The Chris Givens Debate: Is The St. Louis Rams Receiver Better On The Outside Or In The Slot?

Nov. 25, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA: St. Louis Rams wide receiver (13) Chris Givens against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nov. 25, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA: St. Louis Rams wide receiver (13) Chris Givens against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

With the 2013 NFL Draft quickly approaching, the debate amongst  fans, better known as the “armchair GMs,” for who the St. Louis Rams will select is heating up. Unlike years past, the Rams are sitting relatively low in the first round, with both picks coming in the bottom half of the draft. Whereas before you could pretty much narrow the pick to one of two players, this year, the pick is anyone’s guess. However, there are a couple of “leads.” Naturally, there are needs at several position on the roster, including outside linebacker, running back, guard, defensive line, safety, and, of course, wide receiver… let the debate begin.

When it comes to wide receiver, St. Louis Rams’ fans seem to fall into one of two categories: those for Cordarrelle Patterson and those for Tavon Austin. Ramblin’ Fan has done more than its fair share of comparing the two players. However, most of those comparisons fail to step back and analyze the current receivers corps.

Some see the selection of Cordarrelle Patterson as a knock against Brian Quick, correlating the selection in the draft with the failure of other player. However, any pro-style, NFL offense is going to run a majority of their formations with, at least, two receivers split out wide. Logically, one would point to the fact that Chris Givens for that role, having played a majority of his snaps lined up on the outside, in tandem with Brandon Gibson, with Danny Amendola or Austin Pettis filling with slot. One of the biggest outcries I hear from those in Rams’ Nation against the idea of drafting Patterson and moving Givens inside is that “Chris Givens is better on the outside and in the slot.” To that I say… WHAT?

Chris Givens is the definition of a slot receiving threat, one that can be moved to the outside of the formation if necessary, but does most of his dirty work either 1) face-to-face with the linebacker in the middle of the field or 2) streaking 50+ yards down the field. To further emphasize that point here is a basic breakdown of Givens receiving statistics last season:

  • Of Givens’ 77 total targets, 29.8% came in the middle of the field, within 0-9 yards of the line of scrimmage (premium slot receiver territory)
  • Another 32.4% of those his total targets were 20+ yards down the field, most of those being in the 40-50 yard range on the deep fade. Of Givens’ 698 total receiving yards, an astounding 45.5% of them came on these bombs from Bradford, including all three of his touchdowns in 2012.
  • Only 32.5% of Givens’ targets were thrown to him in the “typical” outside receiver areas of the field (i.e. “outside the numbers” or in the deep middle of the field). On those targets, Givens made only 14 catches for 159 yards, and zero touchdowns….
  • The other 5.3% of catches came behind the line of scrimmage on the outside (i.e. wide receiver screens).

For a quick comparison, Brandon Gibson, the other “outside” receiver, saw 57.3% of his targets in those typical outside receiver areas of the field; Danny Amendola, the “poster boy” slot receiver had 43.1% of his targets come in the outside receiver areas. Clearly, although Givens mainly lined up on the outside of the formation, he was primarily used in either the middle of the field or as a burner down the field, both of which would only be helped by a shift over to the slot. In fact, over 60% of Givens’ actual receptions, and over 70% of his receiving yards came in premium burner or slot receiver terriroty…

However, sometimes sheer numbers out of context cannot paint the full picture. Instead we can look at some of the other areas where Givens’ might be better suited in the slot, as opposed to the outside. Givens is not the biggest receiver on the field, measuring in at 5’11 tall and just under 200 lbs. Naturally, receivers with inferior size typically do not match up well with some of the bigger or, at least, more physical cornerbacks in the league… that was definitely the case for Givens last season. Against Seattle, playing against two of the largest and most talented corners in the NFL, St. Louis’ 4th round gem only tallied 3 receptions for 106 yards, with one drop and no touchdowns, despite playing 97 of the 132 total offensive snaps (73.4%). In fact, against teams with a Top 10 cornerback on the roster (6 total games), Givens totaled only 12 catches for 273 yards, with 158 of those yards (57.8%) coming on three 50+ yard receptions. What does that mean? It means… yes, Chris Givens does possess the ability to occasionally beat the top corners in the league down the field; but, it also means that outside of the single, burning play every other game, he was held to 1.5 receptions and 19.1 yard per game as an outside receiver.

The point is, Givens possesses the speed and quickness to become an elite receiver in the NFL. Over time, he will undoubtedly hone his game, improving on route running and overall field awareness, which will cause matchup nightmares all over the field. However, Givens does struggle against bigger, stronger cornerbacks, especially when asked to battle for catches in the typical outside receiver areas on the field or when jammed at the line of scrimmage. Sliding Givens into the slot wipes those troubles away. In the slot, Givens would likely be matched against a safety, nickelback, or, in a best-case-scenario, an outside or inside linebacker, where touting an undersized frame does not necessarily inhibit a receivers ability to find openings in the defense. From the inside, the St. Louis Rams can get Givens into the flats on quick outs and bubble screens, allowing him to use his elite speed to make a play once the ball is in his hands. From the slot, the middle of the field is essentially his playground, especially in the quick-slant game and on drag routes that can get the ball in Givens’ hands quickly and in-stride to significantly increase those YAC and touchdown figures in the red zone… just ask Austin Pettis about that. Moreover,  taking the “outside receiver” tag off of Givens allows Schottenheimer and Bradford to move Givens around in the formation more freely, creating mismatches in the defensive assignments or forcing defensive backs to scramble for position when playing strict, man-to-man coverage. Lastly, and more importantly, you do not need to be lined up on the outside to burn a defensive back 50 yards down the field… so there’s that!

If the St. Louis Rams have faith in Brian Quick, they should look for another outside wide receiver in the 2013 NFL Draft. Chris Givens was a pure gold find in last year’s draft, and they would be smart to find a way to utilize his rare speed and quickness to its full potential without asking him to fight battles on the outside that he is not physically built to win. With Brian Quick and Cordarrelle Patterson on the outside, the St. Louis Rams could immulate an Atlanta Falcons-esque wide receiver combination, something Les Snead dreamed up and brought to life when his former team shot up the 2011 NFL Draft order to snag Julio Jones to pair with Roddy White. However, unlike the Falcons, the Rams would have a 4.3-40 time, burner to line up in the slot and a 6’5 tall, 246 lbs., 4.49-40 time tight end in Jared Cook that can completely ruin a defensive game plan, at least in terms of simply matching up with the receivers on the field.

In the end, fans can question Patterson and Quick’s “rawness” and “readiness” until their faces turn blue. However, there is absolutely nothing to support this idea that Chris Givens is better on the outside than in the slot…