In the fourth round of the 2021 NFL draft the Bucs moved up to select wide receiver Jaelon Darden. At the time, it was a seemingly minor move to boost the Buccaneers special teams with some juice in the kick return game. However, the former North Texas star could make big waves in other ways for the Buccaneers.
It hasn’t taken long for Bucs to give Darden high praise. Both special teams coach Keith Armstrong and head coach Bruce Arians have spoken highly of him.
The most glowing review, however, came from Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.
Leftwich described Darden as having “similar mannerisms” to future Hall Of Fame wide receiver and current Buccaneers teammate, Antonio Brown. Leftwich was Brown’s teammate in Pittsburgh and is now his coach. So, obviously, he is very familiar with the former Steelers star.
But how much truth is there to this comparison? How much is hyperbole? It will take a closer look to project what Darden can be in the long term.
Darden went to a non power five school in North Texas. He played four years for the Mean Green as a wide receiver and return man. His receiving production doesn’t jump off the charts in terms of yards, but he did get better each year. The same is true with his touchdown catches, except this number did stand out with 19 as a senior.
Brown took a different path to success in college. Although he also played for a non power five school (Central Michigan) Brown displayed top end talent right away. He racked up more than 1000 yards in each of his three seasons. By the time he declared for the draft, Brown had over 900 more total yards than Darden had in four years.
Despite Darden’s impressive college resume, Brown was a far more productive player.
Just looking at him, Darden doesn’t jump out as a great athlete. At just 5’7 and 174 lbs he has the measurables of most 15-year-olds. But what Darden lacks in size he makes up in quickness.
His 4.46 40 yard dash time is very respectable by NFL standards. At 6.67 in the three cone drill, Darden scored in the 91st percentile. This is to say that he’s fast and extremely quick. It’s easy to see why Bucs took Darden in hopes of adding some speed on offense.
Brown didn’t measure much bigger. He was three inches taller and 10-pounds heavier in his pre draft workouts. However, bigger may be the only area that Brown was better.
Brown did not test as fast with a 4.56 40-yard dash. Nor did he test as quickly laterally with a 6.98 three cone time. Brown also came up short in all the jumps which measure explosiveness.
Regardless of size, you have to say that Darden is the better athlete coming out of college.
Here we see more similarities between the two. Both players were drafted as depth receivers as special teams players. Both were drafted by recent Super Bowl winners. The Bucs and Darden almost seem like it was destined to happen, right?
It’s hard to compare the two here as Darden hasn’t played yet. We do know that Brown made his impact as a return man as a rookie. He totaled over 500 return yards and a touchdown. This is where we expect Darden to make his mark as well.
As a receiver, Brown only had 167 yards on 16 catches. He provided versatility to play outside as well as the slot. Again, this is what’s expected from Darden.
Is This The Perfect Comparison?
There are certainly similarities between these two. Both went to small schools. Both as smaller guys who can play inside and out. But is Brown the perfect fit when comparing Darden to established NFL players?
Physically, Darden is most similar to Buffalo Bills receiver and return man Isaiah McKenzie. Both are a similar size, speed, quickness and both project as special teams guys. With that said, we are all hopeful Darden can be a more productive receiver in time than McKenzie and his career high 282 yards in 2021.
Staying in Buffalo, Cole Beasley is very similar in terms of size, speed and college production. However, Beasley never showed the quickness that Darden has and was not nearly as good at finding the endzone in college.
Seattle Seahawks star Tyler Lockett measured in a little bigger and a little faster than Darden, but also a little less quick in the three cone drill. He plays a similar role as a guy who is undersized and can play inside and out.
Darden really is a unique player. His combination of elite quickness as well as scoring production is not seen often. Whatever he becomes as a professional, it’s hard to say that there’s a perfect comparison for him.
There are certainly some similarities between Darden and Brown. Does that mean that Darden will put together the type of hall of fame career that Brown has had? Absolutely not. However, the two project to have a similar role. Thus making Brown a perfect guy for Darden to model his game after and learn from.
What do you think about the Antonio Brown comparisons that surround Buccaneers WR Jaelon Darden? Let us know via the comment section below!