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Jaydon Mickens an underdog to earn spot with Giants

Journeyman receiver/returner has bounced around the NFL for a while

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Los Angeles Rams v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jaydon Mickens
Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The life of an NFL undrafted free agent can be brutal. New York Giants receiver/returner Jaydon Mickens has bounced around the league since 2016, being waived or released 13 separate times in the process. He has primarily wandered around practice squads while playing in 38 games for three teams, looking for a place to stick on the roster. He seeks to make the Giants’ roster as a special teams player who doesn’t offer much offensively.

By the numbers

Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 175
Age: 29
Position: Wide Receiver/Returner
Experience: 5
Contract: One-year, $1.08 million | 2023 cap hit: $940,000

Career to date

Mickens went undrafted out of Washington in 2016 and signed with the Raiders. He did not make the team out of camp and signed to their practice squad. He went back and forth from the Raiders’ practice squad to being released and put on injured reserve.

In 2017 the same pattern began playing out with the Jaguars. However, Mickens did appear in 10 games for Jacksonville that season, with 156 of his 259 total snaps coming on special teams. He actually did post a 10.6 yards per punt return average on 27 attempts, mostly coming on one 72-yard touchdown scamper. As a receiver, he had six catches on 11 targets for 77 yards and two touchdowns. He also fumbled four times during the season.

In 2018, Mickens appeared in another six games for the Jaguars, averaging 4.9 yards per punt return on 12 attempts and 24.8 yards per kickoff return on six returns. However, Jacksonville did not retain him after the season, and he bounced around from Carolina to Tampa Bay. He spent most of the season out of the league before signing to the Buccaneers’ practice squad. He appeared in one game for them that season.

In 2020, Mickens also went back and forth to and from Tampa’s practice squad. He appeared in 10 games for them, catching seven of 10 targets for 58 yards. He averaged 6.2 yards per punt return (16 returns) and 24.3 yards per kickoff return (34 returns). He actually appeared in all four of the Buccaneers’ playoff games that season, with 7.8 yards per punt return and 22.2 per kick return.

In 2021, Mickens appeared in 11 combined games between Tampa and Jacksonville, where he averaged 9.7 yards per punt return and 23.2 per kick return. He did not play in the league in 2022, signing to the Giants’ practice squad in December. The Giants then signed him to a reserve/future contract in January 2023.

2023 outlook

The Giants’ returner spots are not completely settled as of now, giving Mickens a shot of making the team. Gary Brightwell is listed as their default kickoff returner, with competition from a number of players. Their punt returner depth chart consists of Adoree’ Jackson, Jamison Crowder, and Darnay Holmes, with several other players having gotten looks there during the spring. The chances of Mickens making the roster over Brightwell or Crowder just for the returner spot seems remote. He is likely vying for a spot on the practice squad and the next-man-up position if a primary returner gets injured.