Joe Schoen can’t be too distracted by the futures of Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley when the New York Giants enter 2023 NFL free agency. Decisions about the team’s starting quarterback and top running back will dominate Schoen’s agenda, but the general manager won’t want to forget about some unsung heroes who are also set to hit the open market.
One such player has boosted his free-agency value considerably in 2022, according to a leading analytics site. This unheralded pass-catcher was a candidate to be traded last offseason, but he’s stuck around and since become Jones’ go-to target on the outside.
Overlooked WR Enjoying ‘Great Stretch’
Darius Slayton has done plenty to enhance his market, according to Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus. He outlined how “Slayton endured a circuitous journey to his great stretch over the past nine games, first having to agree to a pay cut before the 2022 season and then starting out the year seventh on the Giants’ wide receiver depth chart. Injuries to several teammates and the trade of Kadarius Toney to the Kansas City Chiefs got Slayton back onto the field, where he’s demonstrated great chemistry with quarterback Daniel Jones.”
Sterling Shepard and rookie Wan’Dale Robinson both suffering season-ending injuries unwittingly elevated Slayton into a position to salvage his career. So did Kenny Golladay’s continued inability to be a factor in a Giants’ uniform.
Rather than waste the opportunities fate sent his way, Slayton has literally taken the ball and run, per Spielberger: “Since Week 5, when Slayton rejoined the starting lineup, his 75.5 receiving grade is a top-25 mark among wide receivers. His 597 receiving yards over the span ranks 15th, his 15 explosive receptions ranks 13th, his 17.6 yards per reception ranks sixth and his 6.3 yards after the catch per reception ranks ninth. Slayton can stretch the field vertically from out wide and in the slot, looking more like his rookie-year self than what we’ve seen the past few years.”
Those numbers reveal a player who has rewarded the faith of his coaches. Opposing teams are sure to have taken notice of how well Slayton responded to adversity, with the 25-year-old often mooted as trade bait back in August, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter:
Slayton even said “I don’t think I would be surprised now” when asked if the Giants might cut him once preseason concluded, per Jeff Kerr of CBS Sports. It’s fair to say that would have been a decision Schoen would regret now.
5th-Rounder Has Emerged When Giants Needed Him Most
There were question marks about the Giants’ wideouts even before Shepard tore his ACL against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3. Robinson was expected to pick up the slack, but the team’s second-round pick this year suffered the same injury after a breakout nine-catch, 100-yard effort against the Detroit Lions in Week 11.
Both Shepard and Robinson can win underneath and work the middle of the field, but what the Giants need is a legitimate deep threat. That’s what Slayton’s provided by averaging 17.4 yards per reception.
Slayton has also showcased his flair for stretching the field by hauling in three catches for 40 yards or more. Those receptions include this 55-yard grab against NFC East rivals the Washington Commanders in Week 13:
For all the good stuff he’d done, there’s one issue remaining in Slayton’s game. Namely drops. He dropped six passes a year ago and has seven this season, according to Pro Football Reference.
Cultivating better concentration and surer hands is a job for offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and receivers coach Mike Groh. It’s an effort worth making because Slayton can expand the field and open up the game for an underneath target like Robinson and emerging red-zone weapon, 6’3″ Isaiah Hodgins, who has caught touchdowns in each of his last two games.
The vertical threat Slayton shows off each week also helps the Giants see more two-deep safeties and lighter boxes against the run. Both of those things are good news for Barkley.
Slayton is adding value to the Giants’ offense in multiple ways. He should also represent good value for Schoen after earning $965,000 in base salary this year, per Spotrac.com.
Bringing Slayton back on a beefed-up two or three-year deal won’t break the bank for a team projected to have $58,173,091 worth of space under the salary cap. Nor would it prevent Schoen from revisiting the idea of signing a marquee receiver like Odell Beckham Jr., who left his recent visit with the Giants sans a contract.
Securing Slayton’s future also wouldn’t prevent the Giants from making those tough decisions regarding Jones and Barkley.