As if the Bucs didn’t have enough weapons at receiver in their vaunted passing attack with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Scotty Miller, Tampa Bay added another one in the draft in Jaelon Darden.
After the Bucs mandatory mini-camp, Evans came away impressed with Darden.
“I watched him when he was in college, and I liked his game a lot,” Evans said. “Then I saw we drafted him. We ran routes together a little before we came to mini-camp. He has a lot of juice, a lot of quickness and really good hands. He just wants to learn.
Bucs WR Jaelon Darden – Photo by: USA Today
“He’s a really good young player. I feel like he’s going to help us a lot this year. We’re in the same city in the offseason, so hopefully I can help him out as much as possible and he can have a fantastic rookie season.”
More quick than fast due to his 4.46 speed, the 5-foot-8, 173-pound Darden has drawn comparisons to Brown and NFL receiver Emanuel Sanders.
“He’s super quick and fast,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s a little thicker than I thought he was going to be when I watched him.
“I think of Scotty and he wasn’t quite as thick. He is now, but he got bounced around by bigger, stronger corners. I don’t see Jaelon having that difficulty – just the body type is different.”
Darden is competing with Jaydon Mickens for the kick and punt return specialist job, and made a favorable first impression this spring in the OTAs and the mini-camp.
“He catches punts very easily and catches the football extremely easily,” Arians said. “He can be very explosive.”
Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong agrees with Arians’ assessment.
“Darden does a hell of a job getting under the football and catching punts,” Armstrong said. “It has only been off a JUGS machine right now, and they’re in shorts, so I don’t want to go into it too deep and send anybody to Canton or anything, but he does a really good job of catching the ball. You don’t hear it when it’s being caught – he’s got soft hands and he’s sudden when he catches the ball, so he has done a nice job.”
Darden’s ability to make defenders miss and get yards after the catch should not only help him on punts and kick returns, but also find a few reps on offense. The Bucs could use him on end-arounds, wide receiver screens, slants and other plays that would take advantage of Darden’s quickness.
“Lots of explosiveness,” Arians said. “He’s very, very explosive when he puts his hands on the ball – that’s for sure.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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