Dallas Cowboys RBs as Slot Receivers
How valuable are RBs who can play like WRs?
Running backs who can play as receivers pose problems for defenses. By motioning out of the backfield and into the slot, a running back will often find himself matched-up with a much slower and less agile linebacker.
If that RB can even remotely execute a route downfield, he’ll be at a decided advantage over his adversary. Look no further than Christian McCaffrey. Run CMC is the prototype for today’s next-gen RB who can do just this – play slot receiver.
Are the Dallas Cowboys planning to do this with Pollard and Zeke? And if so, is that a good thing?
Here’s where big data can come to save us from some common misconceptions. Pro Football Focus looked at all the times running backs lined up in the slot and caught a pass as a receiver. The result? Not as good as you would have probably expected.
As you can see above, RBs who catch the ball out of the slot are considerably less successful than tight ends and receivers. It’s clear the mismatches we imagined would happen – did not actually happen.
But what about the man we cited above. The man many consider the best multi-dimensional RB in the NFL. How did he fair specifically as a slot receiver last season?
According to Football Outsiders, Run CMC may have been a top-3 receiving RB, but when compared to actual WRs, he simply didn’t compare. His 102 DYAR was pedestrian and produced a below average DVOA as a WR. In other words, he’s good for a RB but if we compare him to WRs he’s below average. So why you’d want to throw to RB in the slot vs a TE or WR is a mystery.
But there’s more: McCaffrey was actually more productive catching balls when lined up in the backfield than he was when moved up into the slot. When lined up as a receiver, McCaffrey averaged just 7.4 yards per reception. When he caught balls out of the backfield he gained 9.0 yards per reception.
Surprising isn’t it?
Suddenly lining Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott in the slot just became far less exciting, right?