After the Giants' impressive, wire-to-wire playoff victory over the Vikings, Daniel Jones deserves all the praise he's getting. So does Dexter Lawrence. And Leonard Williams. And Andrew Thomas.
You know who deserves more credit? New York's obscure group of wide receivers. You know, those previously opposite-of-household names: Darius Slayton, Richie James and Isaiah Hodgins, who collectively had 16 receptions for 224 yards and a score in the Super Wild Card Weekend win.
Kenny Golladay's Giants tenure has been riddled with injury and altogether it's been a colossal free-agent failure. Second-round lightning bug Wan'Dale Robinson was banged up in September, and then tore his ACL in Week 11. The Giants were doomed at receiver.
But Golladay's minimal productivity and Robinson's injuries -- not to mention Kadarius Toney's own injury issues and incidents before eventually being traded to the Chiefs -- provided Slayton, James and Hodgins the most valuable asset rarely discussed in the NFL regarding player development: opportunity.
Slayton, James and Hodgins can really play. They've finally been able to demonstrate that.
As a rookie, Slayton was on the field for two-thirds of New York's offensive snaps and turned in a 48-grab, 740-yard, eight-touchdown NFL debut. He built on his catch and yardage figures in Year 2. Then his snap rate dipped below 50% in 2020 and saw only 58 targets in 2021. This season, he's had six games with over 75 yards receiving in a low-volume pass offense.
James was picked in the seventh round by the 49ers and did flash at times in San Francisco but largely was a reserve wideout.
In 2020, he erupted for 184 yards on nine receptions in a 49ers loss to the Packers, but never become an integral part of San Francisco's offense oozing with pass-catching talent. James was waived/injured before the 2021 season due to a late August knee surgery. Finally fully healthy, he led all Giants receivers with 61 grabs during the regular season.
Since Hodgins was claimed off waivers by the Giants before Week 10, he has played on at least 40 snaps in every contest. In Buffalo, his career high was 13. And I'm not surprised with Hodgins' quick emergence in a key role with the G-Men.
Here's what I wrote in my 2020 Scouting Gradebook on:
Tall, somewhat lanky, vertical threat who runs crisp intricate routes down the field and has tremendous ball skills. Tracks it well and can make the circus grab with arms extended. Natural catcher of the football. Won repeatedly on the outside. Sudden breaking off his route stem and is excellent on double moves. Releases at the line are good for the most part. Not a true burner but has decent juice for a bigger wideout. Not overly physical at the line -- wins there are mostly shakes -- and has small flashes of creativity after the catch but won't be a specialty. Fun, sleeper prospect.
Notably, Hodgins had the second-highest grade in the "Ball Skills" category in my gradebook, trailing only Tee Higgins. He was credited with three drops on 279 targets at Oregon State. That's insane. Unsurprisingly, Hodgins has yet to drop a pass as a member of the Giants.
More notably, Hodgins was my No. 47 overall prospect in the 2020 class. Running 4.61 at the combine is probably what sunk his stock to the sixth round, when he was selected by the Bills.
James had over 200 receptions and almost 3,000 receiving yards in his first two seasons at Middle Tennessee State before a broken collarbone cut his hyped junior season short five games in. That's likely why he wasn't picked until the seventh round. He was a borderline Day 2 talent.
How and why Slayton wasn't selected until the fifth round, I'll never know. He's a burner with 4.39 speed and a 40.5-inch vertical who averaged a massive 20.3 yards per grab across three seasons and 79 catches at Auburn. And, heck, we've seen him produce efficiently in the NFL before this season.
These three, as former Day 3 picks, faced uphill battles to legitimate, full-scale opportunities in the NFL largely due to when they were drafted. Injuries didn't help either.
Now thrust into marquee receiving roles, Slayton, James and Hodgins, all overlooked as draft prospects, are proving that absolutely can play at a high level in the NFL.