Week by week, snap by snap, wide receiver Darius Slayton is gaining confidence that hasn’t been lost on the team’s coaching staff.
“He’s making more plays, and when you make more plays you have a tendency to feel—well, I like having playmakers on the field, so it’s hard to get him off the field when he’s making plays and getting separation,” said Giants wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert.
Slayton, 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, is a fifth-round pick out of Auburn whose NFL career got off to a rocky start. He strained his hamstring early in Giants training camp and was sidelined for the first half before finally feeling well enough to play in New York’s Week 2 preseason game at Cincinnati.
However, Slayton only participated in 13 snaps in that game before aggravating his hamstring injury again. He went on to miss the rest of the preseason and the first two games of the regular season before finally getting back to full strength physically.
Since making his regular-season NFL debut in Week 3 against the Bucs, Slayton has seen his snaps increase gradually every week. After getting just 27 snaps against the Bucs, last week against the Cardinals Slayton not only saw that total jump to 69, he also got his second start of the season and handled the team’s kickoff return duties for the ailing Corey Ballentine.
“He was extremely confident at the end of last spring when we ended for the summer, and when we came back, he pulled his hamstring so early, and it was tough to get back,” Tolbert said of Slayton’s odyssey.
“But since he’s been back, his confidence has continued to grow.”
It has only helped the rookie’s confidence levels that he has faced off against some of the more talented defensive backs in the league, including Xavier Rhodes of the Vikings, Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots and Patrick Peterson of the Cardinals.
At 22 years old, Slayton is seven years younger than all of these players but has managed to record 217 receiving yards on 14 receptions with one touchdown catch so far in the five games he’s been active.
Tolbert said that he believes some of Slayton’s success is due in part to his diligent preparation for each opponent. Each week, Tolbert makes a tape of each of the opponent’s defensive backs and what style of defense they tend to deploy.
Tolbert then distributes those tapes to his receivers who are tasked with studying every little nuance to find ways to exploit whatever style of defense they come up against in a game.
Slayton, Tolbert said, has benefitted from the tapes.
“He’s studying that stuff, and he’s going and running routes against those guys with a kind of cheat sheet, already having been looking at them for a week or so,” Tolbert said.
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“But the guys we’ve been going against, they’ve been pretty good. Last week, Patrick Peterson being back out there, he’s made the Pro Bowl every year he’s been in the league.
“Slayton, because he’s playing against those good guys and good defenses, his confidence is continuing to grow, which is a good thing for us. I hope it continues to take off from there.”
Heading into Week 8 of the season, Slayton not only has caught 66.7% of his pass targets, but he’s also been one of the few receivers to use his speed to separate from defenders.
Per NextGen stats, Slayton has a cushion rating of 4.5 and a separation rating of 2.1. His average targeted air yards are 16.5, and share of team’s air yards stands at 17.77.
“He does his fair share of getting open when you look at the tape,” Tolbert said. “A lot of times a lot of receivers are open, but the ball doesn’t come their way, so it’s hard to say whether they’re getting separation, getting open.
“But if you look at the tape, the tape will always say, ‘The eye in the sky doesn’t lie.’ So, Slayton has done a good job with that.”
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