Jaelon Darden | North Texas 5’8” 174 lbs. (Age 22)
Jaelon Darden was drafted 129th overall in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He becomes the 18th wide receiver drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft.
|Year||Games Played||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Average per Reception||Total TDs|
Jaelon Darden is one of your annual small-school stories where an incredible athlete, who was overlooked by large programs, emerges. Darden was a high school QB, so he possesses basic knowledge about reading coverages and finding openings in the defense. He played in all 14 games as a backup WR during his true freshman season compiling 281 yards and three TDs on 32 receptions, while also contributing as a punt and kick returner. While he still returned punts, Darden focused on offense as a sophomore, hauling in 48 receptions for 575 yards and four TDs.
He became his team’s leading receiver as a junior (76-736-12 TDs) while still returning punts, earning first-team All-Conference USA accolades as a 12-game starter. Darden took a monumental leap forward in 2020. He ranked second in the FBS with 19 receiving touchdowns, and third in the FBS with 132.2 receiving yards a game. The Associated Press voted him a second-team All-American and league coaches named him the C-USA Most Valuable Player and first-team all-conference. Darden is now North Texas’ career leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
Darden’s acceleration, explosiveness, and elusiveness are almost unrivaled. Admittedly, he played against inferior competition, but he routinely took over games in 2020. He literally accounted for 42% of his team’s receiving yardage and over 67% of their receiving TDs. He is an accomplished route runner who still has room for improvement.
Quick Jaelon Darden Thread 👇🏼
This whip route 👀 pic.twitter.com/MOJzxSAJgj
— 📽+🏈x🌴 (@HawaiiBrownsHui) March 1, 2021
Darden posted a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day and was measured at 5’8” 174 lbs. With 30⅝” arms and 8¾” hands. Unfortunately, his size was a little smaller than expected, which made his 40 time relatively disappointing with a speed score of just 87.95. He jumped a middling 35½” in the vertical. He chose not to participate in the bench press or broad jump, which leaves doubts about his strength. However, his times posted in the three-cone drill (6.66 seconds) and short shuttle (3.98 seconds) were elite. This phenomenal short-area quickness parallels his impressive game film which supports that he should continue to be a YAC monster at the next level.
Rapid Reaction to Draft Capital: Above-Average
Rapid Reaction to Landing Spot: Great
Jaelon Darden was selected with the 129th pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coming off of a Super Bowl win under coach Bruce Arians, the Tampa Bay receiving corps is loaded with talent. Why then does your author like this landing spot? Arians’ offenses have been notoriously pass-happy and have boasted variety. Darden will also have the benefit of practicing with and learning from Tom Brady for a year or two before he retires.
Additionally, Chris Godwin will become a free agent after the 2021 season and Darden holds advantages in draft capital and short-area quickness over teammates Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson. Darden immediately takes over duties in the return game, as he will become Tampa’s primary punt returner, as well as one of their deep men on kickoffs. While he may not prove fantasy relevant in 2021, Darden has upside in 2022 and beyond in the potent Bucs’ offense.
The dynamic slot WR for the Mean Green went off this past year and really turned a lot of heads from both a scouts’ perspective and a highlight reel perspective. Darden is a dynamic athlete that shows strength on film despite his diminutive size and missing testing numbers. He also has return skills and has shown an ability to make plays rushing the ball on end-arounds and reverses. He has displayed the ability to run routes and make plays in the short, intermediate, and deep levels of the defense.
Darden’s versatility, special teams experience, and propensity to make the big-play would be coveted by many teams. He is the kind of player your author would draft in the mid-to-late third-round of dynasty rookie drafts to stash on the taxi squad.
Jaelon Darden can FLY 👀 pic.twitter.com/6EkHzMscuU
— JC Cornell (@CornellNFL) May 1, 2021
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