If it’s true that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, then Darius Slayton is guilty as charged.
The first time the Giants got a look at their fifth-round receiver out of Auburn at rookie minicamp, he couldn’t have looked worse.
He dropped a pass on his first opportunity. Dropped another on his second chance. And more after that.
"I was just trying to do too much," Slayton told Newsday on Wednesday as he reminisced about that brutal debut. “The first day, everybody out there is trying to put their best foot forward, trying to show you’re the best thing since sliced bread. Sometimes, you just have to calm down, play your game, and your ability will come through."
Which is exactly what has happened since Slayton got off to such a rocky start. Even in that first practice, he salvaged something by making a couple of nice catches. And when it came time to make things happen once the games started counting, Slayton has been mostly terrific.
In a 3-11 season marked mostly by failure, Slayton has emerged as one of the few bright spots. He has 44 catches for a team-high 690 yards and eight touchdowns. Over his last five games, he has 27 catches for 417 yards and five touchdowns. In a 23-17 loss to the Eagles on Dec. 9, Slayton had a career-high five catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
So far, so good. Very good, in fact.
"I’ve been able to develop pretty quickly over a short period of time,” said Slayton, who was activated before the Giants’ third game and has been in the lineup ever since. “I plan to continue to improve. I’ve played 12 weeks, and it’s definitely starting to slow down a little bit. Just trying to get a better feel for it, but I’m still learning every week.”
Slayton was a solid prospect coming into the NFL in April but certainly not among the elite receivers. Speed was his biggest asset – he ran 4.39 in the 40-yard dash – but scouts weren’t quite sure whether his talent would translate at the next level. Slayton largely has put those concerns to rest with an outstanding rookie season.
His eight touchdown catches are tops among NFL rookie receivers, and only three players – Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones of the Lions and Chris Godwin of the Buccaneers – have more. Slayton has the same number of touchdowns as Saints star Michael Thomas, who leads the NFL with 133 catches – more than three times as many as Slayton.
The Giants just may have found a gem.
"I think it’s safe to say you never know what to expect with a rookie, because you haven’t worked with him,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “You can’t always predict college success and then predict pro success. We liked [Slayton]. We drafted him. He’s come in and he’s made an impact. We feel like he’s done a lot of really good things this year.”
A critical development period awaits Slayton.
“I think it’s very, very important for him to have an outstanding offseason as he prepares for next season,” Shurmur said.
No argument from Slayton.
"I know that it’s important as far as this offseason goes,” Slayton said. “You obviously have to take some time to let your body recover, but after that, I plan to hit the ground running.”
Shurmur likes Slayton’s ability to do the little things that often separate good receivers from great ones.
"I think he’s a very good route runner, and he finds a way to get open,” Shurmur said. “He does a good job of catching the ball in a crowd. He’s displayed really, really good ball skills. He has the ability to finish in the end zone. For a guy that can have production and score touchdowns, that’s what you’re looking for.”
Slayton knows there is much work to be done, but he believes there is even more good stuff in the days – and years – ahead.
"I feel like I’ve been as productive as I am at the level I’m at right now, which is a couple months of experience into my NFL career,” he said. “Once I get a chance to have an offseason under my belt, the sky is the limit.”
It’s a long way from here to greatness, but Slayton is at least showing the possibilities. Not bad for a guy whose first impression was certainly not his best.