Forget about Harry Douglas being tackled by the turf monster and not scoring what might have been the winning touchdown of the NFC championship game. In a nutshell, the problem with Douglas as our slot man is that he becomes all but invisible for what seems like entire games at a time.
This is our slot receiver. He should be a true weapon in our offensive attack. Instead, Harry is pretty much just an afterthought. That's okay if you're a run-first team or in rebuilding mode. But if you're a pass-happy attack aiming for rings, an ineffective slot man is a significant weakness.
The purely anecdotal explanation is that Douglas wasn't all that technically precise a route runner even coming out of college. He was extremely productive at Louisville (against Big East opposition - so take the lofty stats with a few grains of salt), and he showed pretty good speed at the Combine.
He was typically projected as a fifth or perhaps fourth round prospect for the 2008 draft. Atlanta snapped him up in the third round. In several interviews in 2008 and 2009, general manager Thomas Dimitroff explained that the team's vision for the receiving corps was to have two "talls" on the outsides (Michael Jenkins and Roddy White) with a "quick, Wes Welker type" of receiver in the slot. Harry was tapped by the Falcons specifically to fill that role, effectively becoming our #3 receiver the day he was drafted.
He had a decent though not spectacular rookie year - 23 receptions, 320 yards, 1 TD. (By comparison, Laurent Robinson had 37 receptions for 437 yards and 1 TD in his rookie season the year before.)
Things went badly downhill on a Wednesday afternoon in training camp the following summer. Over 1000 fans saw Harry suffer what was clearly a major knee injury. He missed that season on injured reserve and was limited in the 2010 season.
So now he's a bit slower than he was before the injury, and his cuts aren't quite as sharp. That's bad news for a guy who relied on quickness rather than precision and who had issues with drops going back to his college days.
He has been working hard to improve his route running since his return, and his numbers have improved compared to his rookie season and his 2010 comeback - he managed 39 receptions in 2011 and 38 (in 15 games) last year.
But that's hardly the kind of production that would make opposing defensive coordinators take notice. And that's really the issue: he was formerly a shifty, quick guy who has now lost a step and sometimes has to round off his breaks. He's far from physically imposing (lists at 6-0, 183) and he's still at best average as a route runner.
With his experience, he's still quality depth. But he's no weapon in the slot.
And now the more statistical explanation:
If you take all the eligible receivers other than the QBs (who technically are eligible receivers) and offensive linemen playing eligible positions (knocking out Mike Johnson's touchdown catch and Joe Hawley's ability to double as a fullback), our guys had a total of 421 receptions last season in 5182 combined snaps, for an reception-to-snap average of 8.12%.
That average is in the 8% range almost regardless of position - our WRs averaged 8.33%, TEs 8.32%, RBs 8.76%. Only the fullbacks were not a significant part of the passing attack this season, averaging receptions on only 1.71% of their snaps. (And that makes perfect sense, because an overwhelming majority of their snaps were running plays.)
A few specific players were also obviously going to be lower - for example, TEs Tommy Gallarda and Michael Palmer were primarily blockers, so their averages were much lower than 8%. Ditto for receiver Kevin Cone, who made the team largely for his blocking skills and whose few snaps often came on running plays.
But otherwise, 8% is a pretty solid benchmark for last year's Falcons offense. If your receptions were significantly less than 8% of your snaps, then you either weren't being targeted or you were simply dropping the ball.
Roddy White and Julio Jones had 9.31% and 9.45% marks, respectively. Tony Gonzalez was even better, with 9.63% of his snaps played resulting in him catching the ball.
On the other hand, Harry Douglas only managed 6.48%.
It's true that he would theoretically be just the fourth option behind those other three. But his percentage didn't even match the running backs.
And it should be noted that as the slot receiver, he had a huge mathematical advantage over Roddy, Julio, and Tony G. Whenever the fullback came in, Harry went out. Roddy, Julio and Tony were on the field for all those running plays, lowering their percentages. Harry was only in for the single-back formations. He had a much higher percentage of passing plays among his snaps than the others, yet his rate of production was still significantly lower.
Throw in that the others would draw the better coverage, leaving Harry either in zone coverage or one-on-one against the other team's third or fourth best defender, and there's simply no way to sugar coat it. Harry simply wasn't that effective as the slot man in 2012.
Let's hope that somebody (Drew Davis, Tim Toone, Darius Johnson, etc, or even Chase Coffman) can make a serious challenge for playing time in the slot in training camp and preseason. If nothing else, Harry needs a major push to step up his game.