Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton catches up to Post columnist Steve Serby to talk playoffs, his career with Big Blue and the impact of the Damar Hamlin injury.
Q: What is the lesson we have learned from what happened to Damar Hamlin?
A: Even though football is a big part of what we do, football is obviously a major part of our lives, but at the end of the day, nothing’s more important than your health, nothing’s more important than your family. Obviously I felt for him, I was obviously praying for him and all that, but the situation honestly probably affected my parents more than it did me. For me, I’m just playing football. Even seeing something like that happen to somebody, like I just play ball. But my parents, they worry every week.
Q: About you?
A: About me, yeah. And I’m not even worried about me. But you never think about like the strain that that puts on the people around you and that type of thing.
Q: Can you talk about the conversations with them this week?
A: Just being parents, they always think to themselves, that’s like the last thing they want for me. They never want to be in the stands and see me potentially on the field fighting for my life. It’s obviously a fear of theirs, but they’ve also been watching me play football since I was 9 years old. But obviously seeing something like this happen brings it to the forefront in your mind.
Q: Was there ever a time when either of them said, “We’d rather you not play football?”
A: I mean, from the jump, my momma never wanted me to play football. She tried very hard actually to not let me play football. But I just was stubborn, and kept begging and asking, and she finally let me in, and the rest was history after that. … My dad never like necessarily pushed me to play, but when he saw how bad I wanted to play, he was like, “Well just let him play” or whatever. And then, she put me in flag football, and she thought that that would like satisfy me, and then, it just made me want to play even more.
Q: What are your thoughts on Damar Hamlin breathing on his own and speaking?
A: God, man. God is good, for real. I hope he fully recovers, not that football is important, but if that’s his dream and he’s living his dream, I hope he gets all the way healthy to where he can play ball again if that’s what he wants to do. I’m happy to see that he’s looking up, and I just hope he keeps trending up.
Q: What was the hardest hit you ever took?
A: I’ve taken some good ones in college [at Auburn]. … I’ve taken some shots.
Q: What resonated with you about what senior VP of medical services Ronnie Barnes said to the team on Wednesday?
A: He explained like basically what happened to him, and he explained that pretty much that just like this was a freak accident. This was something that was like one in a million, whatever the odds are. It’s not like something that’s just gonna happen week in and week out. This was very, very rare, and I think that put a lot of people at ease.
Q: What resonated about what director of wellness and clinical services Dr. Lani Lawrence said?
A: Probably just that she was there. If you needed her, if you were having any type of like mental health issues or if you were feeling any type of way about the situation, she would be there. If you needed her, just ask.
Q: And chaplain Gian Paul Gonzalez?
A: He really didn’t say too, too much about the situation, but he prayed over him and his family. It was obviously a powerful prayer.
Q: This is your fourth season as a Giant. Why would you love to stay here?
A: Been enjoying my time here, I couldn’t really tell you anything as far in this building that I dislike. I like my teammates, I like this organization, I like the way it’s ran, I like the food we serve here. Most of my gripes with being here is about Jersey, the weather and stuff like that. But as far as being here, being a Giant, I don’t have any complaints.
Q: Do you think you’ve shown enough to make them want to keep you when your contact ends after the season?
A: I think so. I think if you take my body of work since I’ve been here, and you look at what I’ve done over four years I’ve been here, I would say so.
Q: For the first time as a New York Giant you’ll be in the playoffs wearing No. 86.
A: It’s been a long road. It’s been a looong road. It’s rewarding in a sense. I feel like if you’re been here in my draft class specifically … obviously when you’re drafted with a first-round quarterback [Daniel Jones], it has its own status and stipulation to it for any franchise, but you’re following up a Hall of Fame, two-time winning Super Bowl quarterback, and I’m trying to follow up Odell [Beckham Jr.]’s release the year before — some heavy hitters, big shoes to fill type of deal for us, and obviously we weren’t very successful our first year and second year, third year. But I think to come full circle so to speak and have this fourth year and have the success we have, it’s been awesome.
Q: Did you put pressure on yourself to follow Odell?
A: Nah, not really, I never really did. I never really saw myself as like … other people used to ask me when I was a rookie, “Do you see yourself as Odell’s replacement?” But I was a fifth-round pick, I wasn’t picked to be the Odell replacement, that’s not what you draft a receiver in the fifth round for, so (laugh) I didn’t come in with like delusions of grandeur. But once you start making plays like I did, obviously I understand where the narrative came from, but I never tried to be him, wanted to be him, he’s him. And to be honest, be about impossible to duplicate anyways. Just be the best me I can be.
Q: What do you hope Giants fans are saying about you now?
A: I hope they just say that … he ain’t always been perfect, but he plays his ass off. Whatever criticisms or tough times I’ve been through, I feel like I’ve always bounced back, I’ve always done better. I just hope they have the impression of somebody that don’t quit, somebody that loves playing football and somebody that’s gonna get better.
Q: Did those criticisms fuel your fire over the years?
A: I think any time you have criticism of your game it does, but at the same time, if the criticism is something that is legitimate, then it’s cause for reflection. Maybe somebody’s saying something about you and maybe it’s true. Maybe you do need to work on that, and that’s fine. Everybody has something they gotta work at. I don’t always take criticism as a negative thing.
Q: Where do you think in the last year you’ve made the biggest improvements?
A: I’ll probably say consistency as far as getting open and catching the ball, just doing everything at a very consistently high level.
Q: Who are wide receivers that remind you of you?
A: Somebody like Davante Adams, even though he’s probably a little quicker than me, I’m faster than him, but as far as like our size, body build, I feel like we have a similar frame. We have some elements of our game that are similar. … I have to say like a mixture of people.
Q: Which other people?
A: Kind of a similar frame, Justin Jefferson. After seeing him in person, he’s long like I am, real long guy, lanky guy. Again, he’s probably got a little more wiggle than I do, I’m probably a little faster than him, but I’ll say we play a similar brand of football. …[Stefon] Diggs, I would say is another guy that’s probably in that 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 range. Again, probably a little quicker than me, probably a little faster, but all those guys are I feel like around my size and we have a similar skill set.
Q: You just mentioned three elite receivers. How close are you to that league and can you get there?
A: If you think about it … they’re only considered elite receivers ’cause of what they’ve done, right? Like if Stefon Diggs had 500, 600 yards this year, you wouldn’t be saying he’s an elite receiver. You’re saying he’s an elite receiver ’cause he’s had 1,200 yards, Justin Jefferson’s got 1,700 yards, Davante Adams got 1,500 yards, that’s why you say they’re elite receivers. But at the end of the day, traits are traits. If I can run and cut and jump just like somebody, running and cutting and jumping is running, cutting and jumping. It’s not any different. But their accomplishments is what makes somebody an elite person. That’s what makes people have this perception of them that they’re elite, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t mean that our physical ability is any different, or much different.
Q: Do you think you can be a Wide Receiver 1?
A: For sure. Without a doubt.
A: Without a doubt. Anywhere.
Q: I guess you have to have that confidence.
A: If you ask Davante Adams, what would he say? Here, there, the moon, the sun, you know? Gotta believe that.
Q: Describe the belief this team has now in Daniel Jones.
A: In everybody you see glimpses, like “Oooh, if we could just get more of that, if we could just get this consistently, if we could just get that consistently.” Probably one thing that’s understated for Daniel is if you look at other guys that are succeeding in the league … We’ve had three head coaches and four [offensive coordinators] — it’s four people holding the mic talking to you over his career. That’s a lot. Especially with one franchise. There’s four different voices, four different schemes, four different game plans, four different people that see the game differently that you’re trying to get on the same page as them. That in itself is a hurdle. Every single time you have to get it. I think we always knew he had the ability to be the guy that he is, and all we needed was the continuity and he just needed us around him to be there for him.
Q: How much did all that impact you?
A: A lot. Everybody’s different. Some coordinators, they like big guys, some guys like short guys, some guys like big, strong. … You never know how you fit or how a coordinator sees you. And obviously as a receiver, that can affect your targets, all those types of things.
Q: What is Daniel like in the huddle now compared to even last year?
A: I think he’s always been very steady. But I think he’s just gotten more and more comfortable with commanding the huddle, more and more comfortable with the moment, more and more comfortable with getting guys to believe, getting guys to come along, getting guys to make plays when we need ’em. I think he’s just gotten more and more comfortable with those things as time has went on.
Q: Is there belief that he can take you guys far in the playoffs?
A: Without a doubt. Without a doubt.
Q: What do you like best about this team?
A: Probably relationships. Everybody gets along. There’s no strain from one group to another. I feel like everybody just is cool, and I feel like that helps us a lot.
Q: Describe Saquon Barkley’s 2020 knee injury in Chicago.
A: It was a freakish injury. It was obviously disappointing at the time, you lose a back of his caliber, it’s not great. Obviously felt bad for him.
Q: What impresses you most about him now that he’s back healthy?
A: I think he’s just done a good job of growing into the role, growing into being an elite back. Obviously we all know he can hit the home run. Me and him are kind of similar in that regard. I feel like the reason why we’re both known is for hitting the big plays. But obviously to be a really good player, be an elite player, you gotta make the mundane plays, too, consistently. And I think that he’s done a great job of embracing like, “All right it’s third-and-3, let me just get the 4. Get the first down. “OK, it’s fourth-and-1, all right let me push the pile, get the 1.” ’Cause I know myself, I do it too, is like you always want to hit the home run, you always want to bust ’em for 60, bust ’em for 70, but realistically you can’t. I think obviously as a back, that’s even more important ’cause sometimes you just need 5 yards on first down. Now the whole playbook we can call whatever. I think he’s done a great job of growing into the position.
Q: What do you recall from watching Eli Manning from the sidelines as a rookie?
A: You learn really quickly, bro, that there’s no way you’re closing the gap to somebody like that in a couple of months. That’s the first thing, it’s humbling. He knows so much about the game. Sometimes it felt he could see the defensive coordinator’s play sheet sometimes. And it’s like, how does he know? What is he seeing? What’s giving it away? You try to figure it out, but you just can’t close that gap in a couple of months, or even a couple of years.
Q: What do you want to say about Sterling Shepard as a receiver?
A: When I was a rookie, he was a great example of kind of like the unwavering confidence you have to have to be a top guy, to be the No. 1 as people say. He was a good example for me when I got to the league of like, “All right, this is how you’ve gotta attack the ball, it’s how you gotta attack the game.”
Q: Describe head coach Brian Daboll’s positive work environment.
A: Some coaches are like, you get in a meeting room or something, they don’t like want a peep of noise, like it’s dead silent, you can’t say nothing. Let’s just say we’re in between of two meetings, guys joke and laugh and talk and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, whereas other times maybe in the past where you’d be sitting in between meetings it would be dead quiet. People should be able to have their personalities. All that type of stuff just brings energy, brings life into the room.
Q: Describe your late grandfather, Maze Stallworth.
A: It started with him. A great man in the community, great man, great heart, great family man. Obviously raised my mother to be a good woman. I never saw my grandfather run obviously, but they say when he was young, he was really fast, my mother was fast, so (laugh) gave me speed … just so many things he gave me that I’m grateful for.
Q: From your Instagram: “If sliced bread is the greatest thing ever, then what does that make the first person to slice bread?”
A: They gotta be a GOAT, right?
Q: What is your fascination with Outback Steakhouse?
A: I just feel like it’s a respectable food establishment that’s probably understated.
Q: Why do you like the hostile atmosphere in Philadelphia?
A: I went to Auburn, man. Went to LSU, went to Alabama, went to Georgia. I’ve been getting booed for a minute now (laugh). I’m not new to boos.
Q: What was it like for you watching the NFL playoffs the past three years?
A: You wonder what it’s like. You watch these atmospheres, these crazy games, these close games, and I mean, you just want to know like what is it like to be in those type of stages?
Q: What was the environment at Minnesota like on Christmas Eve when you played the Vikings?
A: It was awesome. I ain’t never been there before, I don’t even know what Skol means, but they got it going when the dude started beating the drum.
Q: Would you welcome a rematch with them?
A: Yeah sure, they’re a good team, it was a fun game, and obviously it was a fun environment, fun stadium to play in, so if that’s where we land, let’s go do it.
Q: You lost to the 49ers, 36-9, in 2020 at MetLife Stadium.
A: That was not a good day for the Giants, that’s what I remember. We did not play well.
Q: What are you most proud of about yourself?
A: Probably the fact that I just stay steady. I think probably my whole time here I’ve been steady. I’ve bounced back. I probably have beat the odds quote unquote some people might say. I’m just thankful the way I was raised, and thankful for the ability God gave me.
Q: So if you were the Giants GM, would you re-sign Saquon?
A: I mean, I’d tie him up and lock him in the basement if I was the GM.
Q: Would you sign Daniel?
A: Without a doubt.
Q: Would you sign No. 86?
A: 1,000 percent.