Slot receivers are often under-appreciated because rarely do they produce inflated statistics, and seldom do they ever get selected to a Pro Bowl.
However, these receivers often make big plays to keep drives alive, and can be valuable in keeping the attention away from the elite receiving targets on the team.
In 2007, Wes Welker caught 112 balls for 1,175 yards and eight touchdowns as a slot receiver for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
This is an unusual case, as it is uncommon for a No. 3 receiver to produce these type of numbers.
More likely, slot receivers on a good year will produce 40-50 receptions and a handful of touchdowns. This slide show is dedicated to predicting which players will make these modest, yet important contributions.
For example, in 2008, players such as Nate Washington of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Patrick Crayton of the Dallas Cowboys were both players who made solid contributions at opportune times, yet were far from being considered stars.
Without any further introduction, here are the five wide receivers who I believe will earn a role as a slot receiver, and will be the most valuable at their position in 2009.
JOEY GALLOWAY, New England Patriots
While I believe he will make some good contributions to the Patriots this year, there are just too many weapons on the team for him to generate big numbers.
The Patriots have a team-first mentality, and they like to spread the ball around to the plethora of offensive weapons available. They even design offensive plays which utilize defensive players, especially in the red zone.
Of course Randy Moss and Wes Welker will see the lion’s share of Tom Brady’s tosses. The rest of the players such as Kevin Faulk, Greg Lewis, Ben Watson, and rookie receiver Brandon Tate will all see their looks as well.
I do think the Patriots are a perfect fit for Galloway, and he will have his shining moments. I just do not think there will be enough production to get him into the top five.
PERCY HARVIN, Minnesota Vikings
I believe Harvin will be an electrifying and valuable player to the Minnesota Vikings this year. The Vikings believe they got a great value by selecting him with the 22nd overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, and they intend on getting the rookie involved right away.
The Vikings have designed plays for especially for him, and he has already begun practicing in the Wildcat formation.
He will be productive running the Wildcat offense, valuable on special teams, and perhaps used for gadget plays in addition to catching the ball as a receiver.
It normally takes times for rookie wide receivers to catch on to the speed and precision of the NFL, so his production specifically from the slot may be minimal compared to his production in other positions.
He will be good enough to make many top five lists, but as a slot receiver he will not get into the top five.
JEREMY MACLIN, Philadelphia Eagles
Another dynamic rookie receiver who will make great contributions in the return game, and special plays designed to get him in the open field.
As with Harvin, the production out of the slot wide receiver position will only be a fraction of his total contributions.
James Jones/Jordy Nelson Green Bay Packers
Patrick Crayton/Miles Austin Dallas Cowboys
"Da-Bess” came out of Hawaii with a reputation for being an extremely hard-working, unselfish player.
He brought this attitude with him to Miami as he quietly recorded a respectable 54 receptions for 554 yards and a touchdown as a rookie in 2008.
Bess entered the starting lineup after Greg Camarillo was placed on injured reserve, finishing the last five games strong with 30 receptions for 279 yards.
Camarillo has been working out with the team during mini-camp, and is fully expected to be healthy for the start of the 2009 season. This means he will likely keep his role as the Dolphins’ No. 2 receiver.
Bess is not big at 5’10” and 190 pounds, but he has great hands and has spectacular after-the-catch ability.
He has developed a good chemistry with quarterback Chad Pennington, and with little competition for the slot receiver role, Bess should continue to build upon his successful rookie campaign.
The biggest concern regarding Henry is his propensity to get into legal trouble.
He has had several run-ins with law during his four-year career with the Bengals, which led to him being suspended several games in 2006, and half a season in 2007.
When Henry is on the playing field, however, he can be quite productive. He has played in 47 regular season games, and has amassed 107 receptions for 1,590 yards and 19 touchdowns. These are pretty good statistics for a slot wide receiver.
Quarterback Carson Palmer has often looked for Henry in crucial points of a game. The fact that roughly 18 percent of Henry’s receptions are touchdowns, along with his 14.9 yards-per-reception, indicates that he is capable of making a big play when it is needed.
I believe the Bengals will be a pass-happy team in 2009. Running the ball is a daunting task in the AFC North Division, and the Bengals do not necessarily have the best stable of running backs with Cedric Benson, Kenny Watson, and Brian Leonard.
Reports from the Cincinnati Enquirer have said that Henry has begun to surround himself with different people, and he is saying all the right things. In addition, Palmer has been raving about Henry’s work ethic and attitude so far during the off-season.
As long as Carson Palmer can remain healthy, and Chris Henry can continue to mature and stay out of trouble, there should be plenty of opportunities for them to connect for long gains and touchdowns.
In fact, under those conditions, this could really be a break-out year for Chris Henry.
One of the biggest battles in Indianapolis is who will emerge as the No. 3 wide receiver for the Colts. As of early June, the competition is between Pierre Garcon, Roy Hall, and rookie Austin Collie.
The winner of this competition should be placed in this position of the slot receiver rankings. From my observations, I believe Garcon will win the job.
Although Garcon played at a D-III college for Mount Union, the Colts liked him enough to draft him in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
He played almost exclusively as a return specialist his rookie year, but he did contribute a modest three receptions for 21 yards in the final regular season game against the Tennessee Titans.
Garcon did exhibit play-making ability on special teams and general manager Bill Polian has said publicly that he expects him to make a giant leap in his second year.
While Roy Hall has the best size of the group at 6’3" and 240 pounds, he has been unable to stay healthy since being acquired in 2007. Shoulder and knee injuries have limited him to just seven games the past two seasons.
Hall also has tremendous speed to go along with his size, so he may in fact have the most potential of the three competing for this role. However, he needs to prove that he can be durable at the NFL level.
As for Collie, he had a terrific college career at BYU and is the school’s all-team leading receiver. He has very good size at 6’2" and 206 pounds. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for with his quickness and excellent field awareness.
I think Collie is a perfect fit in the Colts offense. Quarterback Peyton Manning demands that his receivers are smart and capable of making adjustments to route running.
Collie has demonstrated at the college level that he is adept at altering his routes in order to help his quarterback.
The biggest obstacle for Collie is making the adjustment to the NFL level, and being certain that he understands the playbook and all the audibles Manning likes to call at the line of scrimmage.
It is a complex scheme, and it often takes wide receivers a year or two to understand all the nuances of the system.
In summary, I really like Roy Hall‘s size and speed combination, but it is yet to be determined if he can stay healthy.
Austin Collie could potentially be a future star for the Colts, but will likely need a learning adjustment period in 2009.
This could leave the starting slot receiver job to talented Pierre Garcon, who is a favorite of GM Bill Polian.
Whomever wins the job should be an important piece to Indianapolis’ potent passing attack.
Moore had a breakout season in 2008, his third year in NFL. He was the Saints’ leading receiver as he recorded 79 receptions for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Moore emerged as a favorite target of quarterback Drew Brees when he started in place of wide receiver Marques Colston, who suffered a thumb injury and was forced to miss seven games early in the season.
Currently, Colston is recovering from micro fracture surgery done on his left knee in January, but is already participating in OTAs and is considered ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation.
This should mean that Colston will be ready for training camp and the regular season.
With Devery Henderson, Robert Meacham, and Adrian Arrington competing for the No. 2 wide receiver position, Moore will return to his slot receiver duties.
At 5’9 and 193 pounds, Moore has the ideal size and speed combination to be a slot receiver, and he has already developed an excellent rapport with Brees.
The Saints should continue their high-powered passing attack in 2009, giving Moore plenty of opportunities to contribute big plays for a team that was the NFL’s top-ranked passing offense in 2008.
It is worth noting that Moore did injure his shoulder working out during the winter, and has not participated in OTAs and will miss June mini-camp. However, he should be available for training camp and the start of the regular season.
By listing Breaston as my top slot receiver in the NFL, I am predicting that Anquan Boldin will remain with the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.
If there were any teams willing to give the Cardinals their asking price for Boldin, it would have already happened by now.
Because I do not expect Arizona to give away an elite talent like Boldin at a cheaper price, I think he will remain on the team for the 2009 season.
Therefore, I am expecting Breaston to remain as a No. 3 receiver for at least one more year.
Breaston contributed 77 receptions for 1,007 yards and three touchdowns in 2008. He started four games while Boldin was sidelined with injury, but still caught 56 balls in 12 games as a slot receiver.
Breaston is entering his third year in the NFL, and should continue to progress into being a top wide receiver in the NFL.
The Cardinals offense should remain a passing offense in 2009, giving Breaston plenty of opportunities for continued success, and likely the most valuable slot receiver in the NFL for the 2009 season.