EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Darius Slayton is only 26 years old, but he's a go-to guy in the Giants locker room for younger players seeking advice on football and off-the-field matters.
A smart choice by the youngsters.
Slayton is one of just six players on the current roster entering at least his fifth season with the team. Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley arrived in 2016 and 2018, respectively, and Daniel Jones was in the 2019 draft class with Dexter Lawrence. Leonard Williams arrived in a 2019 midseason trade.
Slayton fields numerous questions on everything to running routes to restaurants.
"Yeah, from where to live and to where to eat, and how to do these – what are they called? The little side turns," Slayton said as the Giants returned to work after a three-day break. "All that type of stuff but on the football field as well. I do my best to help the young guys in any way I can. I just try to help them; our system is very wordy. Just helping them in anyway (and) try to give them tips and pointers because we were in the same boat last years when Dabs (coach Brian Daboll) first got here. Even though we were veteran players, you're learning a whole new system. So, I just do my best to help them any way, shape or form I can, and we have a lot of young smart guys, so they're easy students to help."
Slayton demonstrated his devotion to the team during a difficult period early last season. He took a pay cut just prior to the season and then was a healthy inactive for the season opener in Tennessee. Slayton was not targeted the following week vs. Carolina and had one catch in Week 3 vs. Dallas.
"It was definitely a stroke of adversity," Slayton said. "It's definitely something that I had to deal with, something I had to overcome, but ultimately, it's not somewhere that I hadn't been prior to that and I'm sure, hopefully not again in football, but maybe in some other avenue of life I'll be in a similar predicament. I'm just happy I'm on the other side of it now, and it'll be a good life experience going forward."
But Slayton kept grinding and started 11 games – plus two in the postseason – and led the Giants with 724 receiving yards and was third on the team with 46 receptions, including two touchdowns. It was the third time in his first four seasons he led the team in receiving yards, a Giants feat matched only by Odell Beckham, Jr. In the playoffs, Slayton added five receptions for 92 yards (18.4-yard avg.), including a team-long 47-yarder.
"You talk about another good teammate," coach Brian Daboll said. "We've talked about the start that he had last year. I'd say his ability to really just be laser focused on his job and improving every day really helped us throughout the season. Got him back and he's been a very good teammate. I think he has improved in a number of areas, understands the system better, has some good leadership traits about him, particularly with some of those younger receivers and happy to have him."
"I think I'm in a positive place, and I think I've put together a strong camp," Slayton said. "I worked really hard this offseason to better myself in any way or shape and form I can, and I plan to try to display that to the best of my ability this season."
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No other Giants player is as well-versed in the preferences and displeasures of Jones. The two players joined the team four years ago, Jones as a first-round draft choice and Slayton as a fifth-round selection. They have developed a close partnership on and off the field.
Jones has completed passes to 44 different receivers in the regular season, a figure that will almost certainly increase Sunday night when the Giants open their season against the Dallas Cowboys in MetLife Stadium. Slayton's 150 catches, 2,198 yards and 11 touchdowns top all those targets (Shepard is second with 140, 1,409 and eight).
Slayton can tell the pass-catchers who haven't had as much time with Jones what the quarterback likes to do on a certain route, or what he looks for when a particular play is called.
"There's definitely a quarterback friendly way to play receiver and also being yourself," Slayton said. "There's timing to things, there's ways you can win certain things that are comfortable. If there's anything that in the past we've done that I know that he likes or makes him feel really good about it, I definitely try to impart that acknowledge to them."
When he's on the field, Slayton is continually juggling numerous thoughts, including the play call, the opposing defense, his individual matchup – and what he can do to help Jones and the offense on any particular play.
"Sometimes, it's just trying to be on the same page," Slayton said. "There's sometimes we have routes that change based on certain looks and obviously in this league, quarterbacks got to know the whole defense and all that. But if I was a receiver already and if I'm looking at the look as well and I know what he might want to get to, it just helps make decisions quicker, helps us both be on the same page. If we can both get up there and recognize the same defense and know what needs to be done, then that's just another step ahead and click faster that we can play.
"I would say the vast majority of the time we're on the same page. Obviously, we're both human. You know, there's going to be times where there's indecisiveness on both parts; but majority of the time we're on the same page."
Slayton said the two players are so familiar with each other they often communicate non-verbally.
"There are definitely times where I feel like I talked to him in my head where I'm like, 'DJ, look, look, look, look, the safety is going over here' or something," Slayton said. "Whatever it is, he's a smart guy, really aware guy. So, he's typically on top of it."
And as those 150 receptions and 2,198 yards attest, the relationship has benefitted both players.
"It's been a pretty good thing," Slayton said. "He throws the ball my way. So hopefully, it keeps coming."
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