The Slot is the area of the field between and slightly behind the outside wide receivers. The position gets its name from where the receiver lines up pre-snap, which is also known as their “slot.” The Slot receives passes thrown to the middle of the field, and may need to block (or at least chip) nickelbacks, outside linebackers, and safeties on running plays designed to the outside part of the field. The Slot can also act as the ball carrier on pitch and reverse plays.
Because they are so close to the middle of the field, Slot receivers must have advanced route running skills. They must be able to run every possible type of passing route, from inside and outside to short and deep. They need to be able to get open quickly when the quarterback calls their number, and they should be on the same page with the QB on timing plays. In addition, they are often asked to block for running backs and other wide receivers, so they must be able to pick up blitzes and provide protection on outside run plays.
As their names suggest, Slot receivers are typically shorter and quicker than wide receivers who line up outside the offensive line. The NFL’s shift to more three-wide receiver/two-back formations in recent years has increased the importance of this position. In order to stay competitive, offenses need players like the Slot to help stretch the defense and create big plays.
In addition to having excellent route running skills, Slot receivers must be very good blockers. They must be able to deal with the blitzes of cornerbacks and safetys, and they must also be able to protect against double teams. They must be able to chip or block (or both) nickelbacks and outside linebackers, as well as to perform a crack back block on defensive ends on running plays that are designed to the outside of the field.
While the slot is not a major player in the passing game, he is an essential cog in the blocking wheel. He must be able to block very well, which is why it is important that the Slot receiver has good hands and great speed. On running plays, he must be able to run precise routes and give the running backs space to make their moves. Moreover, the Slot must be able to act as a running back on some reverses and end-arounds, so he must have the ability to carry the ball.