NFC East Reporter
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There is no list of the NFL’s top receivers that includes either Parris Campbell or Darius Slayton. To even get near the names of the Giants’ top two wideouts, that list would have to be pretty long.
They know it. They’ve heard it. But they also think they know a secret.
And they can’t wait to prove that those lists are wrong.
“If you don’t have the names — the famous names — people don’t think you have talent in your room,” Slayton said in an interview with FOX Sports last week. “But whether or not you’ve got a million Instagram followers doesn’t make you any less talented than somebody who does.
“We know we have something to prove,” he added. “And we intend to go out and prove it.”
Slayton is definitely right about one thing: The Giants’ receivers have a lot to prove. That’s especially true of Slayton and Campbell, the team’s most likely starters. The both believe they have the talent to be true No. 1 receivers, and that might’ve already been No. 1s if it weren’t for circumstances and injuries.
It’s a hard argument to make, though, when neither have them has caught more than 63 passes or had more than 751 receiving yards in a single season. It’s also hard when they’re the third and fourth offensive options on their own team.
“I think it’s just a matter of production,” Slayton said. “I have to go out there and put up the numbers to be in that conversation. I’m aware of that. But I know I have the ability to do it.”
“To be honest,” Campbell added, “I feel like if you’re in this league and you play wide receiver and you’re not trying to be that, why are you here?”
Whether either of them can reach that lofty goal is definitely debatable, but that’s certainly what the Giants hope. In an offseason when their biggest need was clearly to add a No. 1 receiver, Slayton and Campbell represented the Giants biggest moves at that position. But they were small moves. They re-signed the 26-year-old Slayton, who led the team with 724 receiving yards last season, to a two-year, $12 million contract with just $4.9 million guaranteed. Then they signed Campbell, 26, to a one-year, $4.7 million deal with just $2.9 million guaranteed.
The Giants’ big offseason move was to trade for tight end Darren Waller, who sure looks like he’ll be the top option in the passing attack. And when quarterback Daniel Jones isn’t throwing to Waller, he’ll probably be looking to get the ball into running back Saquon Barkley’s hands.
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But if the Giants are really going to take the next step from their surprising 9-7-1 playoff season, it would help if someone would step forward and become a true No. 1 receiver. Both Slayton and Campbell sound ready to do it, even if they’re not quite sure a No. 1 receiver is what the Giants need.
“I don’t think you need one to be honest with you,” Slayton said. “You’ve got so many teams nowadays that have so much talent. I mean, who’s No. 1 in Cincinnati? Is Tee Higgins not a No. 1 talent? [Since the Bengals have Ja’Marr Chase], does that make him not a one, or does that make [them] have two ones? Do the Dolphins have a one, or are Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill two ones?
“At the end of the day you have playmakers. People have gotten used to having a No. 1 guy, but I could name four or five teams and ask you who their No. 1 receiver is, and you’d be like ‘They’re both pretty freakin’ good. It would be a slight to call either one of them a two.'”
Maybe so, but are any of the Giants’ receivers “pretty freakin’ good”? Outside of Slayton and Campbell, they’ve got a deep group filled with question marks. Sterling Shepard, 30, is trying to come back from a torn ACL and so is second-year pro Wan’Dale Robinson. They brought in 30-year-old Jamison Crowder, who already missed a couple of practices with a calf injury. They just signed 34-year-old Cole Beasley to see if he has anything left in the tank.
The Giants did get good production out of the 6-foot-4 Isaiah Hodgins last season and they brought in a burner in Jeff Smith, but neither of them has even 40 career catches. And the Giants have lots of hope for third-round pick Jalin Hyatt, one of the fastest players in the draft, but the plan seems to be to work him in slowly, at least at first.
Slayton and Campbell are the cream of their crop, and no one is comparing them to Chase and Higgins, Waddle and Hill, or Philly’s A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith.
Is that wrong?
“I think we have a very talented room,” Slayton said. “And I think we’ll show that when the season comes.”
“There’s a lot of guys in the room with chips on their shoulders,” Campbell added. “It’s a collective of guys who feel like they’ve got more to prove in their career.”
That’s definitely true for the top two, both of whom are admittedly unhappy with their trajectories so far. It wasn’t that long ago that the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Slayton was the surprise of the 2019 Giants — a fifth-round pick out of Auburn who quickly became the team’s big-play receiver, catching 48 passes for 740 yards and eight touchdowns in just 14 games.
But as the Giants’ offense floundered through three head coaches and four offensive coordinators in four years, so did Slayton. His numbers stagnated, then dropped. His hands became unreliable. He went from a one-time ascending star to a player the Giants didn’t exactly go overboard to bring back.
“It’s tough without that stability,” Slayton said. “Obviously my rookie year was all sunshine and rainbows for me. Then having those last couple of years it’s like reality. Life is going to be up and down. It’s not always going to go your way. You’re not always going to be riding high.”
Nobody needs to tell that to Campbell, a former second-round pick (59th overall) out of Ohio State. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder played in just 15 games and caught only 34 passes in his first three seasons because of a ridiculously long list of injuries. As a rookie in 2019, he had a sports hernia, a broken hand and a broken foot. He tore the MCL and PCL in his left knee in Week 2 the next year. And in 2021, he missed a game with an abdominal strain and then 10 more when he broke his foot again.
Finally, last season he was healthy enough to play in every game and he caught 63 passes for 623 yards and three touchdowns for an awful Indianapolis Colts team. But that wasn’t enough to get him attention (or money) on the free-agent market last spring, or the respect he feels he deserves.
“I was kind of just wrote off a little bit,” Campbell said. “I know I’m a good player. I know what I can do, what I bring to this team and to this game, and I’m confident in myself. Yeah, the injury caught me the first few years, but I’ve got a lot of ball to play.”
His teammates seem to agree. Slayton raved about Campbell and how he’s built “almost more like a running back” (he was a running back in high school) with “sneaky big legs.” In fact, the Giants have had Campbell lined up as a running back several times this summer, in a possible indication he could play a role for them like Deebo Samuel plays in San Francisco. It would be a unique way to take advantage of what Slayton said is his “obvious pure speed.”
Campbell, meanwhile, raved just as much about Slayton as “a guy that can do it all.”
“He’s a technician the way he runs his routes,” Campbell said. “Obviously we all know the speed is there. He’s got that sneaky deceptiveness the way he runs his routes. He’s just a real technician on the field.”
Those words are nice and might even be true, but the numbers still don’t tell a flattering story. Campbell and Slayton combined for 109 catches, 1,347 yards and five touchdowns last season. Three NFL players had more catches on their own, seven had more receiving yards, and 33 players had more receiving touchdowns.
In other words, two of them together barely added up to one No. 1.
Still, they both think that’s about to change.
“For sure,” Slayton said. “I think I have the ability, I have the talent to be in that No. 1 role.”
“I’m not sitting here saying I’m the No. 1 guy,” Campbell added, “but everybody in that room should compete to be the guy. If you’re not competing to be the best, why play the game?”
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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