new york jets legend wayne chrebet is one of many great slot receivers who ventures into the midst of nasty nfl defenses.
is the third and seventh. you represent the slot wide receiver on the right side of the formation. x on the right, z and the tight end (y) on the other side. defensively, he’s a pretty penny. nickel is in a firm, direct pressing technique with hands ready to strike.
your quarterback already knows the presnap. you know the quarterback knows he’s out to get you. your job is to beat the man’s cover and go wide on the bias.
the center serves the ball. you step left, drive hard right just before the throw left along with a rip underneath to beat the press.
you did it. are you open. all it takes now is to catch the ball as it heads for the belly of the beast, the second level of a nasty nfl defense that shows two inside linebackers and a possible strong safety (hello, steve atwater) snooping around the box and/or a thief.
what choice do you have?
Catch the ball while looking to pick up a small yak or catch while you find yourself part of the turf thanks to a 250-pound specimen hitting you in the ear. these guys had a choice, but they took on a role that sacrificed personal well-being for team success.
this is (was, before the new rules) the Sunday reality of slot receivers in the national football league.
from the start, the slot catcher was as real as sidd finch. The pre-Super Bowl era featured strong running attacks and “wings” instead of wide receivers. the t-formation or single wing was a popular look. then shortly after the modern era began, slot machine formation was introduced.
the man who really pushed the split back look was oakland raiders head coach al davis.
a disciple of sid gillman, david was not the first to play the slot; he was simply the first to routinely force the issue. the king of stretching the field vertically with speed was relentless.
then air coryell passed by.
San Diego Chargers head coach Dan Coryell became the first notable sideline boss to make extensive use of the three-receiver set. This, in effect, ushered in the true slot receiver’s first sprinkling and forced the defense to counter with zone blitz (dick lebeau) schemes and the nickel defense.
Of course, Coryell didn’t make use of 11-persons (3wr, 1te, 1rb) as widely as he is used today (more than 50 percent of all opportunities), but he boosted his presence throughout the league.
for the early days, the slot receiver was reserved for the shorter, slower weapon that simply wasn’t good enough for the outside role. this continued through the 1980s and even into the early 1990s, except for bill walsh’s concept that every receiver needed to know their slot roles and path trees.
Today, there is no separation. while there are many that fit the place much better, it’s a starting point in its own right.
in this particular space of the internet, we’re counting down the best slot catchers in nfl history. remember, the list is based solely on the slots game. Don’t be confused if some of the game’s greats who played a bit of slots don’t appear ahead of the lesser players who thrived extensively on slots.
- cris carter (min, phi)
- larry fitzgerald (ari)
- jerry rice (nd, oak, sea)
- randall cobb (gb)
- doug baldwin (mar)
- Jarvis Landry (cle, mia)
- golden state (mar, det, phi)
cris carter, larry fitzgerald, and best ever jerry rice in the notables section? Yes, as I already mentioned, we are talking about slots. if this were the greatest wide receiver of all time, it would be very different.
rice qualifies because of bill walsh’s west coast mentality. within their offense, each weapon needed to know each position. this even went all the way to the bottom as roger craig, ricky watters and tom rathman had to be behind them at all times.
Although Rice didn’t play the slots much, he was still extremely effective when put in place during the early days of the job. overall, it was much more vertical than horizontal, making for a nastier matchup along the sideline.
larry fitzgerald didn’t start out as a slot machine, but in recent seasons, that’s where he’s thrived. randall cobb, golden tate, doug baldwin and especially jarvis landry are all representatives of today’s slots killers.
10. hines room
ward hines represents one of the most underrated wide receivers in nfl history. despite his height and lack of top speed, he could line up outside and in the slot. this is exactly why it is not higher on the list; his versatility allowed him the freedom to move before the snap.
including 1,000 catches for 12,085 yards and 85 touchdowns, the man was simply a beast at the slots, especially during the days of ken whisenhunt.
oh yeah, and his stance lock is probably the best high-impact job we’ve ever seen. rolling crackbacks out of the slot was a forward player’s worst nightmare when he lined up against hines ward. having the ability to block like this from the slot allows for a hand that doesn’t lean (because it’s not directed toward the line of scrimmage movement).
9. Tim Brown
a product of notre dame tim brown loved to play slots and for many years had the perfect coach who enabled him to do so.
in jon gruden’s offense, brown often played inside. At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Brown’s stature was perfectly suited to the inner forms of a West Coast system.
8. Victor Cruz
perhaps no slot receiver in nfl history enjoyed as short a period of dominance as victor cruz.
Make no mistake about it, the man could do it all. The 2011 New York Jets understood this better than anyone. But when Kevin Gilbride—a former run-and-gun disciple—opened it with a personal look of 11, Cruz took the slot and gave almost every defensive coordinator a headache.
if it weren’t for only 70 career games, cruz would be in the top three. Let him alone understand his story: an undrafted guy who beat all the odds, an underdog family story that echoes throughout NFL history.
cruz and eli manning were the most dangerous duo we have ever seen.
7. andré laughs
speaking of run and gun, here comes andre risan.
when rison arrived in atlanta in 1990, it was all over. Under the watchful eye of jerry glanville, rison had 1,208 yards and 10 touchdowns on 82 receptions.
for those who don’t know, the run and shoot showed a four-sided look with a one-sided look. his tenets were heavy on a vertical pass attack based on quarterback-to-receiver confidence. the route trees were extensive, meaning that the specific defensive aspect would dictate the routes.
rison was the falcons top slotter for much of his five seasons in atlanta. He then captured a ring with Brett Favre in 1996 while playing slots for headlines Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks.
6. andré cane
from running and shooting the k-gun, now we play andre reed.
The kutztown product may have shown some outbursts at times, but when he slid into Jim Kelly’s place, madness broke loose.
reed had 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns on 951 receptions during a 16-year career. the only thing keeping him higher on the list was the dangerous presence of him as an outside guy as well. don beebe shared the slots workload with reed for much of the k-gun era.
5. Julian Edelman
now we’re getting to a heavy place. For all that Tom Brady has made history, his upbringing of the great slots shines through.
since bill belichick switched salary-cap strategy from defense to offense after the 2006 afc championship game (loss to peyton manning’s indianapolis colts), the hometowns have deployed a well-timed, short passing attack .
He has created slot monsters, including Julian Edelman.
Look no further than last week’s AFC title game against the Kansas City Chiefs. when brady needed edelman in the middle, he was there.
edelman also represents that true underdog slots story that is seemingly universal. As a 4-foot-10 high school freshman, no one believed he could take it to the highest level.
4. ernest givins
When Atlanta was enjoying run and guns with Chris Miller in the early 1990s, the Houston Oilers were already swimming in it. no wonder that’s exactly where jerry glanville came from.
Under the direction of Kevin Gilbride, Ernest Givins, standing just 5ft 9in tall and weighing just 178lbs, was as electric as coming out of the groove.
He never racked up massive numbers in a single season, mainly due to the wealth shared with four catchers, but Givins exemplified everything the slot was all about during his era.
3. carpenter charlie
charlie joiner is the original target of the slot.
thanks to air coryell, the 5-foot-11, 188-pound carpenter became dan fouts’ most consistent and reliable slot weapon.
The three-time pro-bowl pick may have seemed to play second or even third fiddle to outside studs like John Jefferson and Wes Chandler, and tight end Kellen Winslow, but he paved the way for all the other names in this season. same list.
2. Wes Welker
wes welker is considered by many to be the greatest slot receiver of all time. Although I don’t think that idea is a bad one, the man had Tom Brady and Peyton Manning at his disposal.
the moment he arrived in foxborough with randy moss was the moment the entire nfl knew things had changed in the northeast. With Moss’ vertical play and the Welkers fearless below the slot, Brady broke the single-season touchdown mark during the perfect 16-0 regular season.
She was incredibly smart. welker always knew which route to run and exactly where to fit in throughout the second level. cemented the beginning of the golden age of slot receivers.
1. wayne chrebet
what’s the golden era of slot catchers without new york jets legend wayne chrebet actually starting it?
if charlie joiner was the first and wes welker the cementer, chrebet was the guy who turned heads at the unathletic, too small to play slot machine.
am I biased? maybe. he still represents a whole generation of kids who aspire to make it without having the tools to receive that prestigious invite to the nfl combine.
Also understand this: the main task of the slot receiver is the third try. Chrebet recorded 379 receptions from third to first in his 580 career receptions. man was money when he counted most. he only looks at the monday night miracle and the green lantern game (keyshawn johnson’s revenge contest) for evidence.
welker can easily be no. 1. statistically, it should be. In the end, however, it is the respect that overwhelms:
in between until the day we die. @edelman11 @waynechrebet #elpadrino pic.twitter.com/tqmstkhq6v
—Danny Amendola (@dannyamendola) May 1, 2016
the only solid move rich kotite pulled off in new jersey was aiming for no. 3 (during camp and preseason) and saying out loud, “yes, this undrafted Hofstra kid has what it takes to play professional football.”
the north jersey kid looked so out of place that jets security didn’t let him into the building the first day. he was literally stopped and detained, denied entry to the team facility by a guard who thought he was too small to be considered a real nfl player. it took a few phone calls to grant him access.
no catcher in the history of the game inspired like the garfield native did. the way the 5-foot-10, 188-pound boy ventured into the middle of the field was more than audacious. forget it without fear, it was absolutely reckless.
In the end, he paid the price. Rumors about his failing health hit the media from time to time, forcing MetLife Stadium to grow even bigger. 80 t-shirts on Sundays.
the outpouring of love from within the organization and respect from the outside is simply incredible for a player who only amassed 7,365 career yards and 41 touchdowns on 580 receptions.
divide it however you like between the first two, chrebet and welker. just understand that it was wayne crebet who turned this slots business into a legit idea during an era that brutally punished anyone who dared to cross the belly of the beast.