BALTIMORE MD - NOVEMBER 28: Sammie Stroughter #18 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can't make this catch against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 28 2010 in Baltimore Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Buccaneers 17-10. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
The slot receiver is an intriguing player. There are many different kinds of slot receiver, but in general the term refers to a receiver who lines up inside the numbers, going up against safeties, linebackers and nickelbacks. Wes Welker is the current prototype for slot receivers in the NFL: small, shifty, skilled at finding soft spots in zones, and gaining yards after the catch.
The Bucs have two players on the roster who fit that prototype: Sammie Stroughter and Preston Parker, although neither player is as good as Wes Welker. Stroughter showed a lot of promise in his rookie season, but regressed a little in 2010, in part due to injuries that kept him off the field and limited him when he was still on the field. Stroughter is very good at finding holes in zone coverage, though, and is a useful player when he's on the field. Preston Parker is a similar player, though, and I doubt the Bucs will find room for both players on the roster. I expect these two guys to battle for one roster spot, which will make for an interesting camp battle. But while the Bucs have two of these Welker-prototypes on the roster right now, they also have a different type of slot receiver.
Over the past decade the tight end has become more valuable as a receiver than in previous years, and this has coincided with the rise of the slot receiver and spread-based attacks. This isn't a coincidence, because receiving tight ends are similar to traditional slot receivers in many ways: they'll work against zone coverage, trying to beat linebackers, safeties and even nickelbacks on occasion. Both slot receivers and tight ends are used in the passing game to create matchup problems for the defense. You get Kellen Winslow or Wes Welker one-to-one on a linebacker, and you win. So instead, you'll see defenses taking a linebacker off the field in favor of a safety or nickelback when these guys are on the field, but that leaves the defense more vulnerable against the run.
The tight end works as a slot receiver because of his big body and route running skills. Like the slot receiver he can find soft spots in the zone, but he can also use his big body to box out defenders. On passing downs, Kellen Winslow is often split off the line, aligned as a slot receiver. And because of his lack of blocking skills, it isn't really incorrect to call him a slot receiver. Which is where seventh-round pick Daniel Hardy comes in. Hardy is exclusively a receiving tight end who put up some big numbers at Idaho, but was hindered by injuries. He'll be fighting for a roster spot as a backup behind Kellen Winslow, fighting with blocking tight ends Nathan Overbay and Ryan Purvis. However, he could also earn a roster spot by beating out other slot receivers: the Bucs could drop a receiver to carry Daniel Hardy, and use him as a slot receiver on passing down.
Finally, the Buccaneers have one more player who would work well as a slot receiver: Dezmon Briscoe. The Kansas product was a sixth-round pick for the Cincinnati Bengals, but was offered a full rookie salary to be on the Bucs' practice squad after the Bengals waived him to add him to their practice squad. Briscoe got the opportunity to show his skills late last season, and he was fairly impressive. He seemed to be a big-bodied receiver who could box out linebackers and use his agility to get by linebackers. If he can show the ability to work against zone coverage, he can be a real threat as a slot receiver.
The Bucs have plenty of players who can work out as slot receivers, so it will be interesting to see who will win that battle next season.