Jaelon Darden needs to show much more for the Buccaneers in 2022.
Of all the new Buccaneers in 2022, few disappointed as much as Jaelon Darden. This is not to say that he was terrible, people should expect a learning curve for rookies, but his performance did not meet the lofty expectations that surrounded his draft status.
The Bucs traded up to add Darden to one of the best wide receiver rooms in the NFL, and analysts raved about the abilities of the rookie WR and how Tom Brady was getting another top-tier weapon.
It took several weeks for Darden to crack the active roster in the regular season, as is usual for rookies on such a deep team, and he finally got his chance on sporadic offensive reps and on special teams.
This ability to threaten on multiple sides of the ball stood out as a major plus if Darden was able to help the offense and in the return game, but that player never showed up.
Darden was a substantial step back from Jaydon Mickens and Kenjon Barner in the return game, and his impact on offense was nearly non-existent.
When Chris Godwin left the season with an injury and Antonio Brown’s time in Tampa came to a close, it looked like the perfect time for the player that wowed the Bucs during training camp to finally step into a substantial role.
Whether the lights were too bright or the fit just wasn’t there, Darden was never able to be a consistent contributor in the way that he was advertised to be during the preseason.
None of this is to say that Darden was a bad fit or can’t grow into a legitimate starter down the road, but that rookie season was concerning.
Even Tyler Johnson was able to step into a real role as a rookie, and the hype surrounding Darden was much greater.
Being on the hot seat does not mean that Darden won’t get better during the offseason as he gets used to the playbook and the speed of the NFL, but he will need to get much better on offense and special teams next year if the Buccaneers are to recoup some of their investment.
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