The 2020 offense of the New York Giants ranked 31st in points scored and 31st in total yards earned.
There is a bevy of excuses as to why this materialized for the Giants: a truncated offseason in a new system for a second-year quarterback, an offensive line that was young and struggling to be precocious, a coordinator that was unimaginative, and a group of skilled players where no one was a true threat to the defense.
There’s a sad reality around the last statement; Saquon Barkley was hurt in week two of the regular season, Sterling Shepard dealt with a toe injury in that same game that lingered for some time, and Evan Engram was far too mistake-prone to have an offense designed around his abilities, although the 2020 Giants tried to utilize his skill-set.
This leaves 2019 fifth-round pick Darius Slayton as the one player who wasn’t injured yet is still really talented; why didn’t he rise to the occasion? I would argue it’s a combination of reasons.
He did have a sophomore slump despite having comparable statistics. In 2019, he had 48 catches on 80 targets for 740 and 8 touchdowns, and, last year, he had 50 catches on 94 targets for 751 yards and three touchdowns.
So what’s the big difference other than the touchdowns?
Well, two-thirds of Slayton’s touchdowns were in a week one loss to the Steelers. Slayton also struggled to hang onto the football, dropping it double the times in 2020 with 6, according to Pro Football Focus, many coming in key third-down situations.
He also had a much worse contested-catch win rate in 2020; in his rookie season, he won 48% of his contested catch opportunities instead of just 32% last season.
Another interesting statistic about Slayton that may have been caused by circumstance was his slot percentage increase. Slayton played just 43 slot snaps in 2019, only 22 coming from true pass sets.
However, last season, Slayton played 151 in the slot, and 114 were in true pass sets. This could be due to Shepard’s early injury or maybe Golden Tate’s slightly unstable relationship with the coaching staff, but Slayton played a complement of snaps in the slot for most of the season.
It may have been a down year for Darius Slayton, but I believe these additions will assist Slayton in 2021. He’s no sure thing to earn a significant portion of snaps with Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and John Ross now added to the roster, but he’s certainly going to compete for time on the field.
I don’t expect the same workload, but still an important role and one that can feature Golladay, Shepard, and himself in the predominant 11 personnel package (Toney will undoubtedly be used as well).
When Slayton is on the field, the presence of Golladay and a healthy Saquon Barkley will take a load off the coverage on the backend. Two high looks shouldn’t be as prevalent with a healthy Barkley, and coverage, in that case, would be rolled towards Golladay and not Slayton.
This could give Slayton the necessary time and matchups to return to his rookie form. Let’s see how he might be able to perform that task in this edition of the Good, the Great, and the Ugly.
The Good: Release Off the Line of Scrimmage
Jason Garrett calls a ton of quick slant routes in his quick game package. The slant from the number one receiver, combined with a flat from the number two receiver, is an everyday staple of Garrett’s offense. Slayton had a lot of success as the “X” receiver in this situation throughout the season.
The reasons why Slayton has success in this play are simple yet more difficult to execute than one would imagine. It’s a 3x1 set, and Garrett runs double slants, with a flat from the number three, to the field, with Slayton as the lone receiver at the top of the screen to the boundary.
The cornerback splits Slayton with slight inside leverage, making a slant route challenging to run.
Right after the snap, Slayton attacks the outside shoulder of the cornerback and forces him to commit his hips outside prematurely; once the corner stabs Slayton with his inside arm to turn and ride, Slayton sinks his hips and explodes off his outside foot back inside. He combines this with his own inside arm slap of the corner’s inside stab.
This forces the cornerback to do a full rotation--creating ample separation on the inside slant. Daniel Jones doesn’t read this too well, and the pressure breaks down, forcing an incomplete pass for the offense.
Slayton wins again off the line of scrimmage on a slant in that same game because of his release. It’s a 3x1 set with the tight end in line with Slayton at the top of the screen again.
The Giants run an RPO where Jones is reading Jaylon Smith (54). Smith scrapes with his run keys which helps open up a big throwing window assisted by a great Slayton release on the slant. Pre-snap, Slayton does not have the leverage, so he opens outside and gets the corner’s hips committed. Once Slayton senses the mistake in technique, he goes inside for an easy catch-and-run.
Darius Slayton is aligned against Eagles’ corner Darius Slay (No. 24)--again, no inside leverage, so he has to stretch the defender outside in a plus split of around five yards off the numbers.
Slayton uses the stutter to buy time, attacks outside, gets Slay’s hips flipped before going back inside into the now open throwing window due to the quality of Slayton’s stem and the timing of the flat route.
Slayton is crisp with his break, and that, combined with his inside swat of Slay’s inside hand, causes the corner to fall down and gives Slayton more space to thrive over the middle.
Another 3x1 set with Slayton as the boundary “X” receiver. He’s up against one of the best corners in the league in Denzel Ward (21). This is a sneak peek at the ugly part of Slayton’s game, with the result being a simple drop, but the release and setup are still great by Slayton.
Slayton has a remarkable ability to stop himself and quickly accelerate. He does a good job with these quick slant routes when up the stem because of his athleticism.
This role will be filled by Golladay next season, who wins a bit more at the line of scrimmage and with his body, but Slayton has the capability of playing backside on these 3x1 sets if asked.
This is a 3x1 BUNCH with Slayton as the lone receiver once again. Jones does a good job holding that safety between the hashes until he hits his back foot; Jones then reads the leverage of Slayton’s ability to defeat the cornerback on the vertical route. Slayton attempts to win outside and away from the safety, but the cornerback has outside leverage against him.
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He times his release well, with no inside fake, and his alignment assists with space since he is inside the numbers. All Slayton has to do is accelerate past the covering cornerback who has him in man coverage.
Slayton has those athletic capabilities; he dips his inside shoulder, turns on the jets, and gets the edge on the cornerback as he runs towards the back pylon and away from the safety. Slayton does a good job tracking the football into his hands for the touchdown.
This is a different formation for Slayton here against Dallas, but he still has to win in a similar manner on the slow fade. He has space to run since the outside receiver stays close to the line of scrimmage.
He then has to explode past the covering defender and make a nice contested catch; the coverage on this play is better than the previous, but he still does a good job releasing, accelerating, and putting himself into a quality position to make a play on the football.
The Great: Route Running/Adjustment
I want to apologize for two consecutive ALL-22 reps from the Bears abysmal angle, but they indicate Slayton’s ability to stop his route, flow away from coverage (especially on the first one), and make a secure catch for his quarterback.
In both plays, Slayton is against off coverage. He eats into the cushion with an inside tilt. Then he quickly decelerates, sinks his hips, presents the target, flows away from coverage, and then makes a catch.
These two plays are double moves up his stem that he utilizes because of his ability to quickly sink his hips and explode vertically. Slayton is at the top of the screen in both. This play is built and often used in Garrett’s scheme to help create vertical leverage on these streaks.
It’s a sell-off, the quick inside slant that Slayton runs well and that we just saw several times throughout the article. Slayton will either accelerate past them with ease or be held and draw a penalty if the corner bites down hard on the fake.
The ability to quickly start and stop up his stems allows him to make excellent timing plays like the back shoulder throw we see above. Slayton gets up the sideline against this zone coverage with the defender’s back towards the sideline. Slayton and Jones realize the leverage and take advantage of the limited space with a great route from Slayton and throw from Jones.
Slayton will do subtle and straightforward things to help put himself into a better position against man coverage as well. He’s at the bottom of the screen against the Rams on this play; he does a great job releasing inside off the line of scrimmage and dipping his outside shoulder around the cornerback while accelerating with speed up the stem.
He then sinks his hips once position is established, even though the defender covers the route well, and goes inside on the dig. Although the coverage is tight, Slayton uses a little push-off to create just enough space for Jones to find him over the middle of the field. It’s great to see the angles Slayton can use to his advantage while moving.
The push-off is also a crucial part of this--it’s an adjustment. It’s simple but challenging to get away with in the NFL.
Another look at the ugly part of this piece, but Slayton does such a good job adjusting the 49ers' coverage and giving Jones a chance. Slayton runs his initial route, reads the coverage, adjusts himself to provide Jones with a throwing window, runs into the open but can’t secure the pass through tight Jason Verrett (22) coverage. The route, the turn, the adjustment to Jones--all good--he just has to secure the football better in some of these situations.
The Ugly: Drops
Slayton just had bad concentration drops in his second season--there’s no way around it. These are catches he typically makes, and I don’t believe he has a problem with catching the football--I can’t say that about all Giants, but he did struggle last season with holding onto the ball. This is correctable.
We’ve already seen two bad drops, but here is another one in a critical 3rd down situation against the Eagles.
It’s a mesh concept that’s handled terribly by Philadelphia, and it allows Slayton to break into space with lead blockers and only one defender with an angle. The ball is put slightly in front of him to lead him into the open space, but he drops it.
This is another third-down drop against the Bears, which forced a field goal rather than a first down in the red zone. Slayton wins off the line of scrimmage against the coverage as the number two receiver in the 3x2 set.
Slayton takes his eyes off the football and tries to get a glimpse of the safety coming down, which forces a drop. He has to look that ball all the way into his body.
Slay gets the best of Slayton on this play in tight coverage. Slayton wins inside, but not by much, as Slay rides the hip and forces a tight window for Jones. It’s not an easy catch, but one that can be made. The ball is in Slayton’s hands, and it’s thrown low and away from Slay’s reach.
Slayton can correct these errors, and they weren’t prevalent in either professional football season, yet they were enough to stick out. They came in crucial situations, and most of them were inexcusable concentration mistakes.
I like what Darius Slayton brings to this Giants team, and I believe he could be a crucial part of what Garrett wants to do with all the new pieces. I remain high on him, and I’m hoping he has the third-year breakout that he’s capable of experiencing.
MORE "GOOD, GREAT & UGLY" BREAKDOWNS
WR Kelvin Benjamin | RB Devontae Booker | RB Corey Clement | OLB Lorenzo Carter | CB Isaac Yiadom | TE Kaden Smith | WR Kenny Golladay | TE Levine Toilolo | Edge Ifeadi Odenigbo | DT Danny Shelton | OL Zach Fulton | CB Adoree' Jackson | TE Evan Engram | S Jabrill Peppers | S Xavier McKinney | ILB Reggie Ragland | WR John Ross | TE Kyle Rudolph | OLB Oshane Ximines | LB Carter Coughlin | DL Dexter Lawrence II
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