The slot receiver position in the NFL has changed. In the past, the traditional slot receiver was smaller, quicker and ran shorter routes. Today, some of the best receivers in the NFL run a high percentage of their routes from the slot - and these are not just your traditional quick outs, move rub-crossers and stick routes...your seeing a full route tree, including verticals.
The Redskins recently selected wide receiver Kelvin Harmon, a 6’2 1/2” 221 pound bully out of N.C. State in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL draft. Harmon was extremely productive during his last two seasons in college, accumulating 1017 and 1186 receiving yards respectively before deciding to forgo his senior season and enter the draft. A less-than-stellar 40 time caused him to slip to the sixth round, where the Redskins decided to pounce.
Harmon is known for his physical presence, solid hands, double moves, ability to track over-the-shoulder throws, and 50/50 ball ability. Perfect X receiver in today’s NFL right?
...not so fast.
Two current NFL comparisons I have made to Harmon are Chargers receiver Keenan Allen and Saints stud Michael Thomas. Both entered the league with below average deep speed - Allen was in the low 4.7 in his 40, while Thomas ran a 4.57 at the combine. Both have become successful in the NFL largely due to the work they do out of the slot.
The NFL is all about mismatches. Nickle defensive backs, the ones who primarily line up in the slot, tend to be smaller and quicker. You also see safeties drop down into the slot, sometimes playing a robber role underneath to try and contain the short routes.
It’s here where these new, bigger-bodied slot receiver are winning.
Although Keenan Allen and Michael Thomas don’t have elite quickness or speed, they win against smaller DB’s with physicality, body positioning and good route running in and out of breaks. If you try to cover either with a safety - they are a mismatch from the get-go.
The traditional slot receiver, as mentioned above, ran a lot of quick outs, pivot routes, stick routes and quick crossers. Today, we are seeing these big slots run slants, seams, shallow crosses, corners, deep outs, deep ins and curls - all routes where they are able to use their size and catch radius to create mismatches against smaller defensive backs.
Below is a list of some bigger-bodied receivers who saw at least 50 percent of their targets from the slot in 2018:
Can Kelvin Harmon become the next great NFL slot receiver?
When he was drafted, fans immediately dubbed Harmon as the team’s new X receiver due to his physical presence. I feel, due to his lack of true deep speed, that much like some of the players listed above, he can excel from the slot.
Harmon attacks smaller defensive back with his bully-mentality. He understand body positioning, often playing like a power forward in basketball. He will fight for the ball in traffic with his strong hands, and on out-routes, he understands how to catch the ball away from his body while keeping his feet in bounds.
Although Harmon didn’t play in the slot in college, below you can see an example of how he sets his route up and plays the sideline well. I can imagine him doing this from the hash on an inside-outside combo route.
#NCState WR Kelvin Harmon is a next-level route runner which you wouldn't expect at 6-3, 215. Does a great job of selling vertical routes before stopping down to cut them off. Watch his hard vertical push here and how he doesn't give away the out. No tells. pic.twitter.com/qe8i7tIs38— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 8, 2019
Here you see Harmon operating as the inside receiver on this out-and-up in the redzone. This is one of the rare times you see him inside in college, but you can see how effective he can be.
Dear God. Kelvin Harmon just caught that TD with one hand and held it on his helmet. pic.twitter.com/gzfQGc8745— PackInsider.com (@PackInsider) October 28, 2017
The thought of Terry McLaurin and Paul Richardson with their speed on the outside, and
Jordan Reed and Kelvin Harmon underneath, could be a scary combination for opposing defenses. Add in the diversity of Trey Quinn and size and playmaking ability of Cam Sims, and the Redskins just may have something here to help new quarterback Dwayne Haskins be successful in this offense for years to come.
Are you in favor of the Redskins playing Kelvin Harmon in the slot?
This poll is closed
Yes - get the best receivers on the field together
No - he’s an outside X receiver