Every offseason, I make it a point to review some of my favorite offenses throughout college football. Taking notes on innovations in scheme, different plays and checks, and potential prospects makes these deep dives beneficial in numerous ways.
One of those offenses is always the Auburn Tigers, and this offseason I stumbled upon a potential 2019 NFL Draft prospect along the way. Wide receiver Darius Slayton popped throughout the film with his downfield playmaking and run after the catch ability, yet he is perpetually underrated as a prospect right now for a few reasons.
Slayton’s counterpart in the Auburn wide receiver room is the more established Ryan Davis, who racked up over 80 catches in 2017. Additionally, quarterback Jarrett Stidham is a highly regarded prospect and the major focus is turned his way. Lastly, Slayton wasn’t the highest producer, only accumulating 29 catches, but his big-play ability gives him a trump card that could entice NFL teams come draft time.
Slayton thrives by making plays vertically, as evidenced by his whopping 22.2 yards per reception in last season. He is an effective downfield playmaker because of his body control, and the seamless way he is able to track and adjust to the football. Though he is not the fastest player on the field, he is nuanced in his vertical sets in the way he consistently stacks defensive backs and keeps them on his back. Getting on top of defensive backs is the first step, but maintaining position and allowing for cleaner catch points is the ultimate goal. Slayton does this masterfully.
Slayton’s awareness and feel for defenders in space is rare, and being able to manipulate those high safeties rotating over the top is valuable. His high point ability makes for a special threat in the deep portions of the field.
Slayton has a well-built, muscular upper body and is balanced as a ball carrier. He will consistently churn his legs through contact and slice through defenders to pick up extra yardage after the catch. His leg drive and fanatical effort are reminiscent of a running back, and Auburn schemed Slayton into their screen game as a result. His ability in space, despite not being a shiftier or quicker player, is a plus because his running style is a nightmare for defensive backs to slow down or stop.
There are aspects of Slayton’s game that he will need to prove to NFL scouts in order to become a more well-rounded prospect. Currently, his playmaking skills are obvious, but he hasn’t yet produced as an intermediate route runner. Though he has shown the ability to make efficient horizontal breaks, he could use consistency in that area. Additionally, Slayton does a good job of working through windows or voids in zone coverages, but needs to become a more instant separator. Slayton already has a solid frame, but isn’t yet maxed out and needs to continue adding strength. Lastly, there are questions about Slayton's athleticism and long speed, as he clocked slower times coming out of high school.
With the loss of running back Kerryon Johnson, Auburn seems ready to rely more on the arm of Stidham. As such, they will rely on Slayton to be a consistent, game to game producer as he enters his redshirt junior season. Therefore, Slayton is primed for a big season, and a leap up draft boards could very well be in store.