This week at PFF, we’re continuing to reach out to NFL fans with some of our unique Signature Stat-based articles. These signatures are somewhere between your everyday stats and our PFF grades, provided a greater look at player performance than regular stats can provide.
Earlier this week we brought you our look at the best and worst of the league’s wide receivers when it comes to their work in the slot. Now, we’re turning our attention to the tight ends.
A role which had grown as more athletic tight ends have entered the league, with teams putting a greater emphasis on players who can create the toughest mismatch for the opposing defense as opposed to the traditional tight ends who would spend most of their time lined up directly next to either offensive tackle.
This change in philosophy has lead to some controversy recently, with the New Orleans Saints superstar tight end Jimmy Graham likely to fight his designation as a tight end for franchise tag purposes on the basis of how much of his work is done from the slot and out wide. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the league’s best performed in the slot in 2013.
To qualify, a tight end needed to have run at least 105 routes from the slot.
Yards Per Route Run
The Top Five
The Denver Broncos’ high-powered offense took them all the way to the Super Bowl, only to fall at the final hurdle, and tight end Julius Thomas was a big part of that. 314 of his 864 receiving yards came from the slot, and his 2.31 YPRR average was third amongst all tight ends and wide receivers behind only Anquan Boldin and Vincent Jackson.
Though he missed most of the season through injury, Rob Gronkowski’s place on this list is important. One of the few true complete tight ends left in football, he’s at home both as an in-line tight end and out in the slot. If he can get back on the field consistently, he represents one of the toughest assignments for any defense in the league.
The Bottom Five
Jordan Cameron’s inclusion in the bottom five may come as a surprise here, and is down to his inability to get much after the catch, averaging just 3.0 YAC per reception on all his receptions in 2013. Heath Miller struggled in his comeback from injury, but he’ll be 32 not long into the 2014 season and it’s fair to question if he can get back to his best. Garrett Graham had just 53 yards from the slot from 118 routes run, giving him a 0.45 YPRR average that was the worst mark of wide receivers and tight ends from the slot.
The Top Seven
So safe were the hands of these seven that we had to extend what would have simply been a Top 5. Gronkowski again makes an appearance, highlighting how important it is for him to get back to full health for the Patriots. Coby Fleener saw an increased role from the slot in his second season in the league for the Indianapolis Colts, and managed to go without a drop from the 29 catchable passes thrown his way. After leading the way in terms of YPRR, Denver’s Thomas was again tied for the top mark here, with no drops from the 25 catchable balls thrown his way in the slot.
The Bottom Five
Dropping a quarter of the passes thrown his way, only Cleveland’s Davone Bess had a worse Drop Rate from the slot amongst wide receivers and tight ends than Mychal Rivera. He wasn’t helped by having such a small sample size of passes thrown his way from the slot, but with three drops from 12 catchable passes, it’s easy to see why the Oakland quarterbacks wouldn’t look his way more often.
Jared Cook’s inclusion gives weight to the belief that he is a boom or bust type player, capable of moments of brilliance but just not on a consistent level. Charles Clay was one of the more versatile options in the league last year, lining up at tight end, in the backfield, out wide and in the slot, but he’ll be disappointed to have had the fourth worst drop rate amongst tight ends and wide receivers from the slot.
While both of these signature stats give a clearer look at how wide receivers have performed in the slot, nothing quite compares to our PFF grades. The grades take into account how difficult a catch it was to make, with not every drop equally as bad, as well as crediting a receiver for his work after the catch. The good news, is that a PFF membership gives you access to both the grades, and our various signature stats, coming in at just $26.99 for a year’s membership.
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