Admit it — if I say “slot receiver,” you probably think of Wes Welker, and why wouldn’t you? Welker has redefined the position as it’s grown in importance throughout the NFL with his uncanny command of option routes and short-area concepts. But there’s more to the slot role than a bunch of seven-yard slants these days. Victor Cruz of the New York Giants has become a new kind of speed slot receiver, putting safeties to the test with elite speed up the seam. Other teams have followed that paradigm, but the really interesting thing about the slot position these days is how many teams are taking their star receivers and putting them inside to create matchups that are nearly impossible for defenses to win.
This wasn’t as much of a concern in the days when passing offenses weren’t so wide open and formation-diverse, but in a new era, it makes all the sense in the world. If you can put your $60 million receiver with his rare height/speed/agility prowess on a nickel cornerback or linebacker, why on earth not?
Take the case of Brandon Marshall. In 2012, the Chicago Bears’ star receiver ran 120 of his 546 routes from the slot. He was targeted 33 times, caught 22 passes for 318 yards, and scored two touchdowns. This season, Marshall has already been in the slot for 211 of his 467 routes — an uptick in slot percentage from 22.0% to 45.2% — and has 31 catches on 48 targets for 459 yards and five touchdowns. Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne before he was injured, Andre Johnson … the list goes on and on.
As Greg Cosell of NFL Films and ESPN’s NFL Matchup explained, this tactic is a great way to push your best receivers away from your opponents’ top cornerbacks — because as much as receivers can adapt to the slot role, it’s a lot tougher for some pass defenders. Continue Reading
Marcus Mariota’s announcement Tuesday that he would return to Oregon for his redshirt junior season delivered an early jolt to the 2014 NFL draft board … and rendered our Mock Draft 3.0, released just hours before Mariota’s news, relatively moot.
So, in light of that, here’s Mock Draft 3.1, with the necessary adjustments made to account for Mariota being off the board.
No, that’s not a joke headline. Despite being 2-10 with 10 consecutive losses, the Texans have yet to be eliminated from the AFC’s playoff chase. (Which also means, as you might have figured out, that every AFC team still has at least a long-shot chance at postseason play).
But since the Texas have the most remote odds — and since only one sub-.500 team (2011 Seattle) has ever qualified for the NFL playoffs — it only felt right to investigate their road to glory, with a little help from ESPN.com’s Playoff Machine.
Here’s what has to happen for the Texans to claim a wild-card spot …
There’s been a lot of talk about the on-field move that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made during the kick return from Baltimore Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones during the two teams’ matchup on Thanksgiving night. Tomlin inadvertently stepped on the field from his sideline, and Jones had to break from his path to avoid a collision. Jones returned the kick for a 73-yard gain with 6:26 left in the third quarter of the Ravens’ 22-20 win, but was tackled by defensive back Cortez Allen on the play. Baltimore had to settle for a field goal on the subsequent drive.
During his Tuesday morning press conference, Tomlin opened with a statement that he hoped would put the matter to rest from an integrity perspective.
College football has reached its championship weekend, meaning that several of the best teams in the country will be battling it out for trophies and BCS bids. And yet, despite seven of the top 10 teams in the country taking the field with plenty on the line, the number of projected 2014 first-round picks in action will be relatively limited.
Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, long believed to be the frontrunner to go No. 1, will take on Cincinnati in his final regular-season game. But teams like Oregon, UCLA, Texas A&M, Clemson, South Carolina and Alabama all will sit out the festivities.
Either way, players headed to the NFL next season mostly have either one or two games left to open scouts’ eyes before the pre-draft gauntlet of All-Star games, the combine and individual workouts. So, things obviously will change again between now — our latest mock draft — and the actual draft in early May.
But as December rolls in, here’s a look at how Round 1 might shake out: