By: Tanner Elliott
5’ 9” 174 lbs.
Jaelon Darden was top five in the country in both receiving yards and touchdowns and is one of the fastest and quickest players in the country. He can reach his top speed very quickly, which is good for his release off the line. His footwork and elusiveness are some of the best I’ve seen, and his ability to cut in one direction then immediately cut in the other is impressive. His game is based on making people miss and getting yards after the catch, which he excels at due to his quickness and footwork. Almost every time Darden touches the ball, he makes someone miss and gets an extra four to five yards.
Darden has a lot of flaws on film. This isn’t all his fault; I question whether the North Texas offense was well-suited for his skill-set. However, some of the negative attributes do fall back on him. His limited route tree consisted of mostly drags, slants, go routes, and screens. For his competition, the best team that Darden played during his college career was Cal, when he was only on the field for a small number of snaps. This was due to the North Texas offense wanting to establish the run, which they had a hard time doing. As for contested catches, Darden won’t win many jump balls at 5’9”, and he also has trouble bringing in some passes if he gets minimal separation. His effort on run plays is questionable, and his release is effortless on some run plays, giving the play away.
Comparison - Jakeem Grant
Darden and Grant are both undersized receivers who rely on their speed and quickness to get extra yards/get open. Like Grant, Darden has a history of returning kicks, which could help his draft stock. Although Darden may not be as fast as Grant, he has better footwork, so he has the potential to be a better receiver. Both players sometimes try too much to make a defender miss, resulting in lost yards or ending up where they started.
Darden is a day three pick in this year's draft, due to the concerns about him being a one trick pony and the quality of competition he faced. He has the potential to be a late round steal if a team can find a way to consistently utilize his skill set. His future depends on whether or not he can improve his route running and find more ways to help out an offense, rather than just being a big play waiting to happen.
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