Slot vs. wide: Yet another record for Cooper Kupp


Thanks to Sports Info Solutions’ charting, we can break receiving DVOA and DYAR down into slot versus wide splits. Much of this data appears in Football Outsiders Almanac 2022, and we’re going to spend the next couple of weeks breaking down these splits, starting today with wide receivers. Yes, that means more Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase love, because when you’re coming off seasons like they had, you end up at the top of nearly every table you qualify for.

Before we get to the specifics, we should cover the generalities.

League-Wide Trends

Throwing to the slot continues to be more effective than throwing out wide on a per-play basis. In 2021, receivers working either tight or out of the slot had a 2.7% DVOA, while receivers split out wide were at -3.7%. The gap actually widens if you look at just wide receivers, from 4.1% to -4.2%. Getting a talented wideout lined up against a third or fourth corner is usually an advantage for the offense, and working out of the middle of the field also gives receivers more potential options for route running. Add in the ever-increasing amount of nickel defense opening space in the middle of the field, and it appears lining up in the slot is a small but persistent benefit for receivers. It’s not a huge gap, and the size varies from year to year, but it’s consistently there.

Last season, 56.3% of all receiver targets went to wideouts in the slot, and 26 teams saw over half their passes go to slot receivers. Those numbers are both slightly down from last year, but it’s still the predominant strategy for using wideouts. Every team saw at least 46% of its receiver targets go to the slot except for the Pittsburgh Steelers, which makes a little bit of sense when your top target out of the slot is Ray-Ray McCloud; more on him in a bit. Nearly every team with any degree of competency at wideout was finding ways to get targets to its guys inside.

When the entire league zigs, someone has to zag. In 2020, we didn’t have a single wide receiver with at least 80% of his targets split out wide. Well, wide receivers came back in 2021, with DeVante Parker, A.J. Green and Diontae Johnson essentially living outside. Fourteen different wideouts saw twice as many targets outside as inside, including some of the larger names in the sport. Who Dey? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

Individual Totals

The following table shows wide receiver target and performance splits in the slot and out wide in 2021. Those charting labels come from players’ locations on the field regardless of the positioning of their teammates. A receiver who was a few feet away from the offensive line was considered to be in the slot even if he was the widest receiver on that side. Receivers in motion were charted based on their original locations, which tends to be in the slot on jet motions. We have grouped targets from the traditional tight end spot in with slot targets because of their similarity, but that’s not a huge impact on the data; there were only 225 targets to wide receivers lined up tight, with Amon-Ra St. Brown and Cooper Kupp the only ones to hit double digits.

Wide Receivers Slot vs. Wide, 2021
Player Team Slot/Tight Wide Slot% DVOA
Dif
Tgt DYAR DVOA Tgt DYAR DVOA
Cooper Kupp LAR 156 560 32.8% 23 40 9.0% 87.2% 23.8%
Justin Jefferson MIN 81 373 46.1% 89 25 -9.0% 47.6% 55.0%
Davante Adams GB 106 286 21.3% 70 137 12.1% 60.2% 9.2%
Tyreek Hill KC 114 282 18.1% 47 31 -4.4% 70.8% 22.5%
Tyler Lockett SEA 67 257 35.9% 44 55 3.8% 60.4% 32.1%
Deebo Samuel SF 82 234 25.1% 35 16 -6.8% 70.1% 31.8%
Christian Kirk ARI 81 230 23.9% 20 64 27.7% 80.2% -3.8%
Hunter Renfrow LV 119 212 10.4% 10 61 65.3% 92.2% -54.9%
Mike Williams LAC 45 203 43.0% 87 31 -8.1% 34.1% 51.2%
Chris Godwin TB 105 202 11.1% 23 59 20.2% 82.0% -9.1%
Mike Evans TB 47 200 40.7% 69 140 12.6% 40.5% 28.1%
Brandon Aiyuk SF 47 187 38.8% 39 40 1.0% 54.7% 37.9%
Allan Lazard GB 51 186 32.5% 10 9 -0.7% 83.6% 33.2%
Tee Higgins CIN 42 186 42.3% 73 148 14.3% 36.5% 28.0%
Byron Pringle KC 43 179 39.4% 16 30 10.3% 72.9% 29.1%
Kendrick Bourne NE 50 159 29.1% 19 73 40.8% 72.5% -11.7%
Cedrick Wilson DAL 57 159 22.6% 5 -5 -24.9% 91.9% 47.5%
CeeDee Lamb DAL 66 137 13.3% 58 66 1.8% 53.2% 11.5%
Bryan Edwards LV 32 133 40.3% 30 -20 -21.3% 51.6% 61.5%
Amon-Ra St. Brown DET 92 132 5.8% 19 51 20.9% 82.9% -15.1%
Tyler Boyd CIN 87 129 6.2% 6 -11 -36.1% 93.5% 42.4%
Darnell Mooney CHI 101 129 3.8% 42 -74 -33.6% 70.6% 37.4%
DeVonta Smith PHI 44 125 24.7% 62 33 -5.7% 41.5% 30.5%
Amari Cooper DAL 51 124 17.7% 57 54 -0.7% 47.2% 18.4%
Marquez Callaway NO 41 124 26.8% 44 -20 -18.6% 48.2% 45.4%
Tim Patrick DEN 54 118 15.4% 32 73 16.6% 62.8% -1.1%
Corey Davis NYJ 35 100 23.0% 27 -32 -28.0% 56.5% 51.0%
Mecole Hardman KC 59 95 7.6% 23 20 -2.3% 72.0% 9.9%
K.J. Osborn MIN 57 93 9.8% 26 -1 -12.9% 68.7% 22.7%
Keenan Allen LAC 122 91 -3.5% 35 47 5.1% 77.7% -8.6%
Keelan Cole NYJ 25 90 33.9% 28 19 -3.6% 47.2% 37.5%
Jalen Guyton LAC 23 88 34.7% 25 46 12.7% 47.9% 22.0%
Chase Claypool PIT 36 88 18.5% 74 -19 -16.0% 32.7% 34.4%
Stefon Diggs BUF 56 88 6.6% 112 101 -1.2% 33.3% 7.8%
Jarvis Landry CLE 58 83 5.9% 28 -53 -38.4% 67.4% 44.3%
Gabriel Davis BUF 31 83 20.2% 32 37 2.5% 49.2% 17.7%
Michael Pittman IND 65 83 3.9% 66 126 12.1% 49.6% -8.2%
Marquez Valdes-Scantling GB 26 83 31.2% 29 -91 -51.1% 47.3% 82.3%
Quez Watkins PHI 45 81 10.8% 16 7 -7.7% 73.8% 18.5%
Adam Thielen MIN 39 78 13.3% 54 98 10.5% 41.9% 2.9%
Zay Jones LV 41 78 12.2% 31 24 -2.6% 56.9% 14.8%
Laquon Treadwell JAX 25 73 23.9% 27 3 -11.4% 48.1% 35.2%
Jaylen Waddle MIA 95 73 -3.0% 45 52 2.5% 67.9% -5.5%
Donovan Peoples-Jones CLE 29 70 18.5% 32 52 8.3% 47.5% 10.2%
DK Metcalf SEA 39 70 10.0% 92 50 -5.7% 29.8% 15.6%
Nick Westbrook-Ikhine TEN 37 64 9.5% 21 27 4.2% 63.8% 5.2%
Deonte Harris NO 36 63 11.8% 21 81 37.3% 63.2% -25.5%
Odell Beckham 2TM 39 63 8.8% 44 -62 -30.3% 47.0% 39.1%
Antonio Brown TB 20 62 25.5% 43 65 6.6% 31.7% 18.9%
Ja’Marr Chase CIN 27 61 18.1% 101 264 20.2% 21.1% -2.0%
Russell Gage ATL 68 60 -1.1% 25 45 11.1% 73.1% -12.2%
Courtland Sutton DEN 32 59 12.3% 72 72 0.1% 30.8% 12.2%
Van Jefferson LAR 52 57 0.9% 38 27 -3.9% 57.8% 4.8%
Jerry Jeudy DEN 50 56 2.4% 7 -3 -18.8% 87.7% 21.2%
DeAndre Hopkins ARI 15 53 34.3% 48 166 31.3% 23.8% 3.0%
Marvin Jones JAX 58 45 -2.9% 62 43 -3.6% 48.3% 0.7%
Emmanuel Sanders BUF 35 43 4.1% 37 88 18.9% 48.6% -14.8%
Brandin Cooks HOU 77 40 -5.9% 63 132 13.8% 55.0% -19.7%
Nelson Agholor NE 26 38 6.2% 43 22 -5.8% 37.7% 12.0%
Olamide Zaccheaus ATL 34 37 1.1% 19 36 11.5% 64.2% -10.4%
A.J. Green ARI 17 36 14.0% 74 125 9.0% 18.7% 5.1%
Robert Woods LAR 48 28 -5.3% 22 111 52.3% 68.6% -57.5%
Calvin Ridley ATL 24 26 1.5% 31 -40 -28.9% 43.6% 30.4%
Khalif Raymond DET 41 24 -5.6% 29 2 -11.6% 58.6% 6.1%
Marquise Brown BAL 91 24 -9.3% 58 -38 -21.1% 61.1% 11.9%
Sterling Shepard NYG 42 23 -5.4% 14 -20 -29.9% 75.0% 24.5%
Josh Reynolds 2TM 21 20 -0.5% 30 38 4.0% 41.2% -4.5%
Rashod Bateman BAL 20 16 -2.9% 51 88 9.1% 28.2% -11.9%
Jamison Crowder NYJ 66 14 -9.9% 4 -12 -48.7% 94.3% 38.8%
Jakobi Meyers NE 112 14 -11.1% 17 7 -7.3% 86.8% -3.8%
Rondale Moore ARI 50 12 -9.4% 11 -20 -34.6% 82.0% 25.2%
Terry McLaurin WAS 69 9 -11.0% 63 136 16.1% 52.3% -27.1%
A.J. Brown TEN 57 9 -10.7% 49 103 15.3% 53.8% -26.0%
D.J. Moore CAR 63 8 -11.0% 97 -9 -13.9% 39.4% 2.9%
Elijah Moore NYJ 49 5 -11.2% 28 18 -4.3% 63.6% -7.0%
Jalen Reagor PHI 18 3 -10.6% 41 -45 -28.7% 30.5% 18.1%
DeVante Parker MIA 14 2 -10.3% 61 71 2.2% 18.7% -12.5%
Nico Collins HOU 22 -1 -13.2% 40 25 -4.7% 35.5% -8.5%
Cole Beasley BUF 98 -1 -12.8% 14 -44 -52.8% 87.5% 40.0%
Diontae Johnson PIT 33 -1 -13.2% 141 70 -6.4% 19.0% -6.9%
Braxton Berrios NYJ 57 -4 -13.5% 7 16 17.5% 89.1% -31.0%
Allan Robinson CHI 37 -6 -14.8% 32 25 -2.6% 53.6% -12.2%
Tre’Quan Smith NO 38 -10 -16.0% 12 60 57.4% 76.0% -73.4%
Michael Gallup DAL 14 -13 -24.0% 51 63 2.2% 21.5% -26.2%
Tyler Johnson TB 36 -17 -19.0% 19 -13 -21.4% 65.5% 2.4%
Kadarius Toney NYG 34 -18 -19.6% 21 39 10.9% 61.8% -30.4%
Adam Humphries WAS 56 -25 -18.5% 7 13 14.1% 88.9% -32.6%
Darius Slayton NYG 16 -26 -34.0% 44 -82 -37.0% 26.7% 3.0%
Robby Anderson CAR 60 -45 -22.2% 49 -125 -47.3% 55.0% 25.1%
Kenny Golladay NYG 28 -45 -33.0% 52 8 -10.7% 35.0% -22.3%
Laviska Shenault JAX 64 -51 -23.0% 32 -49 -34.9% 66.7% 11.9%
Zach Pascal IND 61 -99 -34.2% 11 25 17.7% 84.7% -52.0%
Ray-Ray McCloud PIT 60 -150 -44.1% 5 -32 -96.6% 92.3% 52.5%

Super Disagreements

The team that targeted wide receivers the most frequently in the slot, once again, was the Los Angeles Rams. In 2020, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods had the second- and third-most slot targets in the league. The workload was more spread out in 2021, but Kupp, Woods and Van Jefferson all spent more time in the slot than otherwise. We’ll get to Kupp specifically in a moment, but I want to focus on the team level for just a moment here. Just like they have done every year during Sean McVay’s tenure, the Rams lined up in skinny formations and branched outward. The addition of Matthew Stafford at quarterback meant that they also branched downfield more than they had with Jared Goff—the average depth of target to a Rams receiver in the slot jumped from 7.9 to 11.5 yards last season—but the basic philosophy remained intact: Use narrow formations, line all your receivers in tight and then take advantage of the space on the field opened up by the defense narrowing itself in response. L.A. did this slightly less last season, ranking 28th in formation width after ranking 32nd in McVay’s first four seasons, but this is still a fairly fundamental aspect of most playcallers in the McVay/Shanahan mold.

“Most” is a very important word in that sentence, because the team with the least frequent targets to receivers in the slot was … well, it was the Steelers, but not far behind them were the Cincinnati Bengals, led by McVay protégé Zac Taylor. The Bengals buck the traditional McVay strategies and split themselves wide, with both Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins in the top 10 in wide targets last season. Again, we’ll get to Chase specifically in a moment, but it’s striking just how different two coaches from the same tree lined up, even with both using essentially the same personnel groupings. The Rams’ three receivers tend to line up in bunches or trips; the Bengals were more traditional with each side featuring a wideout out wide.





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