When supremely talented wide receivers are moved to the slot with more frequency, we’re excited about their usage becoming slightly less predictable. When a guy like Greg Little moves to the slot, we’re happy to see a moderately talented pass catcher play a more natural position.
Little isn’t Stevie Johnson, and he certainly isn’t Larry Fitzgerald, but talk of the Browns’ third-year wide receiver playing more from the slot in 2013 shouldn’t be discounted when calibrating his value for next season.
Browns beat writer Tony Grossi, a reporter who has time and again demonstrated that he’s plugged into the team’s decision making, suggested this week that Little could be moved to the slot position if the Browns sign a veteran receiver to play the outside, opposite No. 1 option, Josh Gordon. This, of course, hinges on the front office’s ability to lure a decent outside receiver into an offense headed by some mix of Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy, and Thaddeus Lewis.
With a trio like that, who could say no? But I digress.
Why are we even interested, you might ask, about a guy (Little) who caught all of 50 passes for 609 yards in 2012, down from his rookie year numbers? I asked myself the same question, and a review of Little’s slot stats answers our question: He wasn’t all that bad when lined up in the slot, where his size (6’2” and 220 lbs.) and lack of game breaking speed seem an ideal fit.
In 220 slot routes last season (26th most in the NFL), Little caught 23 of 40 targets for 260 yards and two touchdowns – fully half of his scores during his sophomore season. The small-handed Little managed to drop a whopping five balls from the slot, a couple of which would’ve gone for touchdowns, or close to it.
Read more about wide receivers who could see more slot action in 2013
Drops are – and perhaps always will be – part of the equation when evaluating his fantasy value. Little, whose hands improved after a horrid early-season stretch, was fourth in drop rate in 2012, behind only Early Doucet, Andre Roberts, and Donnie Avery. Little ranked second in drop rate during his 2011 rookie campaign.
Owners willing to burn a late-round pick on Little this summer should look at his December production for encouraging signs of what more slot play might bring. Browns offensive coaches either motioned Little from the outside to the slot or had him line up there more often over the final month of the season, and Little reaped the benefits, snagging 18 passes for 240 yards and two scores over the last four games – numbers that had Little’s dynasty owners (and apologists) downright giddy around Christmas.
Little, for many reasons, will never be a fantasy stud. But neither was late career Anquan Boldin, a superbly physical wideout who has made his living bullying smaller, weaker cornerbacks. I think Little can do the same, which is why you should be on the lookout for reports of Browns’ coaches talking up Little as a guy who can excel in the slot.
A word of caution though: Even when Little was used from the slot with more frequency in December, his season-best stretch of games produced low-end WR2 numbers. At his best, Little was barely a top-25 wide receiver.