Jaelon Darden – Senior – Wide Receiver, North Texas
Pros: Darden has good agility, quickness and overall game speed. He is used both inside and outside within North Texas’ scheme. Able to add value as an electric returner in punt returns and shows good intelligence for when to call for a fair catch. Was not used much in the kick return game but could do so at the pro level. Creates a lot of separation due to his speed and shiftiness in route running. Has great hands and is able to make catches on the sideline with consistency, good feet positioning and dexterity. Good production and has been a go-to target at all levels. Can be a deep threat with his speed and ability to shake defenders with head fakes and is a capable receiver in contested situations. Can be used as an underneath receiver with his shiftiness and quick first step to get him into space for slants and in routes.
Cons: Has an undersized frame and I’m unsure how much more he will have to grow at the next level but he would stand to benefit from adding some bulk to his body. Had some issues with running himself off balance and it looks like he lacks some coordination with his lower body. Needs to pick up his feet a little more and work on keeping his body upright against arm tackles. I did not see a lot of elusiveness which will impact his value, need to see more against tight man to man and how he can overcome being jammed at the line.
Summary: Darden is a top receiver in the Conference-USA and I’m convinced that he is going to have a big year in 2020. He has great agility to make defenders second-guess themselves and this helps him create separation downfield. He has great change of direction ability and shows some excellent top speed running downfield. He has been able to run every route in the tree with good consistency and precision which will be important as he transitions to more pro style offenses. His limitations are his physical size, he is a short receiver and while he has added some weight during college he is still quite undersized for the position. He will need to utilize his quickness in the end zone but he will not be a jump ball threat or a go to target outside of the slot. Has had some issues with ending up on the turf more than he should and this looks to be a lack of balance and coordination between his upper and lower body. I think Darden is talented enough to make an NFL team and will be able to add to his value as a punt and kick returner. I think that he will be most effective working out of the slot or motioning him across the line to get mismatches against defenses but he is unlikely to ever work his way into a true X or Z receiver.
Projection: 5th-7th Round
Comparison: Travis Benjamin/Richie James