The NFL Draft is less than two weeks away, but there is still plenty of things to discuss in the coming days. One of the positions we've not really covered is the slot receiver position. The Redskins currently have Santana Moss filling the role, who they think highly enough as a locker-room presence to work out a way to keep him despite the cap penalty. Moss is coming off a year in which he put up his best touchdown total since 2005, the year he joined the Redskins. But Moss is also 33-years-old and will be 34 before the season starts.
They say the learning curve for a wide receiver in today's NFL is three years. So drafting a mid-round slot receiver to learn for a year or two behind Moss without having the pressure of having to be productive right away sounds like a good idea in theory. Lets have a look at some of the guys that could be potential slot receiver targets for the Redskins.
Wheaton was somewhat under the radar until he was invited to the Senior Bowl. The 5'11", 189 pound senior from Oregon State caught the eye and was easily the most impressive receiver during the Senior Bowl week. He's has incredibly quick feet that help him in his route running and ability to get himself open. He can run the shallow crossers, the speed outs and has the speed to beat you up the seam. Wheaton isn't limited to the slot though, he can line up outside and run the entire route tree, his quickness allows him to go in and out of breaks at high speed, making it tough for defenders to make a play on well timed throws. If the Redskins were to draft him, he would have to work hard on his blocking. This teams requires receivers being able to block, and while Wheaton shows he's plenty willing, his technique is lacking.
Protection: 2nd-3rd round.
I've sung the praises of Swope on Hogs Haven before, but he's a prototypical slot receiver. He's an excellent route runner and is smart with his reads. He knows when to break off a route and sit in a zone or when to run on by a defender. The Redskins like their receivers, particularly in the slot, to be able to run option routes which allow them to different routes on one play depending on the coverage. Swope shouldn't have many troubles picking this up as he has some experience with similar concepts. At 6'0", 208 pounds, he also has a nice frame to deal with the hits he'd take from running across the middle from the slot. I'm still not sold on him as an 'X' or 'Z' receiver, so if he can't be as versatile as I've suggested before, then his value is limited.
Projection: 3rd round.
You may have read earlier in the week, Boyce was a high school teammate of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. He's another guy with quick feet that allow him to break in and out of routes without losing speed. He has a good initial burst that gets him into full stride quickly. As a slot receiver, that burst is vitally important as a potential hot read on most plays. Boyce can use that burst to help catch a team in a blitz as a hot read and turn it into a big play. His lower body strength allows him to block effectively, particularly on the smaller slot corners. I'd like to see Boyce go and get the ball a little more, rather than allowing it to come to him and catch it with his body. He looks limited to the slot at the next level, with only average size.
Projection: 4th-5th round.
Sanders is a guy I wasn't expecting anything from when I started watching him, but came away pleasantly surprised with what I saw. He has solid, reliable hands, which is always a must from the slot receiver. He's a good route runner with a great burst. He's quicker than fast, but that shiftiness helps him elude open-field tackles. He's also an explosive return man that is a threat on every kick. He reminded me instantly of Santana Moss. I saw him constantly running the same routes that we saw of Moss in the slot this year. I remember seeing him run a speed out on a quarterback sprint right and had flashbacks of RGIII to Santana Moss. Like Wheaton, is a willing blocker, but his size, 5'7", 173 pounds limits his ability to block effectively.
Projection: 5th-6th round.
Sampson is another former teammate of Griffin, but this time in college. The wide out was part of the speedy group of receivers Griffin had in his arsenal at Baylor. Sampson is a guy that can take the top off of a defense on any given play, with fantastic speed. He has good hands and does a nice job of locating and tracking the deep ball right to his hands. But Sampson was never a go-to guy in college and lacks the route running ability that the other receivers on this list have. He's also a build up speed guy that lacks that initial burst. He'd definitely be a developmental project if the Redskins decided to draft him.
Projection: 7th round.