Seahawks 2021 Draft Profile: Jaelon Darden

Seattle has two top of the top receivers in football, but the team has still ranked near the bottom of the NFL in yards after the catch in recent years. The team could address this issue by drafting Darden, one of college football's most overlooked big play specialists.
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Now more than a month into the new NFL league year, the Seahawks have fortified their roster on a number of fronts, including trading for guard Gabe Jackson and adding several veteran pass rushers to the mix in Aldon Smith and Kerry Hyder.

One position Seattle has not addressed to this point, however, has been the receiver position. Though Tyler Lockett received a much-deserved four-year contract extension, David Moore left for Carolina and Phillip Dorsett bolted for Jacksonville, leaving the team with minimal depth and experience at the position.

While a veteran could still be added in a later wave of free agency, all signs point to the Seahawks upgrading the position through the draft instead. In dire need of a versatile, complementary playmaker alongside Lockett and DK Metcalf, could North Texas star Jaelon Darden be the perfect fit?

Strengths

Slippery as a snake after the catch, Darden amazes with his ability to make defenders miss and wiggle through arm tackles. As a senior, per Pro Football Focus, he broke a ridiculous 23 tackles after the catch, consistently racking up yardage after leaving tacklers grasping for air.

As much as Darden's elusiveness in space makes him a weapon, he's far from just a YAC monster. Boasting 4.46 40-yard dash speed and elite acceleration, he's also a viable vertical threat who can rocket past opposing defensive backs in coverage. He averaged more than 16 yards per reception as a senior and eight of his 19 touchdown receptions went for at least 30 yards.

Though he rarely ran the football at North Texas, Darden's speed, quickness, and evasiveness could make him a viable threat on jet sweeps. As displayed frequently at the college level, he could be a nightmare for defenses on bubble and jailbreak screens as well, making him a potential gadget player for any offense.

Along with being a dominant performer as a receiver, Darden starred for the Mean Green on special teams in a return specialist role. Taking advantage of his electric speed, he returned 35 punts for 310 yards and a touchdown in his college career.

Weaknesses

While he plays like a bigger receiver in many regards, Darden's slight 5-foot-7, 174-pound frame is extremely small even for modern standards at the position. This lack of size could potentially limit him to primarily playing in the slot at the next level and hurts him as a blocker on run plays.

Quickness usually allows Darden to avoid being pressed by opposing corners, but he isn't a physical presence on the field. When corners lock onto him off the snap, he has his share of challenges getting off quality press coverage and hasn't excelled at making contested catches due to his stature and small hands. He doesn't like working the middle of the field most of the time and the vast majority of his production came in open space rather than congested traffic.

Competition questions loom after Darden competed against lower level cornerbacks in the Sun Belt conference. There will be an adjustment period against NFL talent and he will need to further refine his route running skills to find consistent success both in the short and vertical passing game.

Fit in Seattle

Even in today's NFL where offenses are passing the football at a higher rate with spread-based schemes, Darden's diminutive build will scare off plenty of teams despite his incredible college production and versatility as a play maker. But Seattle likely won't be one of those teams, as Lockett's extended success shows smaller receivers can thrive catching passes from Russell Wilson.

Given the Seahawks' needs at the receiver position, Darden would help shore up a number of deficiencies in the team's aerial attack. He would provide yet another vertical threat for opposing defenses to worry about and after finishing near the bottom of the league in yards after the catch each of the past three seasons, his ability to manufacture yardage with the football in his hands would be welcomed in Shane Waldren's offense.

It's unlikely Darden will go in the first three rounds in a deep draft class, but if Seattle doesn't pick a receiver with its first pick, he would be an ideal alternative in the fourth round to give the team another dynamic playmaker at Wilson's disposal along with bolstering special teams.