By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
For Darius Slayton, timing was everything in his debut. Now, he has to work on his encore.
Last season, the Giants’ fifth-round pick wide receiver from Auburn began to prove his worth at the team’s minicamp in June as the deep-threat they had envisioned. He began to build a chemistry with fellow rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, a script that couldn’t have been better written. When minicamp ended, Slayton already was viewed as the team’s number three receiver behind Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate.
However, a recurring and nagging hamstring injury sidelined him late in the preseason as well as the first two regular season games. With Tate dealing with the final stretch of a four-game suspension, Slayton made his debut with three catches for 82 yards against Tampa Bay in Week Three.
From there, Shepard’s production was limited to 10 games due to a pair of concussions, and Tate wasn’t as consistent as his previous seasons over 11 games.
In turn, Slaton’s deep-ball presence started to surface, and the Giants believed they had found their Odell Beckham Jr. replacement. Slayton steadily averaged better than 12 yards a catch into the late fall, gaining major recognition for his 10-for-121 yard, two-touchdown effort against the Jets in early November, and a 5-154-yard, two-touchdown show against Philadelphia in early December.
Furthermore, the Slayton-Jones combination continued to develop late in the season as stuffing with a Thanksgiving turkey. He finished with 48 receptions for 740 yards, accruing 15.4 yards per catch. Six of his eight touchdowns were from Jones. Slayton also etched his performance in the Giants’ rookie annals in several categories, and his eight touchdowns tied for most among last year’s rookies.
So, what about the encore?
“My confidence is something that built as the year went on last year,” said Slayton recently on Giants.com. “Hopefully this year, I’ll be able to hit it Week One running. It’s mostly internal. It’s just all in your head to me. Especially for receivers, to get the ball you’ve got to catch it, catch it low, high, behind you. I think it just starts from having unwavering faith in your hands basically.
“[The chemistry] is growing. Right now we’re working on him consistently answering the phone. That’s kind of the next step in our relationship. He’s gotten better. I know he’s working hard. I’m working hard where I am, and I know we’re both ready to be back together [at the facility].”
Slayton’s growing harmony with Jones will be one of the several interesting topics this summer. It is still yet to be determined if Slayton and Jones can enjoy a better relationship than Beckham and Eli Manning did, yet the incoming second-year players had the advantage of taking their first steps together.
If Slayton is the true deep threat, Jones will have the luxury of possession and mid-range threats of Shepard and Tate as well as the multi-faceted tight end Evan Engram.
Manning had regarded major threats such as Hakeem Nicks, Amani Toomer, Plaxico Burress and Victor Cruz.
Jones has his first one in Slayton, and he has the potential to emerge as a true game-breaker, counting Shepard and Tate can have a clean, healthy slate in 2020.
If so, Slayton can make the Giants and their fans further forget that once all-world playmaker who still is on the Cleveland Browns’ roster, and Slayton likely won’t have any of his baggage either.