Loyal NerdHerd devotees heard Rich and Garret wax poetic recently about Darius Slayton on the tail end of the #NerdHerd podcast (episode 5). For those looking to learn more about the Rodney Dangerfield of late-round rookie pick candidates, allow me to break down the merits of a man who might just be stealth bombing your FAAB dollars if you don’t snag him soon to park on your taxi squad.
Slayton is long and lean at 6-1/190, but what he lacks in bulk, he makes up for with elite speed (4.39 in the 40). It’s tempting to assume that his frame will lead to struggles against physical press coverage, but he was regularly able to beat press looks in the SEC.
After being drafted by the Giants in the 5th round, Slayton’s first impression on media members and fans was not impressive. He was skewered for dropping easy passes from Daniel Jones at rookie mini camp, as if Slayton was trying to do an impression of the receiving corps Jones was accustomed to working with at Duke.
However, by all accounts, Slayton bounced back dramatically during the team’s recent mandatory minicamp. Head coach Pat Shurmur even cited him specifically to the media as a player who impressed, and reports emerged that Slayton even received some first-team reps.
The Giants’ depth chart is far from intimidating behind Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate. If Slayton can beat out Corey Coleman and Cody Latimer, he could see the field in year one. Will that happen? Maybe not, but the odds are far less daunting than many day-3 draft picks will face, and with a clear path to the field, Slayton becomes a worthy buy at his current price, which is essentially free. Unless one of his relatives is in your league, you can probably pick Slayton up in the late 6th round (if you draft that many rounds) or on the waiver wire.
In a film study of 7 games from his final college season, Slayton clearly emerges as a player with explosive deep-threat potential, which is showcased by his 19.1 yards per reception last season (90th percentile).
While his long-ball prowess is evident, Slayton’s skill set is more diverse than his “deep threat” label might suggest. In addition to his downfield capabilities, he can also excel running speed screens that have a chance to go the distance on any given play.
In the real estate between vertical routes and speed screens, Slayton has also shown steady effectiveness as a sideline receiver on the perimeter of the field.
That’s not to say that Slayton can only contribute outside the numbers. He does a nice job on the first play below settling in the soft spot behind the linebacker.
On the second play below, Slayton manages to find the open space in the middle, despite Alabama’s defense dropping 8 defenders into coverage. Unfortunately, Alabama’s defense had Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham seeing ghosts at the time, so Stidham flushed himself out of the pocket before he could drive the throw to Slayton emerging in the void.
No matter where Slayton makes his grabs, his YAC potential is significant. The two plays below make that abundantly clear.
Slayton gets knocked for his history of drops, and that’s legitimate (which we’ll see in a moment), but he has the ability to make elite catches when he’s locked in. This play against LSU hints at a ceiling that could surpass a 5th round pedigree.
As for those aforementioned drops, Slayton has too many. The trio of plays below could have added significantly to his stat lines (and Auburn’s scoreboard tallies). All 3 of these plays are contested at the catch point, but elite NFL-caliber receivers need to pull in a higher percentage of these balls than Slayton does. If he can continue developing his hands and improve in contested catch situations, he will have a chance to carve out a role, but these are the opportunities he’ll need to start converting to establish meaningful value on the roster.
This next play is an example of the dichotomy in Slayton’s game as he begins his first NFL training camp. His explosive leaping ability (95th percentile catch radius), capable hands, and sideline awareness are all on display here. However, his penchant for drops wins out on this rep. Maddeningly, the replay shows that Slayton had full control of the catch and was eyeballing the sideline to make sure he got a foot down in bounds; in that moment, for some reason he took his right hand off the football and left it exposed in his left hand, where the DB was able to jar it loose. If Slayton kept both hands on the ball here, he’d have added another touchdown to his career total.
If there’s one concern in Slayton’s game other than the drops, it is his blocking, which is more ok than it is good. He is a serviceable enough blocker who understands how to block in space, how to approach and shield a DB downfield, but he’s not physical with his engagements, and he rarely finishes a block, often letting a defender off the hook while the play is still active. There is nothing in his blocking demeanor that reflects any passion about the act of blocking, but he’ll need to find a passion for the craft if he’s going to earn the job he’s pursuing in the NFL.
Blocking is all the more vital to the prospects of fringe players who don’t have the draft capital to avoid being expendable at final cuts. Playing time is often an intersection of talent and opportunity, and for a player competing for a 3rd wide receiver role, effective blocking can help boost the player’s stock and create the opportunity he desires on the field.
The reel below includes some of Slayton’s more effective blocks in the 7 games reviewed for this article.
Regrettably for Slayton, his blocking performance is not always quite so reasonably ok as the reel above. If he puts any efforts on film for the Giants like this reel below, he’ll be lucky to get a job tying the cleats of Corey Coleman and Cody Latimer.
Nevertheless, if Slayton can put a body on defenders to block them effectively, and if he can rope in the footballs that are thrown to him, the man has a shot to catch fire on a waiver wire near you, as soon as this summer.
To finish, we’ll focus on the positives and imagine what might be for Slayton if he reaches his ceiling. This partial highlight reel from his sophomore season in 2017 reflects the promise and potential in the range of outcomes for Slayton. His case will be a fascinating one to monitor when the Giants open training camp in July.
- Original game video cut-ups were from the fantastic database maintained by Jesse Fritsch (@FritschJesse on Twitter). Those individual game videos were analyzed, edited, and organized by the author for this article.
- Sophomore highlights were trimmed, edited, and mixed by the author based on an original highlight edit posted on the “Jeremuh” YouTube channel.