Brandon Stokley was famously called the best slot receiver in the history of the NFL. Stokley reprised that role with the Seahawks in 2010, immediately becoming one of Matt Hasselbeck’s favorite targets. On the rare occasion when Stokley, Mike Williams and Ben Obamanu were all healthy at the same time, the passing offense was far more potent. That included games like @NO, @ARZ and the home playoff win against NO. While many people talk about adding an impact outside receiver like Sidney Rice or Vincent Jackson, the biggest current hole in the WR corp is the starting slot receiver.
Most teams list two starting WRs, but 3 WR sets are used as much or more in many modern offenses. When the tight end is under-performing as Seattle’s did in 2010, the 3rd WR becomes even more important. Stokley is a free agent, and may not be back at age 35. Deon Butler got a lot of run at the slot, but is coming off of a serious leg injury, and was not the dynamic player fans had hoped he would be even when he was healthy. The front office drafted Kris Durham in the 4th round, and he has experience playing in the slot. Danny Kelly, over at Field Gulls, wrote a nice piece on him. Durham, at 6’4″, is not a prototypical slot receiver. Guys like Stokley (6’0″), Bobby Engram (5’10”) and Wes Welker (5’9″) are much more common. The goal of a slot receiver is to find soft spots and seams in a zone.
Teams with terrific tight ends can get away with less emphasis on a classic slot receiver because the tight end can occupy much of the same space in the middle of the field. The Seahawks enter free agency with only two players on the roster that could conceivably play slot, Durham and undrafted free agent Chris Carter. Carter (5’11”) is more in the mold of Stokley, Engram and Welker. He is more quick than fast, and excels in route running and getting off the press. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Seahawks bring Stokley back to camp to create some open competition at the position. The Seahawks may choose to go younger and either roll the dice with the guys they have, or look for another young option on the market. Golden Tate could be another possibility, but given his lack of history playing the WR position and his sloppy routes, that is a real stretch. Tate would need to buy some time to train, and save up some luck.
This will be one of the positions to watch as camp opens to see who is getting reps. It is also a prime place to look for new faces who could impact the outcome of the season ahead.