Ryan Switzer. Zay Jones. Artavis Scott. John Ross. Taywan Taylor. Kermit Whitfield. James Quick. Speedy Noil.
Even the names of some of the slot receivers on the lengthy list in this year’s NFL Combine sound sleek and snappy.
The draft will be full of this particular type of receiver – characterized by a little slighter build, sure hands, incredibly quick feet and hips, and the ability to run crisp routes with sharp turns and speed changes throughout.
“It takes a different kind of guy to play in the slot,” said Switzer. “There’s obviously a lot more cluster to be aware of than on the outside. There are a lot of post-snap route adjustments that you have to make, and hone in on your coverage recognition and adjust on the fly.”
And the Carolina Panthers are in desperate need of one of these players.
Speedy veteran free-agent-to-be Ted Ginn Jr., 31, is hoping to be back with the team in 2017 and is expected to work out a deal with Carolina. But it was clear after a lackluster offensive season that the Panthers need a new wrinkle.
Big, tall wideouts Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess had trouble beating opponents at the line of scrimmage out wide, and the receivers who were supposed to take over in the slot – Philly Brown and Brenton Bersin – were all but absent from the field.
Coach Ron Rivera announced the hire of former slot receiver Jerricho Cotchery earlier this week, a move intended to create innovation at the position.
“His experience as a slot receiver, (which is) something that we really want to feature and highlight as we start going forward, is something that we feel can help us even more,” said Rivera.
So, the Panthers will have Cotchery, a wealth of incredibly fast young talent to choose from in the draft, four top-100 picks and about $35 million to work with in free agency, should they choose to go that route.
Sounds pretty foolproof, right?
Not quite. The right fit at the position is crucial.
The Panthers are already scheduling meetings and private workouts – notably with Ross and with free agent veteran Victor Cruz – to help narrow their search. Ross posted a gasp-worthy, record-breaking 4.22-second 40 time on Saturday morning.
What will set a slot receiver apart from the pack in the NFL is how he attacks the middle of the field, especially against bigger and stronger players in coverage.
“I love the slot. That’s my deal,” said Noil. “I breathe the slot. ... You also got to have that demeanor of going to get it in the middle of the field...Slot guys have to beat guys who are 250-pound plus. It’s not about going through guys. It’s about running around them.”
It’s not just speed that factors in, though, at that particular position.
If you’re a slot receiver, you have to be a little nasty, added Noil.
And the Panthers could use a little nastiness – and a lot of speed – in their offense.
Eight slot receivers to know for April’s NFL draft:
Ryan Switzer, North Carolina: Smaller than most, but incredibly crisp on routes. Highly intelligent when analyzing coverage.
Zay Jones, East Carolina: Can also be an outside threat. FBS record-holder for career catches. Fast and intelligent in coverage.
Artavis Scott, Clemson: National champion. Made history as first third-year junior to play in the Senior Bowl.
John Ross, Washington: The fastest player in the draft, and star in Washington’s pass-heavy offense.
Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky: One of the draft’s most exciting prospects. Sure hands and nice hips.
Kermit Whitfield, Florida State: Was expected to be the fastest player in the combine, but is a close second to Ross.
James Quick, Louisville: Thin, but expected to put on weight. Nice route-runner.
Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Problematic off-the-field, according to reports. Likely a pickup for teams as a free agent because of speed and athleticism.