The numbers are almost identical. The perception is not.
As a rookie in 2019, Darius Slayton had 48 catches on 84 targets for 740 yards in 14 games. An incredibly promising season for a fifth-round draft pick.
One year later, Slayton has 46 catches on 84 targets for 703 yards in 14 games. Not what’s expected from a No. 1 receiver, which was the title prematurely forced upon him despite playing alongside veterans Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate.
Slayton is a victim of his own early success, especially when it comes to touchdowns. Two in the season-opener gave him 10 in the first 15 games of his career — an unsustainable pace even for a Hall of Famer.
“It’s only my second year,” Slayton said. “I felt like it was one of those things where I did it once so I can do it again. Obviously, I’m not on that kind of pace this year. We also have more wins this year. At the end of the day, if you ask what I would rather have, the touchdowns or the wins, I’ll go with the wins.”
Slayton had 25 catches for 406 yards and three touchdowns during a 1-5 start this season. Since then, he has been held out of the end zone and was limited to two catches twice, to one catch twice and was held without a catch once, but the run-first Giants are 4-4 in those games.
Not coincidentally, Week 6 is when Slayton (foot) first showed up on the injury report. If the effects are lingering — as the eye test suggests — he isn’t using it as an excuse.
Daniel Jones’ injury absence from 2 ½ games also has had a ripple effect on Slayton given their undeniable rapport.
“I don’t think anybody is 100 percent in Week 15 in the NFL,” Slayton said. “Everybody is a little banged up. I wouldn’t necessarily say it has anything to do with that.
“For whatever reason, the numbers haven’t been there. Over the past month or so, we’ve played some of the best ball we’ve played all season. Whether I have a million yards or two yards … as long as our team comes away with a ‘W,’ I’m OK.”
In the offseason quest to make a dormant offense more explosive, the Giants need to prioritize upgrading receiver.
Pairing up Slayton on the perimeter with a top free-agent like Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, Will Fuller, Corey Davis or Chris Godwin would draw away double teams. Or the Giants could dip into a second straight receiver-rich draft class headlined by Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Rashod Bateman.
The Giants could move Sterling Shepard back to a permanent home in the slot by moving on from Golden Tate at a $4.7 million dead cap hit. Regardless of the movement around him, Slayton’s development is key to the future of the position.
“He fits what you want from an ‘X’ receiver,” quarterback Colt McCoy said. “He can beat you deep, he runs really nice slants and in cuts, and he tries to get open every time. A lot of the things that we do have an ‘X’ receiver on the backside of all your progressions and all of your plays. Knowing that he’s going to win [his matchup], that’s a nice thing to have.”
Giants head coach Joe Judge coached Patriots wide receivers last season, so he knows production can’t just be summed up in catches and yards.
“One thing about the receiver position is if there are 70 plays in the game, and you have five catches, that’s a great game,” Judge said. “I’m more concerned about the other 65 plays. Are you blocking when you don’t have the ball? Are you playing with good effort? Are you assignment sound? What are you bringing to the team? Are you covering kicks in the kicking game?
“To me, in the receiver position, a lot of times it can be skewed. But it’s any player’s responsibility to make the plays that are in front of him, and it’s the job of the coaches to create opportunities for our players.”
Slayton is finding his way when the ball isn’t.
“You try to block,” he said. “Not every route you run, you’re the primary receiver. Sometimes you pull attention away from other guys for them to get the ball. Just kind of taking my role as the weeks go.”