NFL1000: Ranking the Top Slot Receivers of 2017 Season

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2018

NFL1000: Ranking the Top Slot Receivers of 2017 Season

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The increased frequency with which NFL teams deploy three- and four-receiver formations with at least one slot receiver is matched only by the responsibilities those slot targets must take on. A decade ago, slot receivers were specialty players, smaller guys without too much speed who caught three-yard slants and tried to get yards after the catch. 

    They now have diverse individual skill sets. There are still the Wes Welker types who pick up a high volume of catches underneath linebackers, but there are more speed receivers who run deep seam routes and posts. There are bigger receivers moved inside to create mismatches with slot cornerbacks or linebackers. There are running backs who either line up in the slot in empty-backfield formations, or flare to the slot from the backfield.

    Route concepts for slot receivers are multifaceted. They run many in which they coordinate with the quarterback on the fly based on the response of the defender. In two-slot formations out of four-receiver sets, you'll see inside crossers and switch releases—schemes in order to create confusion for defenders who aren't used to dealing with such things inside the numbers.

    The role is crucial to NFL offenses as the game becomes both more diversified in formations and play-calling, and more matchup-based, where quarterbacks scan the field looking for ideal mismatches rather than predetermined sets of reads.

    And that's why, in this season's installation of the NFL1000 player rankings, we decided that both slot receivers and slot defenders deserved their own rankings. The receivers on this list lined up in the slot for at least 50 percent of their routes, per Pro Football Focus' charting. Most are also more than capable of doing damage on the outside, but the slot is where these players live.

    NFL1000 scouts Marcus Mosher and Joe Goodberry have been watching the NFL's inside and outside receivers all season, and they're ready to rank and scout these former specialists turned starters based on the following criteria:

    Route Running: 30 points. In the slot specifically, how well does this receiver align with his quarterback and react to defenders on option routes? How well does he create separation on short slants and drag routes, as well as intermediate and deep-seam routes and posts? How well does he get free of coverage in the red zone and end zone?

    Hands: 
    25 points. How well does this receiver adjust his hands to quickly thrown passes in traffic? Can he recover from aggressive coverage to put his hands in a position to win against defenders trying to knock him off his route? Does he place his hands away from his body and bring the ball in, turning quickly to run?

    YAC: 
    20 points. Once he catches the ball, how well does this receiver turn and get upfield, moving his way past defenders, especially on short and intermediate routes where he's making catches in traffic? And, how well does he use option routes to get that first step away from a defender?

    Blocking: 
    15 points. No matter his size, how well does this receiver face up in multi-receiver run plays? Can he help pass-block in empty sets, or does he tend to disappear if he's not a target?

    Position Value: 10 points. This takes into account positional importance when comparing scores to other spots on the gridiron. Wide receivers are given 7/10 points across the board, leaving them with a maximum score of 97/100.

    Make sure to check out all of the NFL1000 rankings from the 2017 season.



Notable Omissions

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Our slot receiver rankings are for those who played at least 10 percent of their teams' overall snaps, and at least 50 percent of their overall snaps in the slot. You'll find all the NFL's outside receivers in this slideshow, but here are the slot receivers who didn't make the cut due to limited participation: 

    • Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
    • Harry Douglas, Tennessee Titans
    • Adoree' Jackson, Tennessee Titans
    • Ryan Switzer, Dallas Cowboys

Nos. 36-31

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    36. Russell Shepard, Carolina Panthers

    Route Running: 13/30
    Hands: 
    8/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    46/100

    Russell Shepard started the season buried on the team's depth chart. But after the trade of Kelvin Benjamin and injuries to Curtis Samuel and others, he became the Panthers' slot receiver. He split snaps in the slot with Christian McCaffrey after proving to be a liability—Shepard has a huge problem with drops due to poor technique and low confidence in his hands. He doesn't do any one thing well and was one of the worst receivers in the league considering how many snaps he played for the Panthers. He probably shouldn't be on an NFL roster.

         

    35. Adam Humphries, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Route Running: 14/30
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    49/100

    Adam Humphries is just an average slot receiver. He is not dangerous after the catch and he rarely makes plays outside of the framework of his body. He is a below-average blocker and defenders can move him off of his spot fairly easily. Humphries is a replacement-level slot receiver, at best.

               

    34. Brandon Coleman, New Orleans Saints

    Route Running: 11/30
    Hands: 
    11/25
    YAC: 
    7/20
    Blocking: 
    13/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    49/100

    Brandon Coleman is the tallest slot receiver in the league at 6'6"; however, he doesn't often use that size to his advantage. He is a wonderful blocker and can occasionally win on a fade route, but he doesn't offer much else as a receiver. He is incredibly stiff in his routes and rarely creates any separation. Every catch is contested and his route tree is limited due to his lack of quickness. Coleman should be a mismatch nightmare in the slot with his huge catch radius, but he is too limited as a route-runner at this stage of his career.

          

    33. Bennie Fowler III, Denver Broncos

    Route Running: 11/30
    Hands: 
    13/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    50/100

    Bennie Fowler should be a beneficiary of all the attention given to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. When Denver's mediocre quarterbacks did throw the ball in Fowler's direction in 2017, he rewarded them with good downfield speed. But there were other instances in which he didn't do enough physically to get and stay open in traffic, leading to incompletions and interceptions. Fowler needs to be more decisive in his route running and more aggressive at the catch point if he's to be anything more than a third or fourth option for whoever's playing quarterback for the Broncos in 2018 and beyond.

         

    32. De'Anthony Thomas, Kansas City Chiefs

    Route Running: 12/30
    Hands: 
    12/25
    YAC: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    52/100

    Mostly used as a return man, De'Anthony Thomas gets some manufactured touches from the slot at times. He's slippery after the catch due to his size (5'8") and athleticism.

          

    31. Pharoh Cooper, Los Angeles Rams

    Route Running: 12/30
    Hands: 
    14/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    52/100

    When rookie Cooper Kupp wasn't in the slot or when the Rams were in four-receiver sets, Pharoh Cooper entered the field. Cooper is a subpar athlete who has to win with precise route running and too often rounds off his routes. He has small, but strong hands and can be difficult to bring down after the catch. Cooper will be stuck behind Kupp for the foreseeable future, and most of his snaps will continue to come as a returner for the Rams.

Nos. 30-26

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    30. Michael Campanaro, Baltimore Ravens

    Route Running: 12/30
    Hands: 
    14/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    55/100

    Michael Campanaro has Limited size and speed, but some quickness and elusiveness after the catch and as a punt returner. He is solid route-runner from the slot but isn't going to win deep or against press coverage. His hands seem fine but his catch radius is limited.

          

    29. Jeremy Maclin, Baltimore Ravens

    Route Running: 12/30
    Hands: 
    14/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    55/100

    Jeremy Maclin often looks disinterested through stretches of the game. Baltimore will move him into the slot to get him open, but he hasn't run routes well from that spot and hasn't caught balls in traffic with much consistency. He's struggled running the correct route against the right coverage, which has resulted in seemingly inaccurate throws—but which aren't always Joe Flacco's fault. This signing hasn't been successful despite Baltimore desperately needing help at receiver.

              

    28. Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals

    Route Running: 14/30
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 56/100

    Entering year two, Tyler Boyd's role seemed to be defined as the starting slot receiver. But after dealing with a knee injury and an off-the-field incident in which he faced drug charges after a traffic stop, Boyd saw his snaps drastically decreased. At this point, I have to wonder if his roster spot is still available in 2018. Will Boyd regain the starting slot job? He ended 2017 very hot in the last two games.

          

    27. Braxton Miller, Houston Texans

    Route Running: 13/30
    Hands: 
    15/25
    YAC: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    As expected, Braxton Miller is still developing as a route-runner, but Houston is helping him with simple routes from the slot while DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller grab the attention from defenses. The Texans put Miller in motion and into the backfield, and they design screens to get him opportunities to run. He catches well while facing the ball, but tracking deep over-the-shoulder throws is hit-and-miss. As a slot receiver, Miller has athletic ability to be deceptive in his routes, but against zone, he drifts into coverage while searching for the soft voids. He's coming along, but needs time.

          

    26. Seth Roberts, Oakland Raiders

    Route Running: 15/30
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    10/20
    Blocking: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    Seth Roberts isn't schemed open as much as some slot receivers. But he's able to win with size (6'2") and good route running. He's a fine complementary player with lapses on the field that hurt his overall production.

Nos. 25-21

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    25. Bruce Ellington, Houston Texans

    Route Running: 12/30
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    57/100

    Ellington played the role of return man and slot receiver, though he received little attention while flanked by DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. When Ellington was the primary target, he struggled to beat man coverage and come through as needed. He leans and gives away his routes very early, and defenders often run his routes for him. He's fine in zone with solid hands and toughness after the catch.

    24. Kendall Wright, Chicago Bears

    Route Running: 21/30
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    6/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    58/100

    Kendall Wright was by far the Bears' most productive receiver in 2017, leading the team in targets, receptions and yards. Wright operated as an outside receiver for the Bears at times, but most of his production came in the slot. Wright isn't the most talented receiver in the world, but he is consistent and was the most reliable option in the Bears' passing attack. He is a solid route-runner who has improved when it comes to catching the ball in tight quarters. He just isn't dynamic after the catch nor a threat down the field. Wright shouldn't be any more than a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver at this stage in his career.

    23. Trent Taylor, San Francisco 49ers

    Route Running: 18/30
    Hands: 
    11/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 58/100

    Trent Taylor is your typical slot receiver. He is a small and extremely quick, and he does his best work within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. Because of his stature (5'8", 178 pounds), his catch radius is small, so he can't afford to drop as many passes as he did in his rookie season. He was a surprisingly good blocker this season, and his route running was as good as advertised. Taylor will always be limited by his size, but he can be an effective player in this league, assuming he can solve his drop issues.

    22. Tyrell Williams, Los Angeles Chargers

    Route Running: 17/30
    Hands: 
    18/25
    YAC: 
    8/20
    Blocking: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    Tyrell Williams looks slow, but he has build-up speed and is able to get deep due to his size and ball skills. He routinely gets deep opportunities that most slot receivers don't enjoy. He's not the most agile or the quickest, and his ability to run after the catch suffers because of it. Williams is a solid player for what the Chargers ask of him.

    21. Brandon LaFell, Cincinnati Bengals

    Route Running: 16/30
    Hands: 
    18/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    60/100

    Brandon LaFell cemented his evaluation in his second year with the Bengals. He's a big-bodied receiver who thrives in inside-breaking routes where he can shield defenders and catch away from his body. Limited in speed and athleticism, LaFell can't win on every route from every point on the field. That's why he's better in the slot. If only he were a better blocker. 

Nos. 20-16

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    20. Rashard Higgins, Cleveland Browns

    Route Running: 15/30
    Hands: 
    17/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    60/100

    The second-year man from Colorado State started just four games in 2017, but he showed up on tape when given the opportunity. His two touchdowns against the Steelers in Week 17 showed his potential. On the first, he took a quick slant from DeShone Kizer and blasted through Pittsburgh's zone defense. On the second, he maintained his angle and leverage on a drag route in the red zone, once again beating coverage with good route awareness. Higgins deserved more opportunities to succeed in the slot in 2018—he's a quick, lanky player with the instincts to find himself open in the middle of the field.

    19. Travis Benjamin, Los Angeles Chargers

    Route Running: 16/30
    Hands: 
    15/25
    YAC: 
    17/20
    Blocking: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    Benjamin is a dangerous weapon due to his speed and elusiveness. The Chargers use a variety of ways to get the ball into his hands as they move him all around the field. Benjamin is classified as a slot receiver because Los Angeles tries to get him free releases and opportunities from inside on most of his targets. His hands are just OK, but he tracks the deep ball very well. He's a unique weapon, and his best plays make one wonder why he never became a more complete receiver.

    18. Jordan Matthews, Buffalo Bills

    Route Running: 16/30
    Hands: 
    18/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 63/100

    Matthews is a big-bodied slot receiver who wins with physicality at the top of his routes. He can push, pull and run directly into a defensive back in order to gain separation, and it often works. This makes a good chunk of his targets contested, but Matthews usually makes the catch. He's a slot guy only because of his lack of physical gifts.

    17. Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys

    Route Running: 21/30
    Hands: 
    18/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Teams have started to figure out Cole Beasley and his role in the Cowboys offense. Beasley has a limited route tree, so defenders are sitting on the underneath routes and daring him to beat them deep. That didn't happen in 2017. Beasley is still an explosive athlete who can win in one-on-one coverage, but he wasn't as effective this year as he has been in previous seasons.

    16. Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers

    Route Running: 21/30
    Hands: 
    18/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Randall Cobb used to be one of the most dynamic slot receivers in the league because he could beat defenders with both quickness and his lower-body power. But injuries and age may have caught up to Cobb, as he no longer has that elite athleticism from the slot. He is still a savvy route-runner and a reliable pass-catcher, but he just doesn't scare teams after the catch.

Nos. 15-11

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    15. Albert Wilson, Kansas City Chiefs

    Route Running: 19/30
    Hands: 
    17/25
    YAC: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Wilson is often overshadowed in the Chiefs offense, but he played a reliable slot role. He runs crisp routes with good timing and depth and does a great job when the quarterback scrambles. Wilson is hard to tackle after the catch and usually shows solid hands. He's an underrated player.

    14. Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

    Route Running: 21/30
    Hands: 
    17/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    This year was supposed to be Tyler Lockett's breakout season. But Paul Richardson ended stealing the No. 2 job, which left Lockett as a part-time slot receiver, splitting time with Doug Baldwin inside. However, it wasn't a bad year for Lockett at all. He improved as a route-runner and was able to execute more routes underneath this season as opposed to just being a deep threat. He cut down on the number of drops in his third NFL season and even relied less on using his body to catch routine passes. While Lockett played a lot in the slot in 2017, his best position in the NFL is as an outside receiver. He may get the chance to do that if Richardson leaves in free agency this offseason.

    13. Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins

    Route Running: 24/30
    Hands: 
    15/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    7/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 66/100

    After a breakout season in 2016 and the loss of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in free agency, it was assumed that Jamison Crowder would become the team's new No. 1 receiver and take the next step. That didn't happen. Crowder finished the season with fewer catches, yards and touchdowns than he did in 2016. Crowder is at his best when he runs ins and outs from the slot, but his routes can get sloppy when he is asked to do more. He has strong hands, but he suffered through too many drops in 2017. Crowder has the potential to be one of the more well-rounded slot receivers in the league, but 2017 was not his best season.

    12. Danny Amendola, New England Patriots

    Route Running: 20/30
    Hands: 
    18/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Despite being the forgotten man in New England's offense, Danny Amendola seems to produce when called upon. He's strictly a slot receiver and gets help from the Patriots scheme and Tom Brady, but Amendola is a precise route-runner with agility and veteran tricks to help him get open.

    11. Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

    Route Running: 22/30
    Hands: 
    18/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    8/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Heading into the draft, the knock on Cooper Kupp was that he was likely only going to be a slot receiver in the NFL. But after a rookie season in which he caught 62 passes for 869 yards and five touchdowns, being just a slot receiver might not be a bad thing after all. Kupp quickly developed into one of Jared Goff's favorite targets, especially on third down. Kupp did suffer from careless drops this year, but his ability to consistently get open versus man and zone coverage made him the Rams' go-to in critical situations. Kupp isn't dynamic after the catch, but he can make a defender miss at times. He has a massive catch radius and knack for making clutch plays. Kupp was one of the best rookie receivers this season.

10. Mohamed Sanu, Atlanta Falcons

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Route Running: 22/30
    Hands: 
    18/25
    YAC: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    With Julio Jones demanding all the attention from opposing defenses in 2017, Mohamed Sanu had one of the best seasons of his career. Sanu is a bigger slot receiver who also the ability to play on the outside in the Falcons' two-receiver sets. Sanu's game can be streaky at times, as his production often depends on the cornerback he is facing. If he is facing a smaller cornerback in the slot, he can overpower him with his size and strong hands. But if he draws a bigger cornerback, he can struggle because he doesn't always create enough separation. Sanu has found himself in a nice role as the Falcons' No. 2 receiver.

    —NFL1000 WR scout Marcus Mosher

         

    Like most of the best slot receivers, Sanu is very creative in short spaces—he understands how to use his hands against a defender to get separation, and then he's astute when it comes to running routes in ways that present himself as an easy open read to the quarterback. Sanu also has the smooth acceleration to be an asset on deep seam routes. He doesn't have top-end speed, but he comes to play with most other necessary assets.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

9. Sterling Shepard, New York Giants

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Route Running: 23/30
    Hands: 
    18/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    10/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade:
     71/100

    After a number of injuries to Giants pass-catchers, Sterling Shepard ascended to be the team's No.1 receiver. Shepard experienced a big dip in touchdowns this year (eight in 2016 to just two in 2017), but he was a much better receiver overall. He continued to improve his route running and reduced his drops. But his biggest improvement came after the catch, as he was much more dangerous in the open field than he was as a rookie. With better quarterback play and the return of Odell Beckham Jr. in 2018, Shepard could be in for a massive breakout in his third year.

    —NFL1000 WR scout Marcus Mosher

         

    Shepard's primary asset as a receiver, something he also showed in college, is a clear ability to use head-fakes, body movement and an awareness of the holes in coverages to remain open as coverage is converging. He has an impressive sense of when to time the break on his route and leave a defender a step late. While he also has the speed necessary for big plays, it's his short-to-intermediate game that sets Shepard apart. 

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

8. Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    Route Running: 23/30
    Hands: 
    16/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    71/100

    One of the most improved players of the season, Nelson Agholor found a home in the slot in the Eagles offense. He doesn't have elite quickness, athleticism or size, but Agholor is a smart receiver who knows how to get open. He is also a valuable player in the run game, as he is by far the best blocking receiver on the Eagles. Agholor still struggles with drops at times, but he was a fantastic asset for the Eagles this season, especially in the red zone.

    —NFL1000 WR scout Marcus Mosher

         

    Moving Agholor from outside to the slot in 2017, a move predicated on the trade of receiver Jordan Matthews to the Bills, saved Agholor's career. The USC alum was never going to be physical enough to handle the rigors of aggressive press coverage, and his route awareness didn't really stand up to bracket coverage, either. But in the slot, Agholor can use his agility to break free from inside defenders, and his speed allows him to turn any pass into a big play. Kudos to Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and his staff for taking a player on the verge of "bust" status and reviving his potential with a savvy schematic switch.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

7. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Route Running: 18/30
    Hands: 
    20/25
    YAC: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    13/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    JuJu Smith-Schuster brings toughness, physicality and a spark to the Steelers offense. He's faster with the ball in his hands, but his routes are so good that his natural abilities don't limit his success. A very good blocker and runner, JuJu is a great complement to Antonio Brown. 

    —NFL1000 WR scout Joe Goodberry

         

    The second-round rookie from USC proved to be a perfect fit in a Steelers offense that, under offensive coordinator Todd Haley, loves to mix creative vertical passing concepts with a power run game. While Smith-Schuster has the speed to get open downfield, it's his toughness in traffic and route awareness that made him an immediate fit in that offense. Factor in his blocking, and he looks to be a major component of the Steelers passing game for years to come.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

6. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Route Running: 23/30
    Hands: 
    23/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    9/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    Keenan Allen is a No. 1 receiver in a slot receiver's role. Other players in this role don't typically possess the ball-tracking and ability to high-point the ball the way Allen does downfield. He's lost some athleticism over the years after multiple injuries and was forced into the slot, where his lack of speed doesn't negatively affect his game. Allen can still win on the outside because of his route running, size and ball skills.

    —NFL1000 WR scout Joe Goodberry

         

    Allen didn't come into the NFL out of Cal with blazing speed, and injuries certainly haven't made him any faster. That was going to limit him on the outside, but with his size, toughness and outstanding route running—he's right up there with Antonio Brown and Doug Baldwin when you talk about the league's best route-runners—Allen provides much-needed consistency as a slot possession receiver in an offense that can appear random at times. 

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

5. Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Route Running: 20/30
    Hands: 
    21/25
    YAC: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    11/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    Jarvis Landry gets more touches manufactured from the slot than any other receiver. Miami uses him as a running back from the receiver position with short throws and opportunities to run after the catch. He's limited in speed, but his ability to stop quickly, keep his balance and make tacklers miss makes Landry special and productive.

    —NFL1000 WR scout Joe Goodberry

         

    Landry has been one of the most prolific receivers in NFL history over his four-year span—in fact, no receiver has caught more passes in his first four seasons than Landry's 400. Where Landry comes up short when evaluated is that he's more of a short-game receiver than a big-play guy, but in an offense in which he's asked to do more, it's likely he could add more intermediate receptions to his resume. Both his productivity and limitations are products of his offensive system.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

4. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Route Running: 26/30
    Hands: 
    24/25
    YAC: 
    9/20
    Blocking: 
    13/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    79/100

    At age 34, Larry Fitzgerald is still one of the top receivers in all of football. He is able to continue to play at a high level because of his route running, body control and strong hands. He is also a powerful, fearless blocker who isn't afraid to take on much bigger players in the run game. The transition to the slot has proved to be a fantastic move for Fitzgerald, as he has extended his value and productivity through multiple seasons, even as his top-end speed has declined. He's one of the most reliable receivers the NFL has ever had.

    —NFL1000 WR scout Marcus Mosher

         

    Fitzgerald provided a rare combination of speed, game intelligence, strength and route-running brilliance in his prime. Really, the only thing he's lost over the years is speed, and in the slot, he's able to create glaring mismatches against slot cornerbacks (who aren't physical enough to deal with him) and linebackers (who aren't quick and nifty enough to take him step-for-step). His role has changed; his excellence remains obvious.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

3. Golden Tate, Detroit Lions

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Route Running: 25/30
    Hands: 
    22/25
    YAC: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    80/100

    For the fourth season in a row, Golden Tate caught at least 90 passes. He has become one of the most reliable slot receivers in the league. Tate is unique because he can win from the outside or down in the slot. He is extremely quick in and out of his breaks and creates a ton of separation, no matter where he lines up. He is a physical blocker despite only being 5'10", and he isn't afraid to take on anyone in the run game. Tate has developed into one of the most well-rounded receivers and best slot players in the NFL.

    —NFL1000 WR scout Marcus Mosher

         

    Built more like a running back than a traditional outside receiver, Tate looks like a fast-break basketball player at times with his quickness to openings in zone coverages and aggressiveness to get open versus man-on-man defenders. Tate is as much an improviser as he is a route-runner—he's one of the better option route-runners in the NFL, reacting smartly to coverages on the fly. He's become a major part of Detroit's offense, but he's the type of adaptive player who would find success in just about any system.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

2. Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings

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    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

    Route Running: 27/30
    Hands: 
    21/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    12/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    80/100

    After not doing much in his first two seasons in the NFL, Vikings slot receiver Adam Thielen broke out in the second half of 2016 and continued his breakout campaign this season. Thielen caught 91 passes for over 1,200 yards in his fourth season, as he was the team's primary slot receiver after playing on the outside for most of his first three years as a pro. He has the size at 6'2", 200 pounds to box out defenders on slants and on comebacks, but also the awareness to know where the soft spot in a zone will be at the snap of the ball. Thielen dropped a few passes this season, but he has an incredible catch radius and some of the strongest hands at his position. He has turned himself into one of the best slot receivers in the league.

    —NFL1000 WR scout Marcus Mosher

         

    Thielen burst onto the NFL scene in 2016, his third season in the league, and be built on that in 2017, when he proved to be one of the most valuable inside and outside receivers in the league. Thielen has the speed to win on vertical boundary routes, he understands how to use his size and physicality to gain an advantage on contested catches and his increased understanding of the value of leverage in route running became clear in 2017.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

1. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Route Running: 27/30
    Hands: 
    21/25
    YAC: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    13/15
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    81/100

    At this stage in his career, Doug Baldwin is one of the best route-runners in the league. Period. There is no one who can press him at the line of scrimmage, as he is just too quick for any defender. Baldwin is a special receiver because not only can he win with his quickness from the slot, but he can win with his speed down the sideline on 50-50 balls. He is one of the more physical slot receivers in the league and doesn't mind turning a slot matchup into a wrestling match. He is the Seahawks' No.1 option in the passing game and can be near unguardable at times.

    —NFL1000 WR scout Marcus Mosher

         

    Baldwin plays the receiver positions with a linebacker's mentality—"Angry Doug" has a chip permanently installed on his shoulder, and he uses that aggression when breaking free from tight coverage. Perhaps no receiver in the league is better at shaking cornerbacks from coverage on a first step; Baldwin reads coverage keys so well, he's able to anticipate what a defender's about to do, and he responds accordingly. He's maximized his physical potential and become one of the most productive and consistent receivers in the NFL. Doing so in a Seattle offense that is rarely consistent in any other capacity makes his achievements even more noteworthy.

    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar