The passing game at the NFL level has become so proficient that plays designed to Percy Harvin, Randall Cobb, and Wes Welker has been as easy as attempting a handoff. There is an art to catching the ball in space and wiggling away for a 6 yard gain. If perfected, the slot receiver can act like a game breaking running back and fantasy players are cashing in.
However, there is something to think about as you weigh the plus and minuses of trading or drafting the “short target” receivers. Because of the high usage, they receive lot more pounding than those who make plays downfield. By nature of getting the bell close to the line of scrimmage, they are subjected to “cleaner hitting angles” by linebackers or safeties. Not the biggest guys on the field, but arguably the defense’s biggest hitters.
The results have been a rash of injuries for the premiere slot players. Percy Harvin’s hip injury happened in off season workouts. In week 6 Randall Cobb was knocked out for the remainder of the regular season with a broken leg, snagging a high pass from Aaron Rodgers. Other slot receivers have seen higher frequencies of injuries. Both Patriots receivers Danny Amendola and Austin Collie have had a myriad injuries in their careers. Collie has suffered multiple concussions, while Amendola has suffered just about every injury a football player can endure.
Other players who don’t necessarily come up to mind as slot receivers, but aren’t burners either, are Justin Blackmon and Michael Crabtree. They are high usage receivers that are catching the ball in slip screen plays and intermediate routes. They rack up the catches when active, but both have been listed as inactives during blocks of their early careers.
This article is not discouraging the fantasy football player from high usage/slot receivers, on the contrary, the reward is plenty if you can hit successfully on one. Both Percy Harvin and Wes Welker are the coming of the new age. The player who excels in space in the age of 3 or 4 receiver sets. What we will say is not to acquire too many of them because of durability concerns. Also check their injury histories to see if they can be trusted as a full time starter or be designated as a “hot hand” plug and play or bye week fill in (i.e. Austin Collie during the final “Peyton years”).