Rookie Report Card: Darius Slayton and Steven Sims Jr.

Dan Meylor

Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover at least two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and how well he’s lived up to those expectations at the NFL level to this point, I’ll grade the player in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, 2019 potential and long term upside.

The series continues this week as we shine the spotlight on rookies Darius Slayton and Steven Sims Jr.

Darius Slayton, WR NYG

Week Five Stats: Four receptions, 62 receiving yards, one touchdown reception (five targets).

The SEC has delivered dozens of wide receivers with the potential to be far better professionals than they were college players and Slayton is the latest to make the list.

At Auburn, he was a fine deep threat, averaging 20.3 yards per reception on 79 career catches in his three years as a Tiger. Quick off the line of scrimmage and even faster when cutting loose over the top of the defense, he showed big play ability throughout his time in college both as a vertical threat and breaking tackles after making short to intermediate grabs.

Most assumed Slayton’s draft stock rose when he ran a 4.39 second 40-yard dash and posted an impressive vertical jump (40.5 inches) and broad jump (135 inches) at the combine, but trouble with dropped passes in college and inconsistent route running kept him on the board until late in the draft. He slipped to the later part of the fifth round when the Giants took him as a developmental prospect behind Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard.

Dynasty owners weren’t convinced of his upside as Slayton was an afterthought in most dynasty rookie drafts, going undrafted in most.

Although Slayton struggled through a hamstring injury in the pre-season, Tate’s four game suspension created an opportunity to work with the first team offense once he returned and he’s made an early impression.

Sharing time with Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler, he caught five passes for 95 yards on seven targets in weeks three and four but the surprise release of Fowler leading up to weak five appeared to show the Giants’ coaching staff’s confidence in Slayton.

Although he was fourth on the team in targets on Sunday with five behind Evan Engram (11), Shepard (10) and Tate (six), Slayton was third among Giants’ wide receivers in snaps against the Vikings with 45 – just one less than Tate (46) and 11 less than Shepard (56). His 35-yard touchdown, which came on a double move against Minnesota’s number one cornerback Xavier Rhodes, was the biggest play of the game for the Giants. He sold the slant perfectly before blowing past the All-Pro corner and catching a rainbow pass at the goal line.

Although he’s still very raw and is the fifth option on his own team behind Saquon Barkley, Engram, Shepard and Tate, Slayton has shown in his limited opportunities that the upside as a deep threat he displayed at Auburn is valid and dynasty owners should take notice.

It’s unlikely he’ll be an option for your starting lineup in 2019 without an injury to somebody above him on the depth chart, but with a young quarterback with upside already in place it should be a surprise to nobody if he factors into starting lineups down the road as a WR3 or flex play. Dynasty owners should be checking their waiver wire if they’re in need of a developmental wide out.

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Steven Sims Jr., WR WAS

Week Five Stats: Two receptions, one receiving yard (three targets), one carry, 65 rushing yards, one touchdown.

Unless you are a fan of Kansas Jayhawks football, you probably didn’t know who Steven Sims Jr. was until he sprinted down the right sideline against the Patriots early in week five to give Washington a brief lead.

Neither did I.

Doing a little digging on Sims Jr., I found some pretty impressive comparisons, including comping him to Tyreek Hill and Brandin Cooks. But most of those comps happened before Sims Jr’s pro day – where he was expected to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.3’s but disappointed by posting a 4.56.

Spending just 30 minutes on Youtube in preparation for this report card, it was easy to see why some expected the former Jayhawk would blaze his way into the late rounds of the draft. Always the fastest guy on the field in college, he appeared to be shot out of a cannon with every touch he received. Clearly the best athlete on the roster, it was unclear why Sims Jr. didn’t get more opportunities while in college. Averaging a meager 12.1 yards per catch on 214 career receptions and hauling in 19 touchdowns in his four years on campus, he looked far more explosive in his highlights than his career numbers suggest.

Those pedestrian numbers (214 receptions, 2,582 yards and 19 touchdowns in 46 games) along with his ho-hum showing at his pro-day made Sims Jr. un-draftable but he signed with Washington after the draft and made the 53-man roster, predominately as a kick returner – which he did very little of in college – but also as a gadget player for the Redskins’ offense.

It was obvious why he made the team on that end around on Sunday. Flashing Tyreek-like explosiveness and impressive tackle breaking ability on his 65 yard touchdown, it’s clear that Sims Jr. has game-breaking playmaking ability and is far faster than the 4.56 40-time he posted in March suggests.

Through five games, Sims Jr. has nine offensive touches for 109 yards and that touchdown run and has averaged 22.8 yards per kick return (5th in NFL) in nine opportunities. Just for fun I took a look at Hill’s first five NFL games – 16 offensive touches for 81 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 23.5 yards per kick return on eight chances. Awfully similar. The only difference is – of course – Hill averaged 13.5 yards and scored twice on punt returns in his first five games. Sims Jr. hasn’t had a chance to return punts yet.

The purpose of this isn’t to suggest Sims Jr. is the next Tyreek. It is, however, to suggest that in leagues with more than 25 roster spots, he’s worth considering as a waiver wire add. After all, considering the state of the wide receiver position in Washington and the need for playmakers in that offense, there’s a clear path to opportunities for the former UDFA and the potential for him to establish himself with a new coaching staff in 2020. That alone is worth the last roster spot in a relatively deep league.

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dan meylor