A slot is a narrow opening, usually in a machine or container, into which something can be inserted or dropped. It can also refer to an open position, such as a job or assignment. A slot may be used to accept coins or paper tickets for a service. In a computer, it can refer to a connection pinhole (usually one of several closely-spaced holes) into which an expansion card can be inserted to add circuitry for additional capability. It may also refer to a portion of an airport runway that is reserved for aircraft to take off or land at a given time during a particular day, in order to avoid repeated delays caused by too many flights trying to fly at the same time.
In football, a team isn’t complete without at least one player who can play in the slot, which is an area between the outside wide receiver and the tight end. Normally, slot players are smaller than traditional wide receivers and look more like running backs. They line up a few yards behind the line of scrimmage and are able to do almost anything on offense, making them very valuable to an NFL franchise.
Unlike the other two wide receiver positions, the slot receiver can actually run the ball as well as catch passes, and they will often be asked to do both on specific plays such as pitch plays, reverses, and end-arounds. On these plays, the quarterback will hand the ball to the slot receiver after sending them into pre-snap motion to get them into a good position to carry the ball. The receiver can then use their speed and elusiveness to run past the defense and score.
When slot receivers are not running or catching the ball, they are typically blocking for the other wide receivers and/or the running backs. They must be able to chip and block (or at least prevent big hits on blitzes from outside linebackers and safeties) while simultaneously providing protection for running plays designed to the outside, such as sweeps and slant routes.
In recent years, the importance of the slot receiver has increased significantly and a number of teams have begun using multiple slot receivers on their offenses. Some of the top offensive players in the league, such as Tyreek Hill and Cole Beasley, are excellent at both catching and running the ball, while also being effective blockers in the slot. Slot receivers are a vital part of any modern NFL offense, and the best ones can be extremely difficult to defend.