National Football League
Giants' no-name receiving trio has helped put team on brink of playoffs
National Football League

Giants' no-name receiving trio has helped put team on brink of playoffs

Updated Dec. 29, 2022 6:11 p.m. ET

Every year, from the mid-2000s through the mid-2010s, someone in the Giants locker room would claim the team had the best receiving corps in the league. And New York always had the stars and the talent to make it sound realistic.

It was a run that started with Amani Toomer, Plaxico Burress and Steve Smith on their 2007 championship team; continued with Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham for the champs in 2011; and even later with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard on New York's most recent playoff team in 2016. The Giants always seemed to be overflowing with reliable, fast receivers who could break games open.

That's not exactly what QB Daniel Jones is working with now.

And that just makes it all the more amazing that the Giants' embattled quarterback has his team on the brink of its first playoff berth in six years, throwing to a receiving corps scraped together from spare parts assembled on the fly. The Giants' leading receiver was supposed to just be their kick returner. Their second-leading receiver was trade bait in the offseason and was almost cut at the end of training camp. Their third-leading receiver joined the team in Week 9.


None of them figured to be among the top four or even five receivers when the new GM and coaching staff were hatching plans in the offseason.

Yet somehow it sounds like Jones wouldn't want it any other way.

"I think each one of them has played really well this year," Jones said. "They've made a lot of key plays for us in big-time moments against good DBs time and time again, winning and making plays. I've got a ton of confidence in them. Those guys deserve a lot of credit."

They do, especially considering nobody would've imagined the trio of Darius SlaytonRichie James and Isaiah Hodgins would be the core of a passing game on a team that is 8-7-1 and will make the playoffs with a win at home over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon. None of them were supposed to be part of the Giants' offense at all.

But Kadarius Toney, their 2021 first-round pick, was injured in training camp and then his attitude wore on the coaching staff so much that the Giants traded him to the ChiefsKenny Golladay, still on his $75 million contract, was so deep in the doghouse that he played just two snaps in Week 2. He's still around, but he has just four catches all season, none since Nov. 11, and he has played three snaps the past two games.

The Giants lost Shepard to a torn ACL in Week 3. Wan'Dale Robinson, New York's second-round pick this year, missed four games with a hamstring injury, then tore his ACL in Week 11.

It's no wonder the Giants passing game ranks 27th in the NFL with 188.3 yards per game. No one would've been surprised if the numbers had turned out to be even worse than that. Yet somehow they've survived. Jones has even thrown for a career-high 3,028 yards, completing a career-best 66.5% of his passes with 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

No one would've expected numbers like that with the receiving corps he has on his side.

"I think all of those guys who have come in have done a really good job," Jones said. "They're all guys who work really hard, who understand what we're trying to do and can do it and are willing to put in the work to get on the same page to build the chemistry and do what we need them to do."

"They're all resilient," Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas added. "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."

So who are these guys?

  • The 27-year-old James, the former 49er who signed with the Giants in March after missing all of 2021 with a knee injury, figured to be the return man and maybe some insurance as a slot receiver. Instead, he was thrown into the offense on opening day (5 catches, 59 yards at Tennessee) and now has more catches (50 for 493 yards) than anyone on the Giants other than Saquon Barkley (55-343).
  • The 24-year-old Hodgins was claimed off waivers on Nov. 2 mostly because he knew Brian Daboll's offense from his injury-riddled rookie year in Buffalo last year. Just 11 days later he played 43 snaps and caught two passes (for 41 yards) in a win over Houston. He has 29 catches for 309 yards in seven games.
  • And then there's the 25-year-old Slayton, a fifth-round pick from the Giants' old regime in 2019, who might be the most surprising of the current group. The Giants shopped him in the offseason, but found no takers. He was on the roster bubble at the end of training camp. He was even a healthy scratch in Week 1, meaning he was seventh on the depth chart, and barely played the first two games. Since then, he has 44 catches for a team-leading 710 yards and a career-high 16.1 yards per catch.

None of them, obviously, is a Pro Bowler. None of them will probably be in the Giants' starting lineup in 2023. They are just the survivors of a season-long search for replacements. The Giants even gave five starts to David Sills (11 catches, 106 yards), who spent his first three NFL seasons on the practice squad. They gave five more to Marcus Johnson (6-63), a 28-year-old who is on his sixth team in seven seasons.

That's hardly an all-star competition. It's no wonder Slayton, James and Hodgins all play like they're still just trying to survive.

"No doubt," Slayton said. "I think we all have something to prove. I don't think that we've proven whatever it is that we've got to prove yet. We still got to do more."

But how much more could they actually do? They've already exceeded all reasonable expectations. They even combined for 20 catches for 258 yards and a touchdown in a near-upset of the Vikings in Minnesota last Saturday, helping Jones to one of his best games in years (30-of-42, 334 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception).

That might be what the Giants need, though, especially with Barkley in a mini-slump, still looking for his first 100-yard rushing game since Nov. 13. Defenses know the key to beating the Giants is loading up to stop Barkley. They've all been willing to dare the Giants to beat them through the air. And that will only intensify when — or if — the Giants reach the playoffs.

But that's a dare their receiving corps is willing to accept. They're aware no one thinks highly of them. They know the expectations are low. But they also know that none of them was supposed to be here at this point in the season.

So why would they let the doubters stop them now?

"I think everybody in our room has the ability. Everybody in our room has talent," Slayton said. "This league's really just about waiting for your opportunity, and when you get your opportunity, capitalizing on it. I think that's kind of the guys that we have playing for us right now. That's the type of guys that we are — people that might not have had as many opportunities that we would've liked to have in the past.

"But now they're getting them. They're taking advantage of them. And that's what this league is all about."

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Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.


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