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Darius Slayton: The Good, the Great and the Ugly

Darius Slayton was a pleasant surprise for the team last year, as he went on to lead the team in touchdowns scored. So let's take a look at what made his game so good and where he still needs to improve.

One of the most pleasant surprises for the 2019 New York Giants was the emergence of a relatively unknown fifth-round selection out of Auburn named Darius Slayton.

In his three seasons as a Tiger, Slayton had 1,605 receiving yards, on 79 catches, and 11 touchdowns. The stats weren’t indicative of his skill-set, but his elite athletic skills at the combine were indicative of his athletic prowess.

Slayton ran a 4.39 40 yard dash (87th percentile), jumped an impressive 40½” vertical (93rd percentile), and he also jumped an impressive 135” in the broad (98th percentile).

It didn’t take long for Slayton to find his way onto the field in Week 3 at Tampa Bay; And with the tutelage of Tyke Tolbert, the Giants’ wide receivers coach, Slayton was able to put his skills on display.

One could argue that he was miscast and underutilized in college, but his 2019 play spoke volumes, so let’s go over some of those plays in this week’s edition of the good, the great, and the ugly.

(Video clips via NFL Game Pass.)

The Good: Contested Catch Ability

Slayton showed exceptional timing, strength, and hands in these two contested-catch situations against the Lions.

In the first clip, Slayton gets jammed and routed towards the outside, precisely where he wanted to go because the number one’s “screen” holds the outside corner in place, giving Slayton nothing but space to operate between the sidelines and the numbers.

In the second clip, we see Slayton extend and use incredibly good body control, almost hovering in the air. He secures the catch for six points.

The throw from Daniel Jones against the man coverage is very good, but it’s the trust that Jones’ has with Slayton that seemed to be a theme throughout the 2019 season.

This catch against the Packers in the frigid elements shows Slayton's hands and ability to secure a reception through contact with the safety barring down and the corner in the trail position.

The throw is placed well, but that doesn’t mean the catch is easy. Slayton extends, anticipates the contact, and absorbs the hit while holding onto the ball for a good gain.

The Great: Release/Route Running

The battle between cornerbacks and wide receivers at the line of scrimmage is one of mental chess, physical superiority, and foot/hand technique.

Slayton was able to come into the NFL and manipulate talented, proven, cornerbacks near the line of scrimmage, especially a step into his initial stem.

This play against Xavier Rhodes, No. 28, is very impressive. Although Rhodes had a down season, he still was considered the top cornerback for Minnesota early on in the season, and Slayton embarrassed him in man coverage in the above clip.

Slayton starts off the numbers by about three yards, and Rhodes starts with a backpedal. Slayton sells the inside stem by subtly turning his upper body inside, which prompts Rhodes to slightly turn his hips and commit inside.

Once Slayton has Rhodes in this position, and he gets Rhodes’ momentum moving inside, Slayton quickly uses his outside hand to chop Rhodes’ hand downward while simultaneously making his way outside, creating ample amounts of separation against Rhodes.

Slayton was able to get the experienced corner fully turned around, and it gave Jones plenty of room to put the pass over the top for an easy six points.

On a 4th-and-4 in a high leverage situation, Slayton is able to entirely turn the cornerback around on a quick slant, in part due to the release at the line of scrimmage.

Slayton does a great job selling the outside vertical route, and he gets the cornerback to turn his back on the inside part of the field.

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Once Slayton has the corner where he wants him, he quickly explodes off his outside foot and goes inside to open space, completely flipping the corner and forcing him off-balanced.

Since it’s man coverage and Slayton has excellent acceleration, the safety couldn’t take the right angle, and again the play ends in six points.

Both of these plays are impressive double moves to create separation and manipulate the coverage of the defender. 

These two plays are variations of the dino stem on the route where the receiver sells a break and then utilizes a quick sell at the top of the break to get defenders to commit but then breaks in the opposite direction to create more separation.

On both routes, he chews grass, fakes inside, and then goes outside; it seems so effortless for Slayton to sink his hips and explode in and out of his breaks, and there’s something special about the ease Slayton seems to possess while running these types of routes. In all, good head fakes, good sell, and a great route.

Slayton shows excellent tempo and control in his first big impact play as a New York Giants; on this play-action pass, Slayton runs at the defender and gets him to expand towards the sideline.

Once Slayton creates the space enough and gets the defender to the numbers, he breaks upfield and then inside on a post.

The safety plays this poorly, but to the Giants’ delight, he starts to bight down on the horizontal cross, and he can’t overcompensate for Slayton's speed. The result wasn’t six points, but it was very close.

As you can see, Slayton can also do this on a vertical, more static, plane, and doesn’t rely on horizontal or pure vertical speed to get open.

He’s the number one off the numbers at the top of the screen, and he does a great job selling a vertical route by pressing hard outside and not showing his hand on the fact that he’s going to break back towards the quarterback.

Slayton creates three yards of separation at the top of his route because of the break's timing, the amount of speed he sold on the vertical stem, and his overall athletic ability to sink his hips and find the ball while it’s in the air.

The body control, concentration, and hands are really impressive in this play.

The Ugly: Run Blocking

Pat Shurmur’s system demanded that outside receivers had to block inline against big nickel and other sub-packages that had secondary players within the box. Slayton struggled to do that effectively in a few different situations.

Tavon Wilson, No. 32 beats and outmuscles Slayton as a backside pursuit defender to make the tackle in the backfield. Slayton surrenders a bit too much inside leverage to the defender, and he was easily beat by the lower defender who had better positioning.

Again, this is a tough assignment for Slayton, but his positioning is off, and he allows the inside rushing lane for the defender. In Slayton’s defense, No. 32 is Budda Baker, one of the more underrated players in the National Football Leauge, but these types of plays stop drives and can’t happen.

Slayton shows effort as a run defender, but his positioning and strength at the point of attack could improve in some situations.

We don't yet know how much run blocking Jason Garrett is going to ask of his receivers, but in many offenses, blocking is very much a part of a receiver's game, albeit an underrated and seldom talked about part.

Final Thoughts

Slayton was a diamond in the rough for Dave Gettleman and the 2019 New York Giants, but now teams know who he is and what he can do.

Slayton should be a good fit in Jason Garrett’s offense, as a vertical piece of the puzzle. His nuanced route running, release at the line of scrimmage, and strong hands at the catch point should help him have a strong sophomore season for first-year head coach Joe Judge. 

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