The league is beginning to realize that it matters how well a team can defend the slot — and for good reason. Over the past three seasons, NFL teams have added more expected points per play on average when targeting players lined up in the slot (0.251) and at inline tight end (0.279) than they have when targeting players lined up out wide (0.234). It’s a similar story for success rate. Getting players who can attack and defend the middle of the field at a high level shouldn’t be an afterthought; it should be a priority.
That’s what makes Tyrann Mathieu and K’Waun Williams two of the most important players in Super Bowl LIV. Not only is the slot so valuable, but the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers were the two best teams in the NFL when targeting slot receivers and inline tight ends. The Chiefs ranked first in EPA per play in those situations this season at 0.679 while the 49ers followed closely at 0.565, ranking third behind only Kansas City and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.