With the Denver Broncos kicking off training camp, we’re going back to the basics as well. Welcome to the second installment of a ‘Football 101’ style series breaking down some offensive concepts that we’re likely to see on the field this fall (hopefully) from new Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Last time, we looked at the Yankee Concept, and this time around we’re tackling a Shurmur staple, the slot fade.
What is the slot fade?
The slot fade as a route, is exactly what it sounds like - a fade route from the slot receiver. As a concept, it is typically paired up with a hitch route by the outside receiver and functions very similar to a smash concept (which we’ll cover in a future breakdown, I’m sure).
Sometimes teams will add a return route or an inside breakout route from the outside receiver to create a natural pick of the defenders, to spring the slot free.
While simple, it is extremely effective and downright deadly in the hands of a good QB and speedy receiver. You’ll see these run all the time on Sundays as every team utilizes them, and it has really taken off even more in the past few years, from what I have seen.
The slot fade is superior to just a traditional fade for a couple reasons. 1) The receiver naturally has more room to work and the QB has a larger window to throw into. 2) Given the alignment, it is sometimes difficult to get a good press on the slot receiver off the line. This is huge for a route that is all about release. 3) Teams can create mismatches, often putting their speediest receiver or #1 guy to pick on the defense’s 3rd corner.
Check out this video below from Nick Saban breaking down the concept.
Nick Saban breaks down slot fade: "People use to throw 9s all the time when you got middle of the field coverage, but the cornerback can restrict the space between the sidelines and the throw, which is much more difficult to do when you throw the fade to the slot guy." pic.twitter.com/CkWaX1JTaS— Danny Schaechter (@CoachDShack) April 30, 2020
When do you use it?
While you can still work this concept against zone coverage or two-high safeties, the best time to use this is against man coverage, particularly with a single high safety. It can often times just be a check or coverage tag offenses will build in when they get the look they want.
Kyler Murray is special. Slot Fade vs. Cov. 1 pic.twitter.com/3mOCk7f3kr— Jason Opsal (@CoachOps) July 27, 2020
Even if the deep safety is able to get over their in time (and most the time the QB is working to look him off) the leverage is extremely difficult for him to make a play on the ball.
It is an excellent play for the “high red zone” are, around 20-30 yards out from the end zone as well.
Cool stuff here from Tom Brady on the 32-yarder to Rex Burkhead: Dorsett motions and is followed by the CB, a pre-snap indicator of man coverage. Brady moves Rex into the slot b/c he knows it'll be 1v1 against a LB. Drops a dime on the slot fade. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/onJKVZwlqh— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) September 17, 2019
How could the Broncos use it?
Now we get to the fun part. Denver didn’t run a ton of these under Scangarello. Some of it was just a scheme thing, as they didn’t spread things out as much, but it may have also been personnel dependent. Denver didn’t really have the guys to consistently win on this route, particularly once Emmanuel Sanders left.
They tried to hit it a few times when Drew Lock came into the lineup, but it is also a route that requires good timing and chemistry by the QB/WR, and Denver wasn’t able to connect the couple times I saw them try.
This one above is partly good coverage, and partly just not enough separation or explosiveness on the release by the receiver.
The one below was Lock’s first NFL throw, and I thought a good read, just not on the same page with Sutton. I like the scheme here though, motion out the back and have Sutton in the slot to win on the fade.
Enter Pat Shurmur. Shurmur ran this a lot with the Giants, particularly because they found it as a great way to utilize the skillset of their rookie receiver, Darius Slayton, who excelled on these routes.
Here you’ll see single high coverage, an easy read for the young QB, Daniel Jones and he puts the throw on the money.
This one, was more of a jump ball throw, but Slayton was able to adjust and still win on the route at the top.
So we know Shurmur likes to run them and use them to get young receivers involved vertically. Which is a perfect fit for Denver’s 2nd round draft pick, KJ Hamler.
#PennState WR KJ Hamler (5-foot-9, 175) — Slot target with big play speed + catch-and-run ability.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 23, 2020
Hamler can attack vertically (slot fade, seam, post) & separate from coverage on crossers/deep over routes. @NFLMatchup pic.twitter.com/PJtPXNp9Xx
Hamler was absolute money on slot fades while at Penn State. It showcases all the things he brings to the table, burst off the snap, quickness out of breaks, and threatening deep speed.
Watch in the clip above and below how quickly he accelerates once he places that right foot in the ground for the inside fake. That little move is all that’s needed for him to win.
While I think we could see Noah Fant be used here, along with Sutton and Jeudy, Hamler is the guy who excites me the most on this concept, and I can’t wait to see it broken out on game-days.
Slot fade wrinkles
Once you establish tendencies, you want to break them up as well with variations. Here’s two great variants off the slot fade concept.
One is from the college ranks. Lincoln Riley, one of the best offensive coaches in the game of football right now runs a lot of slot fades in his offense, and builds in this adjustment for his receivers when teams overplay it.
Lincoln Riley dials up a Shake Route from the slot WR position.— Brady Grayvold (@CoachGrayvold) December 19, 2017
Oklahoma runs the Smash/Smash Fade concept often. A great compliment to that is the shake route back to the middle of the field. Get the safeties shoulders turned and you'll win every time.#All22Daily pic.twitter.com/eyZfpA63vA
Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals run a comeback tag that is a great mix up of this concept as well.
Kliff Kingsbury and the Arizona Cardinals are 4/4 on third down when calling this comeback tag off of their slot fade action so far this season. Great concept to add to your play book if you run slot fade. pic.twitter.com/hqhdI6O2mT— Bobby Peters (@b_peters12) December 28, 2019
Look for Denver to run plenty of slot fades this year, and hopefully score plenty of points off of them.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and any concepts that you would like covered in this series.