the most talented quarterback in the league slinging balls his way and one less stellar receiver to hog those looks.

    When looking at Cobb's stats, the first thing listed is his return numbers.  Of course, that's not without reason as he has three return touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons.  But as a receiver Cobb is becoming a premier slot man, and his return game will soon be overshadowed.

    He has a burst and horizontal agility to make defenders miss.  His vision is rare and he has the smarts to find open space.  Green Bay recognizes this as the team was comfortable enough to hand him the ball 10 times in 2012.  Considering he had a 13.2 yards per rush average, it's tough to argue that number won't increase this year.

    As the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel points out, Cobb was targeted 15.7 percent of the snaps of which he was a part, which ranked eighth in the league.  In a PPR league, Cobb becomes much more essential since he could break 100 receptions this season.

    When it comes down to it, Cobb is the next big thing.  He's just 22 years old and has a lot of life ahead of him in the league.  In a pass-heavy offense with almost no running back experience, the Packers will be slinging the ball to Cobb all season long.