Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton is coming off a big first season in the NFL catching 48 passes for 740 yards and eight touchdowns, tying with Titans receiver A.J. Brown to lead all rookie receivers in the touchdown category.
As he gets ready for his second season, Slayton, who spoke to The Giants Maven by phone from Los Angeles, where he was with other members of the 2019 rookie class ahead of the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and Panini Rookie Closeout with Panini America, reflected on his first NFL season.
“One thing I would tell any rookie coming into the league next year is to get your head in your playbook,” said Slayton.
“You need to prioritize trying to learn your own system because, during the season, you spend the majority of your time getting ready for opponents, so you don’t have time to be still figuring out your own team.”
Slayton also talked about his early hamstring injury that limited him in training camp and kept him out of the first two games of the season as being a blessing in disguise.
“It helped me out because it allowed me to focus mentally," he said. "Gave me time to learn my plays. Get mental reps and make mental strides watching the veterans and how they practiced and played.”
“I was fortunate enough to receive some pretty good advice coming in. It was a blessing to be around guys like Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard, who taught me how to play with confidence,” said Slayton.
"They play with a lot of confidence that allows them to get open and make catches. It was good for me to be around those guys, which helped me play in a similar way and improve my game.”
The most significant area where Slayton believes he can improve from his rookie season to his second one?
“My route running still has a way to go," he said. "That’s also what I learned from the veterans around me. They have a little nuance to their game; vet moves, so to speak. Things I hope to improve on with time and experience.”
Slayton also discussed his unique chemistry with quarterback Daniel Jones, himself a rookie.
“The amount of time we spent together played a big part coming in at the same time," Slayton said. "We started on the second and third team in practice until we worked our way to the first team. We took a lot of the same reps and were always in the same place at the same time.”
Slayton caught 41 passes on 73 targets from Jones for 555 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games.
“We both came in with the mindset to help this team win games and have an impact. We both came in with that goal, and we were able to accomplish this on the field,” he said.
Like everyone else, Slayton heard all the naysayers questioning the Giants decision to draft Jones with the sixth overall pick int he draft. He added that he's pleased that Jones was able to prove his critics wrong.
“One thing about Daniel, he proved a lot of people wrong after they said he was drafted too high," Slayton said. "He proved he was worthy of that selection. He took a lot of shots this year and kept standing in there and making throws, which says a lot about his toughness.”
Like Jones, Slayton, a fifth-round draft pick, also came in with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
"I also wanted to come in and show I was among the best receivers in the draft class,” said Slayton.
“I think some of my strengths were hand consistency and route running. I was able to catch a lot of intermediate routes, which attests to those skillsets.”
In addition to catching passes from Jones, Slayton also had an opportunity to catch a few balls thrown by future Hall of Fame quarterback Eli Manning when he stepped in for an injured Jones late in the season.
“Most guys wouldn’t have been prepared, but he came out there and lit it up,” said Slayton, who caught seven passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns from Manning in Weeks 14 and 15, against the Eagles and Dolphins.
Moving forward, the Giants will have a new coaching staff a led by head coach Joe Judge, whom Slayton said he hasn't yet met, but of whom he has heard nothing but good things.
For Slayton and the rest of the receivers, they will get the opportunity in 2020 to continue working with Tyke Tolbert, the receivers coach under former head coach Pat Shurmur who has been retained by Judge for his staff.
“I’m happy for sure. When we left for the offseason, we were unsure if he’d be back," Slayton said. "Then the other day, he let us know they were keeping him, and we were all happy to hear that he gets to stay.
"I think our play speaks a testament to Tolbert as a coach, and he deserved to stay based on our position group’s performance. I think keeping him was the right move.”
According to the NFL calendar of important dates, the earliest teams with a new head coach can open their annual off-season training program is April 6. It's not known if Judge plans to open his program precisely on that date.
Until such time when the Giants do officially open the doors to the players, Slayton plans to get ready for his second NFL season by heading to Florida to train in the interim.