Instant Reaction: Buccaneers Draft WR Jaelon Darden

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The Buccaneers have decided to draft North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden with the 129th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Bucs made their first trade of the 2021 draft to secure Jaelon Darden, moving up from No. 137 to No. 129 in the fourth round. They gave up pick No. 217 in the sixth round to move up.

Who is Jaelon Darden?

Jaelon Darden is an explosive senior wide receiver from North Texas. He totaled 19 touchdowns on 74 catches for 1,190 yards for North Texas in his final season.

“Making someone miss is like waking up in the morning and brushing my teeth, I gotta do it every day,” Darden said during an interview at North Texas. That is the kind of ability Darden brings to the table; he wants the ball in his hands and he can take it to the house every time he touches the ball.

How does this help or hurt the Buccaneers?

The Buccaneers have a loaded receiver group with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, and 2020 fifth round pick Tyler Johnson. To top it off, last year’s mid-season addition Antonio Brown re-signed on a one year deal the day before the 2021 Draft kicked off.

So what could Jaelon Darden possibly bring to such a deep group?

The skillset Darden has is not one the Bucs currently have on their roster. A twitchy athlete, Darden is electric in the open field. I wrote before the draft that Darden would be a great fit on Day 3. Here is what I wrote at the time.

Darden is a dynamic playmaker who can open up the Buccaneers offense with designed touches. Route running was not his forte in college, but similar to Florida prospect Kadarius Toney, just get the ball in his hands and watch him make defenders look silly. Darden could provide an immediate spark in the return game.”

I wasn’t alone in this regard, either. Our own C.T. Smith also had the Bucs electing to draft Darden in the fifth round of his final mock draft.

Darden will be most impactful on screens, quick breaking routes, and down the field on vertical routes. Below are a few examples of what Darden can bring to the table.

And while Darden’s presence doesn’t hurt the team, one has to wonder how much it hurts the current statuses of Justin Watson and Jaydon Mickens. Both players are currently WR5 and WR6 for the Bucs. Mickens is also the primary kick returner. Will Darden’s presence put one -or both- roster spots at risk?

 

Who else was available at No. 129?

Inside linebacker, defensive back, defensive line, tight end, and running back were the other positions outside of receiver listed in our Bucs’ Day 3 targets.

Look for the Buccaneers to target more special teams players with their remaining picks in the draft. A linebacker or defensive back that can help with depth and special teams are probably up next for this team. Special teams captain Kevin Minter is 30 years old, and cornerback Ryan Smith joined the chargers in free agency. That leaves two obvious spots where the Bucs could get younger and fill a need.

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Final Thoughts

Darden’s quickest path to the field in 2021 is on special teams. He was the primary punt return man for North Texas during his 2017 and 2019 seasons. Darden’s elusiveness and speed will also translate to kickoff returns.

Day 3 of the NFL Draft is centered around finding players who can start on special teams as they develop into potential starters. Darden has a good chance of finding a spot on the Bucs active roster as a return specialist and depth wide receiver. Designed touches to get Darden the ball will be his primary role on offense until he proves he can win consistently against NFL cornerbacks.

It’s pretty clear why the Buccaneers decided to draft Darden. His versatility and speed/agility are traits that were much needed on offense. Jason Licht and co. know what they’re doing in this draft.


How do you feel about the Buccaneers and their decision to draft Jaelon Darden? Let us know in the comment section below!

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