Coming out of spring practices the New York Giants were obviously excited about what speedy wide receiver Darius Slayton, the team’s fifth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, might bring to the offense. Coach Pat Shurmur called Slayton the team’s “most improved” player throughout OTAs and mandatory mini-camp.
Then, in a rookie practice the day before the official start of training camp for the full roster, Slayton injured his hamstring.
A two-month recovery process that included a brief preseason return before aggravating the injury meant the Giants had to wait until last Sunday, Week 3 of the regular season, to get a glimpse of what Slayton and his 4.39 40-yard dash speed could do.
Slayton ended his difference-making debut with three catches in five targets for 82 yards (27.3 yards per catch), including a 46-yard grab that set up a Giants touchdown.
“It was a lot of fun to get out there and play football for the first time in a long time,” Slayton said on Thursday. “I’m a football player. I want to play ball as much as I can. Having to be out, having to wait was definitely a long process. I’m grateful to be on the other side of it now and ready to go for the rest of the season.”
Without Saquon Barkley for the next few weeks and with Golden Tate having one game left on his four-game PED suspension the Giants can use all the play-making help they can get. Thus, a healthy and productive Slayton is a welcome presence for the Giants.
“I don’t know how much I helped in just one week but hopefully as the season goes on if I’m able to make more plays down the field hopefully that’ll help open it up for other guys in the run game,” Slayton said.
The 4.39 speed is Slayton’s calling card, but his route-running coming out of Auburn has been better than advertised.
Giants rookie cornerback DeAndre Baker, who went to Georgia, played against Slayton in the SEC.
He said this week that Slayton “runs crisp routes” and that he was “not at all” surprised by his impact Sunday vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A subtle example of Slayton’s route running came on his 46-yard catch vs. Tampa Bay. Aligned at the top of the screen, Slayton drives cornerback Vernon Hargreaves to the outside before quickly breaking to the post and simply running away from him.
“I was just like, ‘I’ve gotta go now,’ “ Slayton said of once he knew he had position on Hargreaves.
“Underrated” is how Slayton describes his route-running.
“I definitely felt like kinda going through the [draft] process it was a little underrated. I guess mostly because people hadn’t seen me do it,” Slayton said. “I definitely feel like I am a good route runner and I feel like I’ll be able to continue to show that throughout the rest of the season.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula is looking forward to seeing more from Slayton.
“He hasn’t played very much, but from what we’ve seen, he’s shown a lot of poise. He does a nice job with his routes, he’s a really good route runner. I hate to say this like this but for a young guy, he’s a really good route runner. A lot of times guys who come in for the first time, their routes look a little different in the games than they do in practice, but he does a nice job with that,” Shula said. “Like you said, he can run. He’s still got a lot to learn, too, and a lot of little technique things. He’s going to play each week against some really, really, good corners. The best corners that he played in college will probably be the ones he sees every week here in the NFL.”
Slayton sounded excited by the challenge.
“To be able to get out there and play ball period is a good feeling. Making plays helps make you feel like you belong in this league, that you can compete at this level,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to carry that momentum the rest of the season.”
The Giants hope so, too.