The New York Giants are betting their future on the development of a number of first and second year players. In fact, it’s fair to say that the Giants fortunes for the next five (or more) years are depending on their young players developing into a veteran core.
If the Giants ever want to get off the “rebuilding” hamster wheel, they need their young players to step up and break out.
In writing a piece for NFL.com, former NFL receiver Nate Burleson identifies Giants receiver Darius Slayton as one of five sophomore wideouts who stand a good chance of having a breakout season in 2020.
Darius Slayton - New York GIants, age 23
Year 1: 14 games | 84 targets | 48 rec. | 740 yds | 8 TDs
Slayton is the best wide receiver on the Giants, in my opinion. I know Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard both missed time with injuries last season, but the fifth-round steal showed a lot of promise as the focal point of the passing game. This is an offseason in which veterans Tate and Shepard haven’t been able to work on their connection with Daniel Jones. The guy Jones knows best is Slayton, the Giants’ leader in receiving yards last season, so I’d expect the pair of Year 2 players to continue to grow together. Slayton looks poised for roughly 1,000 yards and 10 TDs.
Of all the Giants’ second-year players (Daniel Jones aside, because quarterbacks aren’t held to the same standards as any other position), Slayton probably stands the best chance of having a breakout season in 2020. As Burleson points out, Jones probably has the best chemistry with Slayton out of the Giants’ top receivers. That could pay dividends in an offseason program almost completely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a vacuum, there are cases for and against Slayton breaking out. The biggest case for a breakout season is his average depth of target (aDOT), which was 20th in the NFL last year at 14.1 yards downfield. Average depth of target tends to be fairly predictive one year to the next, where things like touchdowns or catch rate can vary widely.
On the other hand, receiver targets are very predictive of future success as well — after all, targets represent opportunities and a receiver can’t produce if the ball isn’t going his way. In that case, Slayton had a relatively low number of targets at 84 (62nd in the NFL), which is roughly the same as Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard, despite playing two and four more games than them, respectively.
If the Giants are committed to spreading the ball around and if Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram see increased roles in the receiving game, then Slayton simply might not get the chance to break out. If Slayton sees targets at the same rate as he did last year, he would likely finish with roughly 840 yards*, and while a definite sign of improvement, it would still only be good for 38th in the NFL last year.
*Using Josh Hermsmeyer’s formula for projecting yardage: projected targets * career aDOT * career RACR = projected receiving yards. If Slayton sees a similar rates as 2019, that works out to (96 targets) x (14.1 aDOT) x (0.62 receiver air conversion ratio) = 839.3 yards.
Of course, confounding all of this is the fact that the Giants are changing offensive systems without an offseason or preseason. Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone can say with any certainty that they know what to expect this year. The one thing we can say for sure is that the Giants need Slayton to step up and show improvement and greater consistency as a receiver for their offense to take a step forward next year.
And the good news is that Slayton stands a good chance of doing so. He will get his opportunities to shine, and the nature of the receiver position means that any improvement should be visible.