As a rookie wide receiver in 2019, Darius Slayton became something for the New York Giants that most talent evaluators did not think he could — at least not that early in his career. Slayton became an impact receiver, often the Giants’ best and easily Daniel Jones’ favorite over the second half of the season.
Now, can Slayton build on that outstanding stretch and become a true No. 1 wide receiver? Let’s take a closer look.
Position: Wide receiver
Contract: Year 2 of four-year, $2.753 million rookie contract
How he got here
Handicapped by a simplistic Auburn passing attack that didn’t require him to run a complex route tree and a reputation for lack of concentration that led to drops, Slayton lasted until the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
After a promising spring with the Giants, he missed most of training camp and was slowed the first half of the season by a lingering hamstring injury.
Slayton had a breakout Week 10 game against the New York Jets, catching 10 passes in 15 targets for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns. He ended up with 31 of his 48 catches over the season’s final seven games.
Slayton led the Giants in receiving yards (740), yards per catch (15.4) and touchdowns (8).
Slayton told Sirius XM NFL Radio that “The game just started to get progressively slower and slower for me” throughout the season.
Aside from a collection of undrafted free agents, the Giants surprisingly did not add to their wide receiver group this offseason. That means they are counting heavily on Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard and Slayton for the upcoming season.
Tate has long been a good player, and his 2019 season showed he can still be an impact receiver. While his 4.5 receptions per game was his lowest mark since 2013, his 13.8 yards per catch was his best since that same 2013 season. Still, Tate is not a dominant guy who scares opposing secondaries.
Neither, truthfully is Shepard. That’s a point I made when I recently profiled Shepard.
That leaves the Giants needing Slayton to show that his second half of the season surge in 2019 was not a mirage.
To grow into the kind of quarterback the Giants need him to be, Daniel Jones needs game-breaking playmakers to catch his passes. To be successful, the expected vertical passing attack of Jason Garrett needs players who can threaten defenses down the field.
For 2020, Slayton is perhaps the receiver most likely to answer those calls. He is easily the one with the most upside.
Former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson is a Slayton believer:
“He’s a beast, man,” Burleson said. “I wanna see him develop even more and see just how well they can use him. Can you move him around? Can you put him in motion? Can you run him around multiple routes? I know he can go over the top of guys. Now let’s test how good of a wide receiver he is. He’s one of my favorite young wideouts ...
“He can be a top-flight receiver in this league.”
Here is what Slayton told the team’s official website about his hopes for 2020:
“My confidence is something that built as the year went on last year,” said Slayton, who caught five of his eight touchdowns and had both of his 100-yard games (121 yards at Jets and 154 at Philadelphia) in the second half of the season. “Hopefully this year, I’ll be able to hit it Week 1 running. It’s mostly internal. It’s just all in your head to me. Especially for receivers, to get the ball you’ve got to catch it, catch it low, high, behind you. I think it just starts from having unwavering faith in your hands basically.”
The Giants are banking on those hands, and on the idea that he will build on the promise of 2019.