Top 10 slot defenders entering Week 11 of 2023 NFL season: Kenny Moore rules increasingly vital position –

Each week of the 2023 NFL season, the Next Gen Stats analytics team will present a different Position Power Ranking, meant to spotlight the top performers among a specific group of players. Today, we’ve assembled a list of the top 10 slot defenders heading into Week 11.
Before we dive in, though, a note on our methodology: To help create quantifiable rankings, we have devised a formula that yields a Next Gen Stats percentile score, which measures how a player is performing relative to his peers. The formula uses each player’s percentile score across a series of key metrics to create one composite score, indicating which players at that position performed best.

Moore’s double pick-six performance in Week 9 against the Panthers, one of which came from a slot alignment, helped him land the No. 1 spot on this list.

The 2017 undrafted free-agent signee is in the midst of a career year, setting personal bests in completion percentage over expected (-6.2%) and target EPA (-14.1). Couple those marks with his third-least receptions over expected allowed when aligned as a slot corner (-3.2), and the result is the top coverage score (94) on this list.

Playing slot corner isn’t just about pass defense; these guys are also tasked with assuming a crucial role in preventing big run plays to the outside. Moore’s top tackle score (92) on this list indicates he’s been incredibly effective at doing just that. In fact, Moore leads all defenders in run stop EPA (-5.5) from a slot alignment this season.

By playing McDuffie in the slot in nickel and dime packages, while deploying the 2022 first-round pick on the outside in base defense, Steve Spagnuolo is able to maximize the corner’s versatile skill set.

McDuffie has excelled in coverage this season, allowing a -9.2 target EPA despite being the most targeted player on the Chiefs (50 targets). But by aligning him in the slot at times, Spagnuolo can more effectively use McDuffie as a pass rusher. The second-year pro has generated seven pressures from the slot this season, tied for the most in the NFL from such an alignment. Five of those pressures have come in under 2.5 seconds, leading to the highest pass rush score on this list (87).

For the first time since entering the league as a fifth-rounder in 2021, Hobbs has allowed fewer completions (-5.2%) and receptions (-1.9%) than expected.

The third-year pro seems to have found a home in the slot, where the Raiders are playing him significantly more this season (63.1%) versus last year (14.7%). This increased slot usage has translated into career-best marks for the defender in terms of completion percentage over expected (-3.2%) and receptions over expected (-0.9%) when aligned there, thus driving his overall statistical improvement.

The only rookie on this list, Branch hit the ground running in Week 1 when he intercepted a dropped Patrick Mahomes pass and took it to the house, hitting a top speed of 20.74 mph (the fourth-fastest top speed by a defensive ball carrier so far this season).

A safety by trade, Branch won Detroit’s nickel job in training camp and has proceeded to align as a slot corner on 74.4 percent of his defensive snaps. He’s been excellent in coverage, allowing the second-lowest target EPA (-7.8) among rookies when aligned in the slot despite being targeted the second-most (30 targets) of players in that group.

Branch’s experience as a safety has shown in his run-stopping ability, as he leads all rookie defenders in run stop EPA (-2.5) when aligned as a slot corner.

Gordon led all Bears defensive backs in playtime last season (79.4% of defensive snaps) and he has stepped into an even bigger role this season with his slot snap rate increasing from 43.9 percent to 73.6. The second-year pro out of Washington has heeded the call, as his 5.0 yards per target allowed on slot targets is the fifth-best figure among all defenders (min. 15 slot targets).

But like Trent McDuffie, Gordon is a viable threat as a pass rusher. His five pressures are second-most among all defenders from a slot alignment (and tied for third-most among all cornerbacks), leading to the second-highest pass rush score (83) on this list.

Despite committing a disastrous pass interference in this past Monday night’s crushing loss to Denver, Johnson has been the most consistent cog in a banged-up Bills secondary that has underperformed all season. That DPI call did put the Broncos in position to win the game, but the rest of the night was another example of Johnson performing at a high level, as he allowed just two receptions for 9 yards on four targets. 

The sixth-year veteran is the only Buffalo cornerback outside of the injured Tre’Davious White with a negative target EPA (-4.4) this season. It’s a far cry from his league-leading -12.1 receptions over expected in 2021, but he’s also been a force in the run game. Johnson’s 89 tackle score is the second-highest on this list, aided by his second-most run tackles (25) and run stops (15) among cornerbacks through Week 10.

McMillian has been a surprise name to emerge from a Denver secondary that includes established stars Pat Surtain II and Justin Simmons.

Undrafted in 2022, McMillian has aligned almost exclusively as a slot corner this season (83.8% of defensive snaps), leading all defenders with a -15.1 percent CPOE from such an alignment (min. 15 slot targets). He also has allowed 3.3 fewer receptions than expected, the second-best mark from a slot alignment.

McMillian’s ability to disrupt the pass game is complemented by strong run-stuffing chops. His -3.5 run stop EPA is third-best figure among all defenders from a slot alignment this season.

Since 2017, Hilton’s second year in the league, the former undrafted free-agent signee has aligned as a slot corner on more than 65 percent of his defensive snaps. Hilton hasn’t always presented the best metrics since relocating from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati before the 2021 campaign, but things are finally coming back to together for the veteran in 2023. This season marks the first time Hilton has allowed fewer receptions than expected (-1.4) since joining Cincy’s secondary, and the first time he’s allowed a negative EPA (-2.2) when targeted as a slot corner in the same span.

Hilton has also been a contributor against the run, boasting the fifth-best run stop EPA (-4.1) among all defenders from a slot alignment in 2023.

The oldest player on this list at age 30, Maulet has been a major catalyst for Baltimore’s defensive success this season with his pristine play in the slot.

Aligning in the slot on 85.7 percent of his defensive snaps in 2023, Maulet has allowed the third-lowest completion percentage (57.1%) from such an alignment (min. 15 slot targets). The former Steeler has allowed a -9.1 target EPA this season, the fourth-best mark among all cornerbacks when aligned in the slot.

A sixth-rounder in his sophomore season, Lake rounds out the list at No. 10. He barely qualified, playing just over 50 percent of his defensive snaps as a slot corner, but he has stood out when in the role, forcing the highest tight-window rate (53.3%) from the alignment (min. 15 slot targets). (The next-closest defender is Tennessee’s Roger McCreary, whose tight-window rate from the slot is 31.6%.)

Between Lake, Kyren Williams, Byron Young, and Puka Nacua, among others, the Rams continue to find steady contributors far beyond Round 1.
Mike Band, Keegan Abdoo and John Andersen contributed to this story.
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