Darius Slayton rose from redshirt anonymity last season to become a competent, useful piece of the Tigers' offense.
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He caught 15 passes for 292 yards. He caught his first collegiate touchdown pass. More important, however, was the fact that Slayton blocked a lot of a defenders and blocked the correct defenders correctly. He's not exactly a hulk on the field — the sophomore stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 190 pounds — but he's a good blocker who doesn't view that grueling task as something to keep coaches placated.
He works hard at blocking because it's important to the team's overall goal. In Rhett Lashlee's offensive system, inside receivers often were supplemental blockers; some might say they were undersized tight ends.
Can Slayton become something more than that?
He certainly has the tools to do so. Opportunity looks like his problem. Auburn currently has an impressive cadre of receivers — most of them very young and most of them very talented. It could be difficult for anyone to truly stand out. If Slayton sticks at the inside spot, he'll be rotating with Kyle Davis and Marquis McClain. If he sides outside, he'll be rotating with Nate Craig-Myers and one of the newcomers.
Not that Slayton cares about positional congestion. He's the quintessential competitor and someone who never will stop working to improve. That's a fantastic trait in a player. It also may explain why he's so popular among coaches and teammates.
It's also worth noting that Slayton has a good balance between holding himself to high standards while at the same time not loathing himself when he makes a mistake. The best example was a dropped third-down pass at Ole Miss, which yielded some angry (but not profane) comments from the head coach.
Slayton took a moment along the sideline to compartmentalize the mistake, but had his toes on the chalk during Ole Miss' subsequent first down to provide vocal support for Auburn's defense. He can change gears quickly. That's also a fantastic trait.
So here we have a young player with ample athleticism, a strong work ethic, a cerebral approach toward preparation and performance. He's going to play. It's just a matter how how much he'll make of those opportunities.
ON THE UP SIDE: Awareness, acceleration, fortitude
ON THE DOWN SIDE: Winning in-phase challenges, getting open
VOTING RESULTS: Bryan Matthews (9th), Jeffrey Lee (13th), Jay G. Tate (15th), The Bunker (19th)
2016 RANKING: Not ranked
POSTSCRIPT: Slayton seems to like being overlooked insofar as it's a fantastic motivational ploy. Back when he was redshirting during the 2015 season, Slayton joked with reporters that they'll one day photographing his exploits on the field — and to remember his name.
"I bet y'all don't have a single picture of me," he said back then. "It won't be like that for long."
I thought it was a throwaway quip at the time, but it's actually a nice window into the person. Slayton is playful yet serious when it's time to work. He's ambitious yet he knows his place. He's sure he'll be a star one day yet he doesn't take the ascendancy for granted.
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