As quickly as new Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Jaelon Darden can breeze past defenders he jumped on social media to pay tribute to his late father immediately after being drafted on May 1.
Darden, who the Bucs took with the 129th pick in the fourth round, wrote “nothing but God” and “love you Pops” on Twitter.
Considered one of the fastest players in the draft, he ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash according to Pewter Report’s Taylor Jenkins. He caught 74 passes for 1,190 yards and 19 touchdowns last season for North Texas, which hadn’t produced a draft pick since 2004 per NBCDFW’s Pat Doney.
Pro Football Focus called him “one of the most underrated players in the NFL Draft.” Sam Monson of PFF said “Darden will be a steal for whoever selects him” on May 1.
“He would just be crying right now,” Darden told the media on Saturday about his father, Manya, who died before the 2020 season due to heart disease.
Darden said his father’s death served as a big motivation for his senior season to excel on the field and “give my teammates everything I have”.
Darden said he hopes to continue wearing his college number, 1, with the Bucs.
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Throughout Darden’s collegiate career, his father battled heart disease.
“We kind of built a strong relationship over the time, and me growing as a man, and him being able to install certain things into me, and help me mature and become the man I am today,” Darden told the media. “So it definitely means a lot. My dad played a big part of why I’m here right now.”
Darden added he’s “thankful for everything he taught me and definitely thankful for God for putting me in the situation.”
Darden also relates it back to his doubters, especially the fact he’s 5-7.
“It definitely means a lot to be honest with you because he always told me to keep that chip on my shoulder and continue to move and work the way I work,” Darden said.
How Darden Could Impact the Bucs in 2021
Tampa already has a deep core of receivers, including Antonio Brown recently returning. That won’t slow down Darden as the Bucs could use his blazing speed on kick and punt returns.
“Definitely a strong impact in my game being able to get back there on kicks and on punts — be able to put the offense in the best situation possible,” Darden told the media. “Definitely, I don’t have any problem with that. I feel confident in coming in right away and being able to help however needed.”
Auman noted that Darden could return kicks, which gives incumbent Jaydon Mickens some competition. In addition, Mickens is facing legal challenges this offseason.
Darden believes he can contribute in the passing game soon, too, with his route-running skills and playmaking ability. He feels confident in the fact the Bucs traded up to draft him in the fourth round, too.
“It just shows how much the Bucs trusted me in the film that they’ve seen, the meetings we were having, and the way I was talking and approaching the game of football,” Darden said. “They loved what I was doing.”
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