Niners Live believes that Kyle Shanahan is going to use a plethora of pass catchers in the slot to exploit defenses. The offensive guru will feature wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and a unique offensive weapon in the slot. This is how we see it unfolding 49ers Faithful.
NFL coaches are constantly looking for new ways to attack their opponents. The latest offensive wrinkle is the increased use of spread formations and targeting of the slot receiver. The slot receiver attacks the middle and deep seam of the defense while being covered by linebackers, safeties and nickel backs. The receiver usually wins this match-up because he can exploit the voids in the defense’s zone coverages or beat his man one on one.
The numbers don’t lie my fellow 49ers fans. According to Pro Football Focus; in 2017, 36 NFL wide receivers played at least 50 percent of their snaps in the slot. That is tied for most since the origin of the PFF rankings in 2006.
In 2016, as offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, Shanahan’s primary slot receiver, Taylor Gabriel, ranked third on the team with 579 yards. Julio Jones, 1,409 yards, and Mohamed Sanu, 653 yards, also made cameo appearances in the slot. Guess who’s commentating on Shanahan’s Atlanta Falcons games in the video below? Hint last name Lynch…..
You best believe Shanahan will target the slot position in 2017. We predict he will do so with a wide array of skill players; receivers, tight ends, running backs and the “Juice”.
Jeremy Kerley, the team’s leading receiver in 2016, will start in the slot, but he will be joined by free agent signings Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, and 2017 draft pick Trent Taylor. Despite being plagued by injuries, Bruce Ellington is another perfect slot receiver if he can stay healthy.
This will allow the offensive wizard to move Kerley around in different formations and use him as a decoy to open up other pass catchers. He can also deploy four-receiver sets, with two slot receivers on the right and left sides of the formation. He will also use them in end arounds and jet screen run plays.
Goodwin has game changing speed. Shanahan wants to showcase it not only on the outside on go routes, but also on short, intermediate routes where he can catch the ball in space and get yards after the catch with his blazing wheels.
Robinson, under Shanahan with the Atlanta Falcons, registered 20 catches for 323 yards and two touchdowns. Taylor mastered the slot position at Louisiana Tech racking up 136 catches (second in NCAA), 1,803 yards and 12 touchdowns (first in both in NCAA) his senior year (via NFL.com).
Coach Shanahan and Taylor’s former offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech, Tony Franklin, had this to say about Taylor.
“Trent is a competitive guy, he gets after it. He’s very good at separating,” said Shanahan (via 49ers.com).
Taylor’s offensive coordinator in college, Tony Franklin, believes he is a star in the making.
“A lot of times you hear people say this guy is the next Wes Welker. Every small, white kid’s been Wes Welker since Wes Welker became a star. I’m telling you, Trent Taylor really is,” stated Franklin in a recent interview (via Eric Branch of SFGate.com).
The 49ers feature two tight ends; Vance McDonald and George Kittle that have the speed to stretch defenses. McDonald can take a short pass to the house, he scored touchdowns of 75 and 65 yards in 2016. On both plays the majority of the yards came after the catch. Kittle, a rookie, lined up with the first-string offense and was targeted numerous times in OTA’s as quoted down below. “He’s competed in the run and the pass game. George is a guy you can tell is going for it because the way he competes on the field, which you guys have seen the times you’ve been out there. Mainly, what he does off the field, too. He’s really trying to learn it and that’s given him a chance to show up a little bit,” stated Shanahan at the conclusion of OTAs (via 49ers.com).
The running backs and fullback/offensive weapon Kyle “Juice” Juszczyk will also be featured in the slot. Carlos Hyde, Tim Hightower and Joe Williams were targeted frequently in OTA practices according to reports. Juice will double as a tight end, which will validate the franchise making him the highest paid player at his position.
In Closing: The slot receiver is the new fad in the NFL. Shanahan knows this, and is formulating various ways to terrorize defenses with his slot machine which is loaded with players that can hurt a defense in multiple ways. The 49ers will successfully attack defenses with a slot by committee approach because of the variety of skillsets the players at Shanahan’s disposal possess. He can go big, quick and shifty, or flat out world-class speed. Watch out nickel backs, the 49ers’ slot receivers are about to Ball so Hard on you for first downs and touchdowns. Eyes Wide open.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Please join us again soon on Niners Live, home of the fan and analyst.
As always, keep your eyes wide open, 49er fans. Niners Live will be watching with you. #eyeswideopen and often imitated but never duplicated… Go Niners.
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author Jimi Payne Staff Writer at Niners live. Co-Author, Editor NinersLive.