Over the past fortnight, one of the most mercurial topics on CSR has been the future of Panthers Wide Receiver Armanti Edwards. Many a debate has been launched over the 89th pick in the 2010 draft, with supporters blaming his lack of production on his stunted development, and detractors citing his lack of visible progress as a Wide Receiver in the NFL. Almost antithetically, no discourse has occurred over Rookie 5th round pick Kealoha Pilares' NFL career thus far. Pilares never saw the field in any meaningful capacity on the offensive side, and rarely exhibited the explosive burst, requisite with Kick Returners. However, I believe that both Edwards and Pilares can achieve success in the NFL as slot receivers, a position they were both drafted to play.
Read more after the jump...
By definition, a Slot Receiver is a Wide Receiver who lines up at the line of scrimmage between the offensive line and the Flanker Wide Receiver. Slot Receivers are typically guys standing at under 6'1 feet tall and weighing in under 210 lbs. More recently, the constant evolution of the NFL has seen the slot receiver gain prominence in football. As the NFL shifts into a pass first league, and teams integrate facets of the Spread Offense into their schemes, a premium has been placed on a competent slot receiver, one who isn't afraid to muddy their jersey and move the chains. Slot Receivers such as Wes Welker and Victor Cruz with natural athletic ability have made their living on speed and athleticism providing a constant matchup problem for opposing defenses. Last season, Welker totaled 122 receptions for 1,569 yards and 9 TD's and Cruz racked up 82 receptions for 1536 yards and 9 TD's. Another mainstay at the Slot Receiver position is YAC (Yards after the Catch), Premier slot receivers excel at catching the ball in the slot on a route, and stretching the 8 yard gain into a extensively larger play as seen in these two plays.
Wes Welker Touchdown Dance: Snow Angel (12/21/08) (via CmtSportsForum)
Moreover, an effective Slot Receiver provides enumerable mismatches for a defense. Lining a receiver in the slot forces the defense to engage in a series of options that yield favorable matchups for the offense. The first option would be dropping a Safety into the box, which would produce man to man coverage for the Flanker and the Split End. Another option would be to line up in a Nickel Defense, with 3 CB's on the field, this option only allows the defense to play with two linebackers, thus opening up the run game. A third option would be lining up a Linebacker on the slot receiver, obviously favoring the offense, as the slot receiver's speed and stature would easily out match the Linebacker.
Scheme wise, a reliable slot receiver opens up a safety valve for the offense, especially in the Air Coryell, an offense focused primarily with deep routes and moving the ball down the field at an advantageous pace. As the defense begins to key on the deep passes, the Safeties and Corners will back off of the ball, freeing up a lot of real estate in the middle of the field, and procuring single coverage against a slot receiver, opening up the possibility of a large gain for a route crossing the middle of the field, the MO of the slot receiver. Furthermore, a slot receiver would provide a safety blanket for the QB, providing a safer option for the QB, rather than firing the ball downfield into double coverage. Not to mention, a slot receiver gives the QB a quick target in case of blitz, a commodity that would be invaluable to the Panthers Offense in the future.
In relation to the Panthers, both Kealoha Pilares and Armanti Edwards fit the mold of a Slot Receiver; Pilares stands in at 5'10 201 lbs. and a 4.42 40 yard dash, and Edwards is 5'11 182 lbs. with a 4.43 40 yard dash (NFL. com and NFL Draft Scout with the numerals). Both Pilares and Edwards have exhibited their speed and elusive nature in the limited game action they have incurred, and have the necessary intangibles to succeed at the NFL level. In my opinion, the coaching staff decided not to give Pilares and Edwards extended playing time, in order to help progress their craft in practice under the watchful eyes of the Offensive Coaches, as well as learning the intricacies of the Panthers Offense. Next year I expect we shall see an increased work load for both Pilares and Edwards, both working out of the slot in order to relieve the pressure exhibited through blitzes against Cam, as well as ease the amount of coverage allotted to Smitty and the TE's. There is no reason to cut Edwards of Pilares this early into their development, Edwards (23) and Pilares (23) have the potential to be game breakers in the Panthers Offense, and cutting either of them at this juncture deprives the offense of knowing the proficiency of a Slot Receiver.
A Slot Receiver has the ability to become a potent weapon the Panther's Air Coryell Offense, and an immeasurable help to the progression of Cam Newton. Personally, I think that both Kealoha and Armanti will have bright careers as Panthers, making their living between the hashes as Slot Receivers. What about you, Panther Nation, do you think that Pilares and Edwards will make good slot receivers; or that a slot receiver would be invaluable in the Panthers Offense?