Sometimes, fantasy football analysis delves a little too far towards the “fantasy” side and not enough on the football side. We obviously love box scores and advanced metrics as much as the next guy. But having a deeper understanding of the game itself will give you an advantage both in digesting those stats and understanding what you are watching. And I’ve noticed, there are some concepts out there that might not be fully understood by the fantasy community.

So, today I’m going to cover a simple one that often gets overlooked: the different receiving roles. Fully understanding some of these terms will go a long way in digesting the extensive and industry-leading content found in the 2024 Fantasy Alarm NFL Draft Guide. It will not only help you know who to draft for your leagues, but also identify who to add off the fantasy waiver wire if a player gets hurt. So, let’s dive into the different roles and alignments of NFL pass catchers.




Fantasy Football 2024: NFL Offensive Receiving Roles

There are a LOT of different formations. And there are creative ways to align guys within those. Plus, there are different slight variations of each alignment. But, at the base level, there are really five different alignments: Split end, flanker, slot, tight end and backfield. 

Split End

You need seven players “tethered” to the line every play, with their foot up on the line of scrimmage. If you notice a wide receiver checking with the line judge before every play, that’s what he’s doing – confirming he is on the line. The two widest players on the line are eligible to catch passes with the linemen in between them ineligible. 

On one side, you typically have a tight end and on the other, you have a split end. These players cannot go in motion unless another player steps up and someone else steps back. Some folks also call the split end the “X receiver”. They are shown in red below.


The flanker lines up OFF the line of scrimmage, typically on the other side outside of the tight end (but sometimes outside of a tethered slot player). If they were ON the line of scrimmage, that would make the tight end or any player on the line inside of them ineligible to catch passes as they would be “covered up”. 

Since flankers line up a step back off the line, they are free to go in motion whenever. It’s also easier to beat any corner trying to jam you as you have a couple of feet of buffer zone. This position is sometimes referred to as the “Z receiver”.




Slot Receiver

The “slot” is the space in between the split end and the tackle or the flanker and the tight end. This is where a “slot receiver” would line up. There’s a lot of names to describe the different players that line up here. 

Some just say slot. If a running back goes in there, they might say slotback (like the graphic indicates). And tight ends going into this area can be called “big slot” or “move” tight ends. Much like flanker, in this area, you often line up off the line and are free to go in motion. 

Tight End

The classical tight end lines up “inline” which not only means they are on the line of scrimmage, but that they are in line with the offensive linemen. This can get confusing (and we will discuss this in depth below) because not every tight end plays an inline role.

A player like Josh Oliver plays nearly 90% of his snaps inline, for instance, whereas a guy like Mike Gesicki only played ~10% of his snaps at this alignment last year. Inline tight ends are often referred to as the Y alignment in the letter system.


There are a few different variations of this. The graphic below shows a singleback formation with a tailback (or halfback). There’s also obviously quarterback or fullback as well as different offset and wing locations. 

In general (and for the sake of this article), we consider the “backfield” to be anywhere off the line of scrimmage and behind the offensive linemen. Anything off the line and wide of the tackle or tight end would be considered the slot. In the lettering system, lining up in the backfield is often referred to as the H position (or H-back). 




Key Roles For 2024 Fantasy Football

In the modern NFL, the distinctions are often blurred. The best wide receivers learn ALL the roles and can line up all over the formation. And some players are only built for certain roles which could lead them to play limited snaps. Oftentimes, the playbook will have some sort of designation for the role (say, X, Y, Z, H, S as we discussed) and a rookie player might not be able to handle learning every single role. They might just be tasked with learning one with the idea of mastering that and adding on later as they develop.

This is just one limitation rookies face. A great example of that is CeeDee Lamb. In 2020 as a rookie, Lamb ran 93.2% of his routes out of the slot. But he only ran 35 routes out wide as those roles belonged to Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. That led Lamb to come out of the game for two-WR sets where there often is no slot. So, he only played ~64% of the snaps on the season which capped his upside as a back-end WR2, high-end WR3 in fantasy football. 

As we know, his role changed after Amari Cooper left, and last year, he was the WR1 in all of fantasy football playing almost 1,000 snaps on the season. And he had the best role in fantasy as a slot/flanker.





As we mentioned, the best players line up all over the formation. But the combination that has been most conducive to huge fantasy success is this: the wide receiver lines up in the slot often for three-WR sets then stays on the field and moves to flanker or split end for two-WR sets. Last year, CeeDee Lamb was the top scoring player in PPR at any position with 403.2 PPR points. 

Not only that, he scored the third most PPR points of any wide receiver of all time. In doing so, he actually ran the fourth most routes of any player from the slot. Per Pro Football Focus, he ran 385 routes from the slot and 282 out wide. In 2021, Cooper Kupp had 439.5 PPR points which is the most of all time in a single season. In that season, Kupp also ran the fourth most routes from the slot with 434 (while running 215 out wide). 

The two best wide receiver seasons of the modern era both had this same utilization. This unique set up not only allows the receiver to be a step off the line and go in motion but also creates mismatches with nickel corners and linebackers. The key though is NOT coming off the field. 

In both of the seasons where Kupp and Lamb were the WR1, Tyler Boyd led the league in slot routes. But he was coming out in favor of Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase, which capped his upside. A guy like Lamb will play a ton of slot but, in jumbo sets or red area situations, he still stays on the field and lines up out wide as we see here.

We’ve already written a free article on one player who could benefit GREATLY from a move back into the slot this season (with an offensive coordinator who worked directly with Cooper Kupp). In this year’s Fantasy Alarm Draft Guide, we identify a number of players with this potential. And that’s fully incorporated into my fantasy football rankings, which are available for PPR, half PPR and standard formats! 




Wide Tight End

Even though this is an incredibly simple concept, the labels are what create the confusion. And it’s those labels that also create a big advantage for fantasy football. The simple idea is this: we want players who are TE eligible in fantasy football, but actually line up in a wide receiver spot as much as possible. 

Some aspects are obvious. It’s easier to get a release from a wide receiver spot. You are open to a bigger route tree, which potentially leads to a high depth of target. Wide receivers are often the first read on plays. They also may be covered by smaller players which creates mismatches. All those are obviously great for fantasy.

A guy like Mark Andrews last year ran 90% of his routes from either the slot or out wide and he has a top-five season of all time on his resume. Evan Engram also ran nearly 75% of his routes from a wide receiver spot and just had the second most receptions all time for a tight end. Here’s Engram lined up at split end at the very top of the formation:


The sneaky aspect is how those formations affect the OTHER players. When you line up a tight end at wide receiver, it not only often takes a wide receiver out of the game, but can also bring another tight end into the game that doesn’t command targets. 

Travis Kelce ran over 70% of his routes from a WR spot last year. While doing that, inline tight end Noah Gray quietly played over 50% of the snaps on the season – while only catching 28 passes. That leads to target consolidation. 

We heavily factor that into our never-ending quest for breakout tight ends. And an early look at my Yin & Yang Tight End Fantasy Rankings is available now in the Fantasy Alarm Draft Guide as part of the Dynamic Tier Rankings.





Fullback? Yes, fullback. And no, I’m not talking about drafting Kyle Juszczyk in your fantasy league. The reason fullback is a “key role” for fantasy football is actually more about them NOT being fantasy relevant. And it goes hand in hand with the concept discussed above with the inline tight ends.

Let’s talk about Juszczyk. The San Francisco 49ers, while attempting the fewest passes in the league per PFF, just had the RB1 in fantasy, the TE5 and the two wide receivers in the top 15. How? Target consolidation. Kyle Juszczyk and blocking tight end Charlie Woerner just combined last year to play 70% of the snaps on the season. While getting only 20 targets. That deployment consolidates the targets among the other players.

Not to mention, fullbacks are great for the running back. We talked about this in our recent articles on an NFL running back and a fantasy wide receiver that could both benefit from a new scheme coming to town. And this team could be this year’s version of the Dolphins or Texans where fantasy assets pop off in a big way.

Gear Up For 2024 Fantasy Football With Our Expert Draft Guide!

We take these schemes and fantasy football pretty seriously here at Fantasy Alarm. And all of this research is featured in this year’s Draft Guide, which is not only available now, but will continuously be updated all summer long! 

Grab your copy now or, if you want to truly have your hand on the pulse of any changes, trends or waiver adds that we see all season and all year round, become an All-Pro Member today and get EVERYTHING we have to offer for ALL sports. With promo code LETSGO, you actually can get 50% off your first month right now or, if you do the annual membership, you can get 40% off for the entire year! 

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