Mon. Nov 28th, 2022

Each week of the 2022 NFL season, the Next Gen Stats analytics team will present a different Position Power Ranking meant to spotlight the top performances among a specific group of players. This week, we’ve assembled a list of the top 10 slot receivers heading into Week 8.
Before we dive in, though, a note on our methodology: To help create quantifiable rankings, we have devised a formula that yields a Next Gen Stats percentile score, which measures how a player is performing relative to his peers. The formula uses each individual’s percentile score across a series of key metrics to create one composite score, indicating which players at that position performed best. We will lean on this formula to inform our rankings when applicable.
NOTE: Player percentiles are based strictly on each player’s performance from the slot, and it does not include tight ends. The metric and overall scores are based on each player’s performance in Weeks 1 through 7.

Last season, Kupp became just the fourth player since 1970 to win the receiving triple crown. The reigning Offensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP has picked up where he left off last season, despite the rest of the Rams’ offense falling apart. Sean McVay funnels the offense through Kupp, who has a league-high 32.6 percent target share, almost 10 percentage points higher than any other slot receiver (Christian Kirk is second at 22.7 percent). One of the most impressive features of Kupp’s performance is how he has been able to maintain hyper efficiency on such a high volume of opportunities. Kupp leads all wide receivers in slot receptions (26) and yards per slot route (2.8, min. 100 routes) this season. And no slot receiver moves the chains more often than Kupp — he has gained a first down on 13.9 percent of his slot routes going back to last season, making him the only WR with a rate above 11 percent.

The Bengals’ slot weapon can be overlooked in a receiving room that includes Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, but the seventh-year veteran has made the most of his opportunities when Joe Burrow looks his way. Boyd exploded for a league-high 155 receiving yards in Week 7, including a 60-yard TD that took the top off the defense on the opening drive. While he has only been targeted on 14 percent of his slot routes this season, Boyd has been incredibly productive when given the chance, gaining a league-high +142 receiving yards over expected from the slot (the only WR over +90). The Bengals have leaned into a spread offense over their last three games, averaging the widest average formation width in the NFL (30.1 yards) and passing at the highest rate in the league (72 percent) with the score within one possession. Look for Boyd to have more big games if the Bengals continue to embrace a pass-heavy spread offense identity.

After tearing his ACL late last season, there was plenty of uncertainty about Godwin coming into this season. The Buccaneers receiver progressed quickly in his recovery and started in Week 1; unfortunately, he suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the next two games. Nevertheless, Godwin has had a strong return since Week 4, earning a league-high 28 slot targets. Godwin’s impact goes beyond just the passing game for the Buccaneers’ offense. The run game has been significantly better over the last three seasons when Godwin is available, averaging 4.4 yards per rush compared to 3.6 without him on the field. Keeping Godwin close to the formation is key to maximizing the willing blocker’s ability to contribute without the ball in his hands.

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Fresh off signing a hefty contract in the offseason, Kirk has not missed a beat in his debut season in Jacksonville. Kirk ranks second among all wide receivers with 317 receiving yards from the slot this season, trailing only Tyler Boyd’s 407. Beyond the volume, Kirk has also been efficient, averaging 1.9 yards per slot route (fifth among wide receivers, min. 100 such routes). The Jaguars have had a balanced offense in Doug Pederson’s first season as head coach, with four different players each having 20-plus receptions and 250-plus receiving yards, but Kirk has been the unquestioned alpha dog in an overhauled receiving corps.

Though Cobb was placed on injured reserve after suffering an ankle injury in Week 6 versus the Jets, his performance up to that point had been impressive. While his snaps were relatively limited even before his injury, efficiency has been the name of the game for Cobb. He has averaged 10.6 receiving yards per slot target in 2022, eighth in the NFL among players with at least 15 such targets. And via Next Gen Stats’ Expected Points Added (EPA) model, Cobb has averaged 0.14 EPA per route from the slot, which leads all wide receivers with at least 90 such routes. Though the Packers’ offense has largely been underwhelming this season, the Aaron Rodgers-Cobb connection has remained strong.

When Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler were rookies in 2020, Jeudy aligned wide on 67 percent of his snaps, while Hamler did so on 32 percent. This season (after Hamler missed all but three games in 2021), the draft classmates have had a pretty direct reversal in roles, with Jeudy wide on 33 percent of snaps and Hamler on 79 percent. The new role has led to what might be a career year for Jeudy. When aligned in the slot, Jeudy has 189 receiving yards on targets of 10-plus air yards, trailing only Tyler Boyd’s 225. On downfield targets from a slot alignment, Jeudy has a 129.5 passer rating when targeted, which leads all players with at least 10 such targets. Though the Broncos have lost four straight games, Jeudy has had at least 50 receiving yards in each one, suggesting he’s hitting his stride as we near the midseason mark.

Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis might be the biggest pass-catching names for the Bills’ offense, but McKenzie has provided the perfect complement to them in an offense that has been firing on all cylinders. McKenzie has made 3 touchdown catches from the slot this season, trailing only Allen Lazard’s 4. Largely due to his red zone prowess, McKenzie has a 126.8 passer rating when targeted from the slot this season, which leads all wide receivers with at least 20 such targets. After the Bills saw Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley depart in the offseason, McKenzie was bound to be tested in a much larger role, and he has aced that test so far.

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The departures of JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington via free agency, and the arrival of rookie George Pickens, seem to have combined to shift Claypool’s role on a pretty massive level. Claypool aligned wide on at least 70 percent of his snaps in both 2020 and 2021, but that number has dropped to 19 percent this season. Despite taking on some new responsibilities and being the subject of trade rumors, Claypool has remained productive, hitting his stride in the team’s past three games. Claypool logged 187 receiving yards and one touchdown in Weeks 5-7, compared with 79 yards and zero TDs in his first four games. From the slot, Claypool ranks fourth among wide receivers with 22 such receptions in 2022. If the Steelers’ offense is able to improve from its slow start to 2022, Claypool’s continued acclimation to his new role might be a contributing factor. 

Though St. Brown, like the Lions’ offense overall, has cooled down since a hot start (253 receiving yards in Weeks 1-3; 22 receiving yards in two games since then), he has still been a factor in Detroit’s jump from 25th in scoring offense in 2021 to ninth this season. St. Brown has been a consistent go-to guy for quarterback Jared Goff, as he has been targeted on 33 percent of his routes from the slot this season (tied for second among players with 50-plus such routes, behind Ravens tight end Mark Andrews). And St. Brown has matched that high usage with high efficiency, earning a 95.5 passer rating when targeted from the slot this season (seventh among wide receivers with at least 20 such targets). St. Brown is still just 23 years old. He and his fellow young skill players, such as D’Andre Swift (23), T.J. Hockenson (25) and rookie Jameson Williams (21; he has yet to play this season) might be putting up big numbers in the Motor City for years to come. 
Amon-Ra St. Brown caught 8+ receptions for the 8th-consecutive game, tying the NFL record.

St. Brown took advantage of off coverage (5+ yards of pre-snap cushion), catching 7 of 9 targets for 95 yards & TD on 20 routes.#WASvsDET | #OnePride

With Amari Cooper off to Cleveland, Michael Gallup recovering from his ACL injury and James Washington suffering a foot injury in training camp, it was natural for Cowboys fans to wonder who might step up next to CeeDee Lamb as a receiver in this offense — and that was before quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a Week 1 thumb injury that cost him five games. Brown’s emergence is a core reason why Dallas’ offense stayed afloat in the early part of this season. Whether Prescott or Cooper Rush has been throwing him the ball, Brown has been elite at the catch point, with a +20.0 percent catch rate over expected from the slot this season (second in the NFL, behind Browns tight end David Njoku, among those with a minimum of 15 such targets). Thanks to his top-end ball skills, Brown has secured 12.8 receiving yards per target from the slot, third in the NFL among players with 15-plus such targets (behind the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson and the Bengals’ Tyler Boyd). The Cowboys are getting healthier; Gallup has returned to the lineup and Washington is on his way back. But Brown appears to have earned his spot in the rotation regardless of who else is in the picture.
HONORABLE MENTION: Greg Dortch, Cardinals; Parris Campbell, Colts; Richie James, Giants; Curtis Samuel, Commanders.
Keegan Abdoo, Mike Band and Cole Jacobson contributed to this piece.
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