Darius Slayton may not have received the phone call that fellow receiver Sterling Shepard got during the draft, but the Giants’ third-year wideout got the message anyway.
There are no guarantees in the NFL, and now that the Giants have added free-agent Kenny Golladay and first-round receiver Kadarius Toney, there’s only so much room on the roster. Joe Judge gave Shepard a courtesy call to explain the team’s thinking on Toney, who also plays in the slot, and Slayton also understands that he’ll once again have to earn his way on to the roster.
"We don’t look at any player on this program coming in as a threat or replacement," Judge said Thursday before the team’s final practice of a three-day minicamp. "We look to go ahead and breed competition in this program, and the best players will play. But I do think there is merit to talking to your older veteran leaders on the team and clarifying who you are bringing in and what the immediate plans are for that player."
Slayton might only be in his third season, but Judge puts him in a similar category as Shepard.
"I would say [Slayton] is a veteran player, he’s not in his first year, he’s got skin in the game," Judge said. "In terms of Darius, everyone is going to play to their strengths. I think everybody on the team affects the other by the way they work and how they produce."
In Slayton’s case, he may be negatively impacted by the numbers alone – with one potential asterisk. And a significant one at that.
Slayton had a terrific rookie season in 2019 with a team-high eight touchdown catches, and while that number dwindled to three last season, he remained a preferred target of Daniel Jones. There was an unspoken chemistry that may have been difficult to quantify, but it sure felt obvious when you watched Jones try to fight his way through inconsistency through much of the season.
The Giants hope Golladay and Toney can reinvigorate the passing game in a significant way, but Slayton isn’t worried about the increased competition.
In fact, he welcomes it.
"I’m excited about all the guys, KT [Toney], and John Ross and KG [Golladay]," Slayton said. ‘I’m excited about all the guys. I think you just take the more-the-merrier mindset."
The 24-year-old Slayton, a fifth-round pick out of Auburn, has a combined 98 catches for 1,491 and 11 touchdowns – the most of any Giants’ receiver in that span. There’s no question they needed to make a big play at the position in the offseason – thus, the arrival of Golladay and Toney – but Slayton insists there’s no need to give up on him just yet.
"I wouldn’t really worry about it," he said of the increased competition. "I try to go out and be the best I can be and I'm excited for what this team has in store."
The sure-handed Slayton has excellent route-running ability, can "take the top off" of a defense by running longer routes and is the kind of player any team can use. And even if Golladay and Toney attract more coverage from opposing defenses, Slayton can be an effective player in single coverage. The Giants’ plans to use him in a variety of ways and personnel packages can help even more.
"Darius and Toney, they will be on the field at the same time, different packages, different positions at different times," Judge said.
Slayton is especially looking forward to seeing what he believes will be an improved season from Jones, who now looks the part in Year 3.
"I think he’s grown tremendously, physically in his body," Slayton said of Jones. "It’s almost like this last offseason, he was all of a sudden jacked and actually had [muscular] cuts on his arms. He made a physical change and he’s grown as a leader and has become a better football player."
Slayton plans to be a big part of Jones getting better as a player. Even with all the receiving talent they’ve added, Slayton insists there’s still a place for him in this lineup.