Jaydon Mickens, a veteran wide receiver/return man trying to make the New York Giants’ 53-man roster, enjoys his job. You can see it on the practice field as he celebrates good plays and goes out of his way to share knowledge with younger teammates.
Mickens has been around long enough to understand what time it is. With roster cuts from 90 to 53 coming by Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, he knows his NFL future is at stake.
“I’m conscious enough to understand that this is the NFL. Having a great time living my dream, but also it’s a business,” Mickens said during a recent 1-on-1 interview with Big Blue View. “We know it can get rocky at this time, and especially going into next week.”
Undrafted out of Washington, Mickens spent a brief period on the Oakland Raiders practice squad in 2016. Since then, he has been with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, and Jacksonville again. He earned a Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers. Mickens did not have an NFL job last season until landing on the Giants’ practice squad in December when it looked like they might need help in the return game.
Throughout his career, Mickens has averaged 8.4 yards on 69 punt returns and 23.2 yards on 35 kickoff returns. Used sparingly as a receiver, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Mickens has 15 career receptions.
Mickens believes he can still return kicks “at a high level, the highest level.”
Despite his confidence, he knows he might be looking for his next NFL employer in a few days.
“I just love to be out here. I love the opportunity. And then also, this is a job interview. You know, I know it’s 53-man roster, 45-man roster, but at the end of the day, teams need help all the time,” Mickens said. “So whatever, however it goes when it comes down to the cut-down date or any time, anything that people think about, you put your best foot forward. And then if somebody needs a helping hand, particularly the team that you’re at every day that they see you that can be big for you coming into the weeks to come and maybe down the stretch, or whatever.”
The 29-year-old Mickens seems like Plan B for the Giants in the return game.
Plan A is undeniably rookie fifth-round pick Eric Gray, who has gotten most of the return opportunities in the Giants’ two preseason games. Mickens has two kickoff returns for an average of 24.0 yards, with a long return of 30 yards.
Despite Gray being a heavy favorite for the role Mickens would like to have with the Giants, Mickens freely shares knowledge with the neophyte return man. When Gray dropped a punt during a practice in the swirling winds this week, Mickens immediately went to him to talk through what had happened.
“My job is to be a pro,” Mickens said. “I can teach Eric everything I know. It’s his job to go out there and do it, but my job is to be a pro. And when my opportunity comes, if I’m teaching somebody how to do it, maybe I should be doing it the right and correct way every time. If they got him out there, I want him to thrive and be the best that he can be.”
Mickens has been down this road before. After winning that ring with Tampa Bay in 2020, he helped break in rookie returner Jaelon Darden in 2021 and eventually lost his roster spot with the Bucs.
“Just like when I had Jaelon Darden over at Tampa, I wanted him to thrive and be the best that he can be if they were gonna make that switch, which they ultimately did,” Mickens said.
“I just appreciate still being able to suit up, still being able to come out here, and still be able to have an opportunity. And they know, just like I know I got some juice, I can go. I want to get great field position, make great decisions, and I want to get in the box and score and get some pressure off the offense.”
Mickens might not get to show that with the Giants in 2023. If Gray succeeds returning punts and kickoffs for the Giants, though, Mickens will take satisfaction in knowing maybe he had a small part in that. Whether he is still a Giant or not.