The NFL’s 5 best slot receivers

Which receivers are most dangerous out of the slot in today's NFL? Bryson Vesnaver runs down the list.

| 1 month ago
Jarvis Landry

(Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

The NFL’s 5 best slot receivers

The slot receiver position has never been a bigger part of the game than it is in today’s NFL. Gone are the days of strictly two-receiver sets with a tight end who was there to block more than to catch passes. With offenses as spread out as they are today, quarterbacks need that reliable slot receiver who they know is going to work the middle of the field and pick up the tough yards. It’s rare to find a successful passing offense today without a solid slot receiver involved.

Last season, 36 NFL receivers played at least 50 percent of their snaps in the slot position, tied for the most PFF has seen in a single season (the PFF era dates back to 2006). With the large amount of projected slot receivers drafted this season, that record could be broken this year. While some teams are clearly looking for the next great slot receiver, other teams already have their favorite slot targets in place. This list takes a look at the top five slot receivers in the NFL today, focusing solely on their production when lined up in the slot.

[For more slot-specific statistics, be sure to check out PFF Elite today.]

1. Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins

Landry may not be the name that first comes to mind when one thinks of great NFL slot receivers, but he’s clearly playing at the highest level in the league today. He ran 72.7 percent of his snaps last season out of the slot and found great success. In 2016, Landry led the league in both slot receptions and slot yards, catching 65 of 85 targets for 856 yards. He added four touchdowns, as well. His 2.33 yards per route run out of the slot was the second-highest mark in the league. His drop rate in the slot was 5.8 percent, below the average for slot receivers (7.1 percent). Landry was near the top of ever category for slot receivers in 2016, and is clearly the cream of the crop when it comes to the position in today’s NFL.

2. Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Here’s the name many fans associate with slot receivers in the NFL. People may be surprised, however, to learn that Edelman only spent 53.5 percent of his snaps last year in the slot (the cut-off for this list is 50 percent). What’s more, that was the highest percentage of snaps Edelman played in the slot since he became a full-time starter. But despite playing far less of a slot role than the other receivers on this list, his success there cannot be denied. Edelman’s 63 slot receptions last season ranked second in the NFL, while his 724 yards ranked third. He averaged 2.42 yards per route run out of the slot, the highest mark in the league. No slot receiver was more likely to be thrown to when lined up there than Edelman, who was targeted 29.1 percent of the time he lined up in the slot.

3. Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys

While Beasley may not be the best slot receiver in the league, he has a strong argument for most consistent. He caught 56 passes last year from the slot, seventh-most in the NFL. In fact, that seventh-best ranking was the lowest ranking he received among any major slot category. His 647 yards gained ranked sixth, and his 1.88 yards per route run average was even better, ranking fifth. Beasley is one of the most sure-handed slot receivers in the league, as evidenced by his mere two drops last season. Only one receiver (Atlanta’s Mohamed Sanu) had a better catch rate (percentage of total targets caught) than Beasley’s 78.9 percent. He did all of this with a rookie quarterback in the run-first offense, too. It’s not crazy to think that, as Cowboys QB Dak Prescott improves, Beasley will become an even bigger and better slot weapon for the Dallas offense.

4. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

If this list was made immediately after the 2015 NFL season, Baldwin would’ve ranked at the top, thanks to a 2015 campaign in which he ranked first among slot receivers in yards, yards per route run, touchdowns, and catch rate. He took a slight step back in 2016, as did the entire Seattle offense. But Baldwin still finished in the top five for both receptions and yards, with 60 catches for 649 yards out of the slot. He also had the fourth-best catch percentage, at 77.9, and one of the better drop rates, at 4.76 percent (three drops last year). He’s still clearly QB Russell Wilson’s most trusted receiver; look for Baldwin to have a bounce-back season if this Seahawks’ offense can improve upon a below-average 2016 season.

5. Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints

Snead had a very solid under-the-radar season for the Saints out of the slot last year, providing quarterback Drew Brees with a solid security-blanket receiver. Snead’s 56 receptions out of the slot tied for seventh among slot receivers, but his 707 yards ranked fourth. He averaged a fourth-best 1.89 yards per route run, as well, and his catch rate of 74.7 percent ranked sixth. He did drop four passes last year, which led to a below-average 6.67 percent drop rate, but that wasn’t enough to knock him off this list. With the loss of WR Brandin Cooks (traded to Patriots) from the offense, Snead has the chance to have a breakout season this year in a Saints offense that will have no shortage of passes for him to snag.

[Want more Pro Football Focus signature statistics? Be sure to check out PFF Elite.]

| Analyst

Bryson has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, and has also been a contributor to 120 Sports.

  • dlund6cutler

    Troy Williamson?

    • Andre Taylor

      He isn’t even in the NFL anymore

      • dlund6cutler

        I know, it was a joke and he was one of the biggest busts I’ve ever seen.

  • Donnie Palmer

    Ask Wilson or Carroll if they would trade Baldwin straight up for any of the guys on this list including Landry. Answer is no.

    • Tooms

      Their loss.

    • Andre Taylor

      Much like he did at USC, Pete Carroll destroys a team just as he builds it up. Jarvis Landry is younger, and has been more productive then Doug Balwin in the span that he has been in the NFL. Check the stats, it really won’t matter if tbe O-line isn’t improved. Russell Wilson was banged up early and often last year, if he goes down then the Seahawks season is over.

      • Donnie Palmer

        You’ve hit on several themes here so pls forgive the length to respond.

        “Carroll destroys a team”. He’s been to 5 consecutive playoffs (3rd longest active street after NE and GB’s 8). Has won a playoff game in 5 consecutive playoffs (2nd longest streak after NE’s 6). There are 30 other teams that would love to be this “destroyed”. Interestingly, it’s the other teams in the NFC West — once thought to be the toughest division in football — that have fallen by the wayside while Seattle remains as the firm favorite to again win the division and according to Vegas, to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl along with Dallas and GB.

        You reference the shitty OL and Wilson being banged up. Exactly what happened last year. 10-5-1, and a playoff win although unfortunately only one. Fell short of the ultimate goal but hardly “destroyed”. And of course for 2017 that OL now has a year of experience under its belt and some new help. No they won’t be the Dallas OL, but they won’t be as bad as last year either. That, plus the schedule this year, would seem to indicate maybe 11-5 or 12-4? Sorry but I can’t see how Carroll has “destroyed” Seattle, what evidence do you have please?

        “Landry was more efficient than Baldwin”. Also don’t see that in the data. He was indeed the most targeted, by a ton. But the most efficient? Pulled all of the below from ESPN’s stats, here’s what I learned, on all 5 of the listed guys. Career stats to avoid one-hit wonders:

        – Targets/gm: Landry 8.5, Edelman 6.2, Beasley 4.2, Baldwin 5.7, Snead 6.9
        – Completion: Landry 70.8%, Edelman 66.4%, Beasley 72.7%, Baldwin 68.7%, Snead 68.4%
        – YPA: Landry 7.5, Edelman 7.1, Beasley 7.6, Baldwin 9.24, Snead 9.12
        – TD’s%: Landry 3.2% Edelman 3.8%, Beasley 5.3%, Baldwin 6.7%, Snead 3.4%
        – First down %: Landry 39.3%, Edelman 35.8%, Beasley 45.3%, Baldwin 43.8%, Snead 46.1%
        – QB rating when targeted: Landry 101.9, Edelman 98.2, Beasley 108.0, Baldwin 120.2, Snead 106.4

        Targets? Landry by far. Efficiency? Baldwin’s the man.

        • Andre Taylor

          Its interesting how when a fan truly wants to look at a team as they would like to see them, the glass is half full. As a former D1 college football player, i see things very different than most fans. Im a diehard Baltimore Raven fan, however i see my team for what it truly is. Not as i would like to see them, whether it be positive or negative. First let me say i am not interested nor do i base anything off of what Vegas odd’s are, if you choose to do so that is your right. Now to the Seahawks, not once in my previous post did i say, insinuate, or claim that the Seahawks were or going to be a bad team. What i did say is that Pete Carroll has a history of building a dominate program to an elite level, but also destroying his creation with same vigor that he used to create it. Up until the one yard line, late the Super Bowl against the Patriots. The Seahawks were on the verge of a dynasty, however at that point the downfall of the Seahawks began. Whether it was his idea or someone higher up than him, to call a pass play rather than running the ball with Marshawn Lynch(the same guy they call beast mode), Carroll chose to call a pass play that was well scouted by the Patriots defense. There is a large population of football fans, analyst, experts, and executive’s that call it the worst play call in Super Bowl history. After arriving in a trade with the Bills, Marshawn Lynch gave the Seahawks their identity. His hard charging style was the tone setter as they began to develop into a Super Bowl winning team, but because he wasn’t fond of the media the powers that be chose to lose the Super Bowl rather than see Lynch as the MVP. A year later Lynch retires, egotistical Pete Carroll began to turn the Seahawks into a passing team. Whether by default or choice, allowing their entire O-line to leave, then traded pro-bowl C Max Uger for injury prone diva TE Jimmy Graham and a 1st round pick. Since that Sunday the dysfunction has begun to grow and grow, they have massive amounts of money tied up in their defense. Yet FS Earl Thomas was talking retirement, SS Cam Chancellor has been in and out of the starting lineup and wants a raise, ALL-PRO CB Richard Sherman was on the trading block most of the off-season. Although still a excellent defense, the starters are getting older and unaffordable. The run game has become a shell of its former greatness, you claim the O-line is improved. How so? Their best and most consistent lineman OT Garry Gilliam was signed to an offer sheet they chose not to match by their division rivals. Up until last year GM John Schneider hadn’t drafted an O-lineman before the 5th round. Yes they finally found a good Center in Justin Britt, however a year in the system won’t matter when they were all bad. To bring 1st round bust at 2 different positions in LT Luke Joeckel, and call that an improvement is a joke. Then to make matters worse to reach for 2 different players in the 3rd round that were projected to go no higher then the 5th round at positions that were not needs. Yet pass on several O-lineman is just sad, C/G Ethan Pocic is a good prospect. However he is a rookie, and OT Justin Senior isn’t going to set the world on fire. The Seahawks don’t have much cap-space, the O-line is a mess, they have no running game despite investing multiple draft picks into the position. The defense is a getting older and is expensive, your best CB was on the trading block. Both the safeties are coming off injuries, and there is an obvious dissension in their locker room. Ill bet you whatever you would like to bet that the Seahawks will end up going 9-7. Now to the Doug Baldwin and Jarvis Landry debate, not once did i say anything about efficiency. What i do did say is that Landry is younger and more Productive!

    • corners

      Id take Landry over Baldin, hes 4 years younger and they both had similar production. but Landrys been doing it longer

  • John Pledl

    Whattt??? The best graded out slot receiver in 2016 isn’t on YOUR list??? That happens to be GB’s Jordy Nelson. (Look it up!) Bryson, do you get paid for this junk???

    • Donnie Palmer

      He’s clearly a WR1 that sometimes lines up in the slot

    • Vic Junior

      Jordy lines up mostly at the x and y dude what are u saying?…this a graded list not “who I like list”

  • Wayne Turner

    Jamison Crowder can’t get any love…He had better numbers than almost the entire list….847 yards and 7 TDs..MEN lie Women lie but numbers dont

    • Zach

      Those are his totals, the numbers they focus on in this article are #s strictly caught out of the slot

  • dallas1966

    The Cowboys just added another weapon in Ryan Switzer, who will bring the New England Patriots style plays to the Cowboys offense, when he and Beasley is on the field at the same time, causing headache for defensive coordinators. Expect the Cowboys offense to be more explosive in 2017.