2021 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Jaelon Dardenby Alex Barbour February 19, 2021 1 comment
Get the popcorn: the show is about to begin! Jaelon Darden, a former high school quarterback, has slyly lit up the country with his explosiveness. From making almost every man miss to simply outrunning anyone, he has (no filter alert) become what analysts delusionally believe Chatarius “TuTu” Atwell is. The explosive plays, consistent fear factor, and elite physical tools combine to create one of the most dangerous prospects in this draft, if not in the past few drafts.
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Name: Jaelon Darden
Position: Wide Receiver
School: North Texas
Weight: 174 lbs
Darden has both pluses and minuses with his hands. Obviously, with his stature, he does not possess a large catch radius (so kiss Lamar Jackon’s inaccurate arm goodbye). Darden can make low catches very well, along with passes that are within leapable reach but do not expect him to be able to make any consistent acrobatic, tough catches. He is force-fed a lot of balls, so it was obvious that his hands were not a liability (they just are not a major asset). Two catches should have been caught, but one was on the tips of his fingertips (frame issues again) while the other seemed to have interference involved. He does have seven drops on the year, according to PFF. The drops lower his hands to just above average at 5.25 (10 on this scale is best of all time, five is average).
Contested Catch (3.75/10)
This is a loaded category for a guy of Darden’s size. This said D’Wayne Eskridge did not score too poorly here. If it were solely the jump ball catches, Darden might be down in one territory. However, to make it semi-fair, this category includes body control and contact catches. Darden’s body control is solid. He almost made a Santonio Holmes type of toe-tap catch. Given a good quarterback, he might be able to get it in bounds. Since Darden gets solid separation (which will be discussed later), he rarely deals with contact catches, but he did have a drop there (albeit the throw was a horrible decision).
Straight Line Speed (9.0/10)
Zoom! Darden is a speed burner who should test in the 4.3s. There are many instances where he blows past defensive backs. He does seem to have a hard time keeping up speed on hard in-breaking routes.
Short Area Burst (8.5/10)
Apart from the fact that Darden usually takes a second to load power into his first step, he has insane burst. This is seen in a multitude of facets, including screens and route breaks. Darden also has solid breakdown speed, which is seen many times on deep curls and sits (where the receiver sits in a gap in the zone). Darden’s burst is also seen in his fluidity of quick movements.
After the Catch (9.0/10)
Darden is a cheetah combined with an eel. He is extremely slippery and fast. When the ball is in his hands, Darden seems to have a nose for the endzone. His only problem is that he tries to play hero ball: Darden tries to forge yards that sometimes are not there, resulting in negative yardage. With such fluidity of movement, Darden will be a real threat at every level of the field in the NFL.
Darden rarely gets pressed thanks to his immense speed and burst. However, he has a solid jab/ shuffle step to get the corner off-platform before he blows past him. Ultimately, this is his only release tactic. Darden has no formal release package. Darden will have problems against heavy press corners, so he should slot in at slot (no pun intended). There was a rep where Darden got shoved off his route by a linebacker, which may be a problem at the next level given his size.
Route Running (6.5/10)
Darden has a pretty limited route tree (45-degree routes, streaks, screens, and curls/sits) that he operates comfortably in. These routes are solid enough to fill his role at the next level, however. He tends to use his speed and burst over technique, but his IQ is very high for finding soft spots in zone coverage. It was noted that his sits/curls were very reminiscent of Devonta Smith’s against Tyson Campbell. Darden does have a sneaky weapon that was rarely used: he has a nasty double move. Darden left a defensive back in the dust, clueless. For his size, there is a lot to like here for the potential of Darden in the NFL in the right scheme. As long as he develops better foot technique, he will push up this rating.
Darden creates space faster than a girlfriend after she checks her boyfriend’s DMs. Apart from in-breaking routes and flats, he can create a good three yards of separation on almost every route. That double move will also be lethal for creating even more space than Darden’s speed.
Positional Versatility (4.5/10)
Darden has experience at every position in the wide receiver group, but this will not be helpful in the NFL, where his size and strength will limit him to a pure slot. Do not expect Darden to be a great blocker, either (why would you?). With his after-the-catch ability, he can fit many gadget roles for an offense, so he is not too limited on just standing in one spot of the field. Darden’s after-the-catch ability will also have a noticeable impact on special teams on day one.
Competitive Toughness (2.75/5)
Darden seems to lack any form of energy when the play does not concern him (like Elijah Moore). However, when the ball is within 2 yards of him or in his hands, he gives his all. His score dropped due to one rep where his quarterback was running 5 yards from his position, and Darden stood and watched. It is noteworthy that he does not shy away from taking a hit to try to make a play on the ball (thank his quarterback for throwing ambulance shots).
The injury sheet appears clean for Darden.
Whoa. This guy is scary. Darden, if used right, can become the next Tyreek Hill. His jump ball ability is far inferior, so he did not earn that comparison. It is noteworthy that there were scary glimpses of Hill on his tape. With his lack of size and strength, only a few teams like Kansas City (who were trying to trade up for Henry Ruggs III) could maximize his potential. Darden has all of the tools, but now it is time to see if they are put to use. Somehow some analysts schedule Darden as a day three pick in the draft, but it is near impossible to think he slips past the beginning of the third. Remember: it only takes 1/32 to fall in love with Darden’s talent and snag him early.
Final Grade (65.25/100): Late Second Round
Player Comp: Desean Jackson