A slot is a term used to describe an area of the field that wide receivers line up pre-snap in between the last man on the line of scrimmage (tight end or offensive tackle) and the outside receiver. In this area, they can be positioned to make certain types of routes that are unique to the slot receiver position.
Slots are not as common on the field today as they were in the past, but they have become increasingly important to offensive coordinators. In fact, slot receivers have been targeted on nearly 40 percent of passing attempts in recent seasons.
The skill set of a slot receiver is largely determined by their pre-snap alignment, but they also need to have great speed and hands. They need to be able to run complex routes that involve elusion and evasion, as well as great awareness of the defensive backs in their area.
They must be able to block, too, as they are often asked to defend multiple levels of defenders in the slot. They need to be able to protect their quarterback on key downs, as well as help keep the offense from getting overrun.
Their speed and elusiveness are key to their ability to get open in the slot, as they have to be able to catch the ball quickly without being ripped down by the defenders in front of them. They may need to carry the ball from time to time, too.
As a result, the physical skills of a slot receiver are much more advanced than those of an outside receiver. They must be able to block well enough to be a strong, reliable presence in the middle of the field, and they need to be tough enough to absorb contact as they go through tackles.
In addition to the physical skills, a slot receiver must have excellent route running and timing skills, as they need to be on the same page with the quarterback to make plays. This is because they are asked to do so much in the slot area of the field, and they need to be able to communicate effectively with the quarterback and other players on the team about where they are in relation to each defender.
Slots are a key part of the blocking system for offenses, as they can attack all three levels of defense — the line of scrimmage, the linebackers, and the secondary. This makes them a vital part of the offensive scheme, and they are often the primary target for their quarterbacks on big downs.
The slot position in the NFL has been around for decades, and there are several players who have exemplified the role of the Slot Receiver. They include Wayne Chrebet, Wes Welker, Charlie Joiner, Julian Edelman, and Andre Rison.
They are drafted and signed as wide receivers, but they generally earn the title of slot receiver due to their specific skill set. They are able to do things that most wide receivers cannot, and this helps the offensive playbook become more versatile.