Eight receivers are better represented on the backs of jersey-wearing fans at Giants home games than the trio trying to make enough big plays to reach the playoffs.
There’s the group of Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer and Steve Smith from the back-to-back successful 2007-08 seasons. Or their replacements of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham from the last Super Bowl title following the 2011 season. Or the tandem of Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr. with Cruz from the last playoff appearance in 2016.
Now? Welcome to the era of Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins and Richie James — the unlikeliest top of a receiver depth chart for any playoff contender.
“We all have something to prove,” said Slayton, who accounts for 30.5 percent of the Giants’ air yards (18th-highest share of any receiver for any team), per Next Gen Stats. “I don’t think that we’ve proven whatever it is that we have to prove yet. We still have to do more. So, it’s definitely not a time for any of us to get complacent.”
The Giants entered Week 1 of the season with a top-four of Kenny Golladay, Wan’Dale Robinson, Kadarius Toney and Shepard. Back then, Slayton was a healthy scratch as the No. 7 receiver on the depth chart, Hodgins was stuck on the Bills practice squad and James’ primary position was punt returner.
Sixteen weeks later, Robinson and Shepard are sidelined by torn ACLs, Toney plays for the Chiefs and a benched Golladay (four catches in 10 games) has played three total snaps in the last two games combined. Meanwhile, the speedy Slayton leads the Giants with 710 receiving yards, and the big-bodied Hodgins and the shifty James have combined for six touchdowns in the last six games.
“They’re all resilient,” left tackle Andrew Thomas said. “They’ve had their opportunities and they’ve made the most of them. Regardless of what people say about them or what they may think, when the game is on, they’re ready to play. They’re playing tough, physical, and making plays for us.”
In last week’s loss to the Vikings — the most explosive the Giants’ passing attack (334 yards) has looked in a game since 2019 — James, Hodgins and running back Saquon Barkley became the first trio of pass-catchers with eight or more receptions in a game in franchise history. Slayton added four.
All the more incredible is the fact Slayton, Hodgins and James count for just $2.48 million against the salary cap. That is less than 12 percent of Golladay’s team-high $21.15 million charge, which is responsible for the Giants allocating the third-highest amount of cap dollars ($34 million) to receivers of any team this season, according to spotrac.com.
Slayton accepted a pay cut from $2.45 million to $965,000 — giving up almost all of the “performance-based pay” raise he earned over his first three seasons — just to avoid his release after training camp. He and James are unrestricted free agents after the season, while Hodgins is an easier-to-keep exclusive-rights free agent. All three have given the Giants something to consider.
“I feel like probably a lot of people that might’ve been in my predicament might’ve gotten down or stopped maybe giving effort or not trying to get themselves out of that predicament,” Slayton said. “But I truly love playing football. So, even though I was inactive in Week 1, I didn’t want that to be my predicament. As long as I got my health and I can play ball and I can go practice, I believe in myself. And I believe in my ability.”
The Giants ignored outcry to trade for a receiver at the deadline — instead shipping off the underachieving Toney — and added Hodgins off of waivers. All he has done is score three touchdowns in the last four games and show a stickiness (zero drops with 29 catches) that Slayton (six with 44) and James (three with 50) lack.
“He’s been very consistent for us,” Slayton said. “He’s done a great job moving the sticks. He does a good job of making contested catches in the middle of the field.”
James worked himself back into the fold after a three-game span midseason during which he only played 11 total offensive snaps and fumbled away two punt returns.
“To be in this city, to play for the Giants, you’ve got to be mentally tough as well as do what you’ve got to do on the field,” said safety Julian Love, who overcame adversity and small roles to become a starter. “I can relate a little bit to them, but I would say they’re doing an even better job because [fans pay more attention to] what they do on offense.”
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