William Gay’s Career Numbers Show He Is Clearly More Effective In The Slot

As it turns out, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay really is better in the slot, and always has been. At least according to the stats compiled by Pro Football Focus, which encompasses his entire playing career, from his first snaps on defense in 2008 through to the 2016 season, when he transitioned back into the slot full-time.

The site posted a simple graphic on Tuesday with a straightforward caption: “William Gay is at his best in the slot”. The graphic provides the evidence. It shows a bar graph that records the percentage of defensive snaps per season in which he played in the slot, overlaid by a line graph indicating the yards that he allowed per snaps that season.

There is a stark and clear parallel between the seasons in which he was primarily asked to line up outside and the seasons in which he struggled most to limit his opponents in terms of yardage. By far his two worst seasons are the two seasons in which he saw by far his highest volume of work on the outside.

The worst of his career was actually not so long ago, just back in 2014. That season, he played over 93 percent of his snaps aligned on the outside, and as a result he gave up easily the highest yards per snap in coverage statistic of his career, at 1.68 yards per coverage snap.

This was…not a good year for the secondary. Both Ike Taylor, on his last legs already, and Cortez Allen were dealing with injuries, or at the least, ineffectiveness. By the end of the year, they were lining up with the Munchkin Bunch of Antwon Blake and Gay on the outside with Brice McCain in the slot. It just was not good, all around.

The second-worst season of his career is probably the one you might expect, the 2009 season, his third year in the league. After a cameo of success leading up to a Super Bowl victory the year before, the Steelers let Bryant McFadden move on in free agency and Gay moved into the starting lineup. It didn’t go well. He played nearly 97 percent of his snaps on the outside and allowed 1.43 yards per coverage snap.

He has, otherwise, been better than you would think. He allowed just .67 yards per snap in coverage last season while taking over 70 percent of his snaps in the slot. The year before, he allowed .89 yards per coverage snap while playing about half the time in the slot.

He put up similar numbers in 2011 and 2013 when he spent roughly 40-50 percent of his snaps in the slot. The outlier is the 2010 season, but I suspect that this largely traces back to the disastrous game against the Patriots in Rob Gronkowski’s rookie season when he beat him for three touchdowns. Gay was otherwise pretty good that season.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Zarbor

    There’s a name I haven’t heard of in a while..Cortez Allen…..Man, what a disappointment. Nevertheless, its time to move on from Willie Gay. He should be a backup at best this point in his career. Great guy, did very good things for us, its time.

  • Robert E Lil

    It’s not difficult – in fact it’s easy –
    To line up whichever receiver you want in the slot so that you get the Gay matchup. And that’s what all teams want

  • falconsaftey43

    If it’s so easy, why didn’t it happen last year?

  • AndyR34


  • SteelerzGuy

    I generally agree with 99% of what the writers here post in their articles and absolutely love the Terrible Podcast. That being said – I have admittedly never been a big fan of the on field play of who I call “Burned Every Play Willie Gay” (As opposed to Tomlin’s saying Big Play Willie Gay).

    To my point – the numbers may not tell the whole story when comparing slot to outside coverage. Maybe I’m wrong, and my tin foil hat is broken again, but in general I’m under the impression that the slot receivers generally don’t go deep as much as the outside guys – Thus Gay’s numbers in coverage of the slot WR’s would naturally show less yards per catch allowed. Plus, alot of times, the outside CB’s seem to play with much more of a cushion than the CB’s covering the slot WR and trying to guard against slants.

  • Alan Tman

    Will Gay is much better in the slot, but most of his pick 6’s come on the outside. I think his time is up, and cannot believe we drafted another receiver instead of another CB or traded down and got a CB, ILB, and a TE.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Slot CBs do generally post lower yards per coverage snap, but not .67 yards per coverage snap. Gay’s numbers are above average. A lot of people don’t like Gay, but it’s not really justified. He was their best cornerback from 2013 to 2015, and still played well last year outside of the AFC Championship game, which tends to be the only thing people bring up from last season to point how how bad he’s gotten.

  • RickM

    I agree. I am neither for or against William, but if seasonal performance stats don’t matter then nothing does. Hopefully will can get another good year out of him.

  • Robert E Lil

    Wha? Did u watch the last game?

  • Steeler Nation!

    IF Bryant hadn’t gotten suspended (and 1 strike away from being gone), Coates hadn’t gotten hurt and disappeared, DHB had ever produced anything at all on offense, we wouldn’t have had such a disastrous WR group last year with a team poised to make a SB run. That group was every bit as bad as our CBs were. I was hoping for a CB in round 2 also, but I understood the lack of confidence in the WR group (Bryant’s only due to personal reasons of course).

  • Alan Tman

    If you have Bryant coming back, you sign Hunter , and you think Ayers and Rogers will get better you don’t draft a receiver. If you are going to draft one then you shouldn’t have signed Hunter. I have said this all preseason Hunter is going to force them to play him. MB10 and Hunter on the outside, and AB in the slot.

  • Steeler Nation!

    I get what you’re saying. But injuries happen too. Not only were we short Bryant (and the rumor mill is churning again, God help us…), but we lost Wheaton and Coates also. Someone will most likely be lost to injury again. Nature of the beast.
    Again, I wanted a CB in round 2. But Bryant’s situation has us in a tough spot.