Ignoring the fact that he played in a non-Power Five conference, North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden is one of the most explosive, big-play threats available in the 2021 NFL Draft. Can he be the first Mean Green player to be drafted to the NFL since 2004?
Jaelon Darden NFL Draft Player Profile
- Position: Wide Receiver
- School: North Texas
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 5’7 1/2″
- Weight: 175 pounds
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Tony Pauline’s Jaelon Darden Scouting Report
Positives: Three-year starter who impacted UNT as both a receiver and return specialist. Smooth releasing off the line of scrimmage and quickly gets in and out of breaks then separates from defenders. Uses the sidelines well, knows where he is on the field and plays with excellent body control. Extends his hands exposing himself to the big hit, snatches the ball out of the air, and displays good eye/hand coordination.
Comes back to the ball, competes to come away with the difficult reception, and nicely adjusts to the errant throw. Makes the reception in stride and displays himself as a solid vertical threat. Effectively uses blocks everywhere on the field and works to pick up positive yardage whenever the ball is in his hands. Shows solid run-after-the-catch skill and the ability to create his own yardage.
Negatives: Lack of height poses mismatch problems. Lacks a true second gear and home run hitting speed. Has small hands.
Analysis: Darden was incredibly productive at the college level but comes with size limitations. He’s a slot receiver who is best off the line of scrimmage or in motion before the snap and will lend a hand as a punt returner.
Jaelon Darden Player Profile
Although he heads to the 2021 NFL Draft as an explosive wide receiver prospect, Darden’s journey began as a high school quarterback. A true-dual threat, as a junior he put up 869 rushing yards with 10 touchdowns. He also threw for 5 touchdowns and 637 yards from 53 completions. As a senior, he earned an All-District 16-6A honorable mention.
Despite playing quarterback for Eisenhower High School, Darden was ranked as the 237th wide receiver in the 2017 recruiting class. The three-star recruit courted early attention from McNeese State in what would turn into a wild recruiting ride. He committed to the Cowboys but continued to receive multiple offers, including ones from Virginia Tech and Memphis. However, when he decommitted from McNeese it was to commit to the UNLV Rebels.
Playing his senior season under that commitment, he once again changed his mind in December 2016. His recruitment remained open until an offer from North Texas prior to National Signing Day saw him make his final commitment. Darden would head to the Mean Green to pursue his college career.
Jaelon Darden’s college football career at North Texas
Although he would go on to be the most successful North Texas wide receiver in program history, Darden’s main contribution as a freshman was on special teams. A dynamic kick returner, he made his name known by contributing 154 all-purpose yards against SMU in just his second college game. Adding 2 touchdowns against UTEP to a score in that SMU game, Darden ended his freshman season with 251 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns off 32 catches.
After racking up 575 yards and 4 touchdowns as a sophomore, Darden’s true ability as a game-changing wide receiver for North Texas came to the fore in 2019. In his first season as a full-time starter, Darden led the team with 736 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He had two games with 3 touchdowns — Southern Mississippi and UTEP — as he earned first-team All-Conference USA honors.
Darden’s junior season only served as an appetizer for the delicious main course that was his senior season. Emerging as one of the most dangerous pass-catchers in the nation, the North Texas wide receiver amassed an eye-watering 1,190 yards and 19 touchdowns in just nine games. He earned multiple honors ranging from the Conference USA MVP to Dave Campbell’s Texas Football College Offensive Player of the Year.
Following his outstanding season, Darden declared for the 2021 NFL Draft. The North Texas wide receiver leaves the Mean Green as the program’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. He also holds the program record for single-season touchdowns.
Jaelon Darden’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
In a deep wide receiver class, Darden’s ability to make plays with the ball in his hands, combined with his experience as a kick returner, should ensure that he hears his name called in the 2021 NFL Draft. He would be the first North Texas wide receiver to be drafted to the NFL since Ronnie Shanklin in 1970.
Darden best projects as a slot receiver at the next level although his skill set could see him get snaps as a gadget player early on in his career. There are plenty of teams with wide receiver needs in the 2021 NFL Draft. As a result, Darden should have no end of potential suitors.
Teams like the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs feel like extremely good fits for Darden. Additionally, the New England Patriots, Chicago Bears, and Seattle Seahawks could also make good landing spots for the exciting wide receiver.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.