Gone are the days where the slot defenders were your run-of-the-mill player. However, teams are using just three to four receiver sets. This is where the slot defenders have been stepping it up, and even become starters in the game. They have to deal with a variety of people from cornerbacks, tight-ends, and any other huge guy with speed, tenacity, and great playing mechanics to challenge them. They’ve increased their overall skill set, which makes them a valued asset to their team. Here are 8 of the top NFL slot defenders.
Mackensie Alexander, Minnesota Vikings
This guy is certainly a dependable person you want when the pressure is on. He has great closing speed to work well in a coverage zone. He’s also good at anticipating route concepts and combinations, which makes him a great adversary when it comes to man and match coverage. He’s only allowed for 35 receptions in 54 slot targets for 337 yards, 234 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, and an opponent passer rating of 82.1. He’s become one of the best defenders in the NFL.
Justin Coleman, Detroit Lions
Pure solid individual. Seattle’s primary cornerback has created a $36 million contract for himself due to his being highly aware of the field and great body control in the zone coverage. Coleman has allowed for 36 receptions on 55 slot targets last season for 362 yards, 296 yards after the catch, one touchdown, one interception, and an opponent passer rating of 82.5 in 2018. When it comes to being in the right short and intermediate areas, he’s the guy you want on your squad.
Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots
He has a few qualities they makes him get a high ranking on the list. Not only does he match up against top receivers in the league, but he has a great athletic prowess and savvy that allows him to be right along with any receiver he covers. He had 27 slot targets in the 2018 season (including the postseason), allowing just 13 catches for 104 yards, 28 yards after the catch, one touchdown, one interception, and an opposing quarterback rating of 55.2. He has a good follow through for seeing where option-routes go. This makes him formidable on the field.
Desmond King II, Los Angeles Chargers
King is a fifth-round pick that has definitely cemented himself as a solid slot defender in the NFL. He has done quite a bang up job by playing 768 of his 910 total snaps in the slot, and allowed 51 receptions on 65 targets for 425 yards, 357 yards after the catch, one touchdown, three interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 79.8. He has a knack for timing and reading different plays due his resourcefulness. He’s earned a spot as one of the top cornerbacks in the league.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Miami Dolphins
Fitzpatrick’s experience with playing six different positions at Albama has made well-adept to a lot of things thrown at him his rookie season with the Dolphins. He has incredible footwork and backpedaling is not an issue for him. He’s allowed for just 20 slot receptions on 39 targets for 200 yards, 111 yards after the catch, one touchdown, and two interceptions. With the way he’s playing now, there’s a great chance for him to top the list next year.
Bryce Callahan, Denver Broncos
He’s on par with 3 of the top slot defenders in the league (which happen to play on the same team). Callahan is technically sound, and allowed a certain freedom in terms of aggressive play. Although he had a broken foot late in the season, he should be all geared to play next year.
Kenny Moore II, Indianapolis Colts
Moore has really done numbers for his team with his playing. He was targeted 68 times in the slot in 2018, which allowed 54 receptions for 429 yards, and 265 yards after the catch. Additionally, he gave up one touchdown to four interceptions with an opponent passer rating of 73.3. The features that make him stand out: he’s nimble, great for peeling off and jumping routes in the zone coverage, and he can apply great pressure to the opposing team.
Chris Harris, Denver Broncos
Chris Harris makes the top of the list hands down. He’s one of the best if not the absolute best slot defender in the history of the NFL. He earned his $42 million contract by being able to shut down the slot receiver’s palette-option routes and any combinations that may give the edge. In 2018, he was targeted in the slot 36 times, allowing 23 receptions for 217 yards, 104 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, and an opposing quarterback rating of 57.3. He’s up for free agent status in 2020, so he certainly has a lot of leg room as far as negotiating the contract he wants.
We’ll see if either of these slot defenders move up in the ranking as the new season starts up in the next few months.