In The Slot

Brent Sobleski focuses on two wide receiver prospects who could become slot weapons in the NFL.

INDIANAPOLIS – Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Danny Woodhead, Percy Harvin, and even Greg Jennings and DeSean Jackson continue to redefine the value of slot receivers in the National Football League.

Welker has averaged 108 receptions over the past four seasons. Amendola posted 85 catches last season in a St. Louis offense previously led by new Browns' head coach Pat Shurmur. Woodhead became an integral cog in New England's offense as they posted the best regular season record in the league. Harvin was offensive rookie of the year in 2009 playing from the slot. Jennings seamlessly slides inside and outside in the Packers' Super Bowl champion caliber offense. Jackson does the same for Philadelphia as the most explosive talent in the NFL.

They average 5-10 and 187 pounds.

It is the age of the "little man" as short-area explosiveness has substituted for down-the-field speed in an ever increasing pass happy league.

Two particular prospects, Troy's Jerrel Jernigan and TCU's Jeremy Kerley, are perfect candidates to fill the same role as they reach the next level.

Jernigan is the top rated senior receiving prospect in the upcoming draft, while Kerley is a solid mid-round option.

Neither have illusions their role will fall outside the realm of playing in the slot.

"I know I have that body type," the 5-9 189-pound Kerley discussed. "Coming into this thing, that's the way I'm looking at it. I'll take my talents to the slot.

"I wished I had more touchdowns and receptions, but I fit a system. That's what I'm going into the NFL thinking. I don't have to be that touchdown guy. I don't have to be the yards guy. As long as I fit the system and do my part, it's all I need.

"I played the slot a lot. So being on the outside wide was a little different for me. I feel I matchup well, and I'm pretty confident."

Despite a lack of size, these targets continue to be vital parts of multiple offensive schemes.

"Quick feet, quick hands, and big hearts" Kerley described as what makes a great slot receiver.

Jernigan is slightly smaller than Kerley at 5-8 and 185 pounds, but he envisions himself as the next Desean Jackson. Jackson was a second round selection while the Eagles were under the supervision of current Browns' general manager Tom Heckert.

The comparison is often invoked because of Jernigan's blazing speed.

"I think it's good that everyone wants to see what I run," Jernigan grinned. "I look forward to it too. It's good that there are a couple guys here who can stretch the field.

"I expect to run in the low 4.3's. I'm a smaller guy, so I have to have something depend on."

What many young receivers quickly learn, particularly playing within the tight confines of the slot, is that speed isn't everything.

"In Troy I really didn't get it a lot (press coverage)," Jernigan detailed. "I can get off of it, but I just didn't see it much. I can go outside or play inside. I plan on playing both."

Kerley saw more press coverage and excelled during his time in Mobile at the Senior Bowl.

"I learned a lot of things I didn't know when I went there," he discussed. "A lot of teams told me there was a reason I was there and my talent would carry me.

"I learned how to get off the ball and use my hands because I haven't been pressed a lot playing in the slot. So playing outside it was more about learning how to shake defenders downfield while running my routes. I improved in getting in and out of my breaks. Stuff like that."

As both expect to accept their roles and move to the next level, both realize their performance in Indianapolis at the NFL combine is merely the first step.

"Going into the league, everybody is going to be good. So I have to say on my p's and q's," said Jernigan.

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