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The Slot Machine


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Jordy Nelson, Victor Cruz, Eric Decker, Lance Moore, Laurent Robinson, James Jones. All were slot receivers in some shape or form last season. None of these players caught less than seven touchdowns, either. Nelson went bonkers with Aaron Rodgers at the helm; add an injured Donald Driver to the mix and he easily stole the show in Green Bay with Jones reaping the benefits from Driver’s absence as well. Cruz, the true coming out of nowhere underdog story, had a careers worth of highlights in one season. Decker (I had him pegged as a breakout guy in an article last year) worked his way up the depth chart with relative ease as his overall talent shone through. Moore, a true slot guy, continued to be a favorite redzone threat for Drew Brees when he was healthy. Robinson, an injury-plagued talent, was finally able to stay healthy for a season and ran with his chance when injury problems sprang up for the Dallas Cowboys. The trio of Decker, Moore and Jones didn’t put up the kind of yardage totals the other three were able to, but they still found the endzone at a high rate. This article isn’t about these players, though, it’s about this year’s potential crop of slot guys ready to take the same step in fantasy land, at least for this season. Drafting these slot receivers at the tail end of drafts requires little-to-no risk, and the potential upside could not only anchor your wide receiver corps, but provide a trading piece to strengthen a weak area of your team down the line. Like Peter Stormare said in Armageddon, “Good odds, ya know?”

Andre Caldwell, Denver – Spending his first four seasons in Cincinnati, Caldwell has shown small flashes, and while overall he hasn’t been bad, he hasn’t exactly been good either. A healthy Peyton Manning could probably put David Terrell back on the map, so imagine the possibilities with Caldwell. It’s no secret Manning loves to use the slot. A fresh start with a future Hall of Famer and Super Bowl-winning quarterback sounds like something I might be interested in. I’m sure Caldwell feels the same way. It may take some time for the entire wide receiver corps to get on the same page as Manning and for the unit to get their timing down, but there are going to be plenty of balls flying around in Denver this season. As long as Manning stays healthy, everyone will get some. Caldwell provides the best low-risk/high-reward investment in this year’s draft out of the crop of slot receivers.

Eddie Royal, San Diego – We have seen Royal at his best and at his worst. I’m sure many owners have cast him off into the “blacklist” of players they refuse to touch on draft day simply to avoid any weekly headaches this player might bring. It’s understandable, and while Royal will need to prove himself early on in San Diego to cement playing time, he’s a perfect slot guy for Philip Rivers. He checks down a ton, which will give Royal plenty of opportunities, but Rivers also loves to chuck the ball up and give his wide receivers opportunities to make plays. This year I see no less than a repeat of two years ago for Royal, when he posted 59 catches, 627 yards and three touchdowns (expect an increase in the touchdowns). Once again don’t forget the change-of-scenery factor, as sometimes that’s all a player needs to reset and string together a good season. A league that has punt return points doesn’t hurt Royal’s value here either.

Early Doucet, Arizona – He had a quiet break out of sorts last season with 689 yards and five touchdowns. That’s not too shabby, and while it was a big jump up statistically from his previous seasons, it is worth noting that Doucet has improved on his numbers every single season he has been in the NFL. Kevin Kolb is the guy who gives out candy corn on Halloween. He sucks, but whoever is under center doesn’t seem to have an impact on Doucet. He’s not going to blow you away with his stat line on a weekly basis, but he’s the type of player who is consistent enough to stay involved and put a few points on the board for your squad every week. He won’t carry you but won’t kill you, either. One thing for sure is he will catch a couple of touchdowns where he’s standing all alone in the endzone because Larry Fitgerald is tripled covered, and to that I say, “still counts!”

David Gettis, Carolina – Steve Smith won’t live forever although he would probably tell you otherwise and then clock you in the jaw. Gettis is a guy who showed nice promise as a rookie in Carolina two seasons ago and unfortunately missed last season with an ACL injury. The Panthers desperately need a No. 2 wideout for Cam Newton to throw the pigskin to if he has any hopes of avoiding a potential sophomore slump. Gettis might not come on strong at the beginning if he is not fully recovered from the ACL injury, but I do expect him to be the guy in the slot when Week 1 rolls around. The potential is there if he and Newton can develop a nice chemistry. Look for Gettis to push Brandon LaFell for the receiver spot opposite Steve Smith during the course of the regular season. The kid’s size doesn’t hurt either and is something Newton should be able to take advantage of in certain matchups.

Harry Douglas, Atlanta – Two years removed from an ACL injury, Douglas had a chance to shine last season when Atlanta’s new shiny toy Julio Jones went down with hamstring issues. In those five total games, Douglas had 20 receptions, just under 350 yards receiving and a touchdown. The numbers aren’t staggering, but he stepped in nicely when his number was called. Douglas almost left for St. Louis but ultimately decided to re-sign with Atlanta in the offseason as the Falcons brought in a new offensive coordinator (Dirk Koetter) who historically likes to stretch the field out and gain yardage in bunches. He wasn’t able to attempt that with the personnel they had in Jacksonville, but if he can inject that philosophy into Atlanta’s offense successfully, Douglas will have plenty of one-on-one matchups to expose all day with Roddy White and Jones drawing the attention. Did I also mention Koetter runs all sorts of screens like he’s playing a game of Madden? If Matt Ryan is going to take the next step, his slot receiver Douglas is going to as well. And with another Jones injury not out of the question, another opportunity for Douglas could be just around the corner.

Note: Titus Young is missing from this list because if Matthew Stafford throws the ball in his direction this season, I’m going to assume it was an accident or he has brain damage.