Building Up Jaelon Darden

September 3rd, 2021

Bucs return man Jaelon Darden.

Joe hopes to be dead wrong here but Joe’s starting to get a funny feeling about Bucs new return man Jaelon Darden.

Joe isn’t about to bury a rookie who has yet to play a real game in the NFL. Darden’s first will come Thursday night when the Bucs open the season against handsy Jerry Jones and his Cowboys.

As a return man, Darden has demonstrated little. And when the Bucs decided to part ways with effective returner Jaydon Mickens for Darden, well, if the Bucs are gunning for a Super Bowl then Joe has to hold Darden to a certain standard of results.

Today talking to the local pen and mic club, Bucs special teams coach Keith Armstrong touted Darden’s skills, per Scott Smith of

So if this is the case, why did we see so little of it in worthless preseason games this summer? Of course, Darden is a rookie. He’s learning.

Previously, Bucco Bruce Arians claimed Darden wasn’t getting any blocking. That’s reasonable and possibly very likely to believe. After all, most of the guys playing special teams for the Bucs this summer (and on special teams for their opponents, too) are today interviewing to run a neighborhood Applebee’s.

But if Darden is so elusive as Armstrong suggests, shouldn’t Darden have demonstrated a little of this ability in preseason games?

Again, Joe is not going to kill Darden. Joe sincerely hopes the guy is the next Devin Hester. The element here that gets Joe nervous is that Mickens was proven (his lone return this summer was 33 yards — did he have excellent blocking?). Do the Bucs have the time to allow Darden to grow into the position? If so, how long?

The Bucs are trying to repeat as champs. So Darden needs to match Mickens’ results or surpass them. Joe sure hopes the Bucs didn’t jump the gun here.

But you know what? The braintrust of the Bucs’ has built up a boatload of street cred in building a Super Bowl winner. So Joe will trust what the Bucs see when it comes to Darden’s return abilities, even if Joe hasn’t seen it (yet).

63 Responses to “Building Up Jaelon Darden”

  1. WillieG Says:

    Maybe the plan is to give him a few real games to prove himself and if he doesn’t work out, cut him and resign Mickens? Or is that too risky?

  2. Mike Says:

    The game will slow down for the rookie soon and once it does, he will be able to show more patience and set things up a bit better on returns. It makes sense to give him the job and let him grow into it.

  3. AlabamaBucsFan Says:

    Most rookie hesitate as they are new and still thinking about the play. Once the firehose of information slows down, Darden will show his explosive cuts as he did in college.

  4. Medicated Pete Says:

    If Bucs go from 32nd to 31st in special teams, Pete will be thrilled. And Bruce just said no one can block for him lol

  5. DavidBigBucsFan99 Says:

    With this offense and the way everybody touted it, should it really matter where we start? As he gets more experienced he’ll get better. I’m more worried about our kick coverage because they are suspect!

  6. Joe Says:

    With this offense and the way everybody touted it, should it really matter where we start?

    Shouldn’t, bbbuuuttt… an extra 10-15 yards per return might mean 3-4 less snaps per drive. May not sound like much but push that to 17 games + playoffs for a team that had six fewer weeks off than most teams, those fewer snaps will mean a big difference down the road.

  7. Joe Says:


    Really doubt the Bucs cut Darden, even if he is struggling worse than a Nebraska punt returner.

    Demoted from returns? That’s a different story.

  8. Bruce Blahak Says:

    don’t fumble! …that’s all…

  9. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Am I the only one here that simply hopes that Darden hangs onto the ball?

    His yards will eventually come…..but don’t muff it Jaelon.

  10. Iamabuc Says:

    He seems to be a clone of Michael Spurlock. I’m hoping so.

  11. firethecannons Says:

    can’t we call up Mickens off the practice if it don’t pan out?

  12. Smashsquatch Says:

    Hasn’t passed the eyeball test to me either. Runs east/west too much and way too any jukes. Agreed, I haven’t seen him in practice but his pre-season game tape looks like a guy struggling to make a practice squad. Looks like he’s running scared to me. I’ll give the BA/JL braintrust the benefit of the doubt on this one though. They see everything else we don’t have access to. Jaelon needs to up his game once the lights turn on Thursday night. Tbd…..

  13. PassingThru Says:

    I give him a bye for now.

    Darden emanates from the U West Texas program, which will never be confused with an SEC school. He’s not coached-up as the success on most smaller programs rely on raw athleticism and small play books. He doesn’t know how to run option routes, and I’m sure the schools he faced ran rather simple defenses as well.

    I am reluctant to make a judgement on the returns at this point. A major part of the problem that the special team blocking stinks, which is why our return men are almost blanketed after catching the ball. You don’t see seams or wedges of blockers, there’s not much there. He’s going to have to realize that running east-west isn’t going to work, especially if the blockers don’t present a seam. The special teams will have to improve if Darden is to shine.

    Above all, just catch and secure the ball. I will run out of patience if turns over the ball. I’ve seen good college return men get destroyed in the pros as they can’t handle the end-over-end kicks under bright lights in a big city, or make the rookie mistake of fumbling while trying to do too much.

  14. Greg Says:

    There were EASILY 3 plays this preseason that showed off Darden’s elusiveness and potential. One on the quick out pass where he smoked the defender in front of him and ran 9 yds for a first down. The second on his longer punt return in the Texans game. The bubble screen in the 2nd preseason game was another flash play for him.

    Mick was not a good returner. He was, at best, average. His smarts and consistency were his greatest strength but never was he a threat to break a return.

    The choice frankly seems obvious. Darden’s ceiling is much, much higher. And the Super Bowl winning coaching staff seems to have assessed that the higher ceiling is worth more than any potential rookie jitters that might make him less consistent than Mickens.

    Joe, please stop making the case that Mickens was anything special in the return game. He was painfully ineffective in punt return. And while his yds/kickoff return were decent, they netted the same result as a touchback. At least Darden has the potential to be (or become) a threat.

  15. Leighroy Says:

    We can take fair-catches on every kick or punt return for all I care this year. I doubt TB12 is worried about starting from the 33 instead of the 25 yard line.

  16. Wild Bill Says:

    Well the Bucs gave a lot of kick return plays to a running back who never broke one for long return preseason either. Darden was drafted for the role. May as well see if can fill it. But if he has fumbleitis it may be splinters on the bench for now. Looks a bit risky but perhaps the reward will be great. Should know pretty quickly.

  17. Wild Bill Says:

    Oh ya, I also agree that Mickens had good hands and not much else.

  18. Jeff Says:

    Until he fumbles the kickoff and or a punt. It’s guaranteed.

  19. Swampbuc Says:

    The point about Darden’s ceiling being higher than Mick’s is the primary point in trying Darden in the return role. Although he reminds me of Dexter Jackson the horrible so far.

  20. Joe Says:

    He seems to be a clone of Michael Spurlock.

    “Run Michael run”

  21. ir8oldman Says:

    Perhaps the Bucs are being smart with what they have. Not showing off Darden’s wheels during the preseason games, and are just gonna drop it on the Cowboys (and the national audience). All those practices that are closed to the public have to produce some surprises I think.

  22. SlyPirate Says:

    Little long-term risk. If Darden struggles there are always guys available in FA and other practice squads that can replace him.

  23. JimbobBucsFan Says:

    Obviously the coaching staff saw something in Darden during practices that the rest of the fans of were not allowed to see. Yes, I would trust their judgment over my own even if I had been allowed to watch practices and came to a different conclusion.

    I note that Mickens is currently on the practice squad.

  24. mark2001 Says:

    It is true we really haven’t seen much yet. Obviously the coaches have. Will it translate to the field, along with sure handedness? Sure hope so.

  25. BradyBucs Says:

    I never understood why there’s not a lot more STRATEGY put into special teams.

    It sure seems like the “same ole same ole” on every return. Sure doesn’t seem like guys are strategically being told to ‘lead’ and push their oncoming assignment goes off to one side or another (away from where the runback will go).

    It just always seems like a free-for-all of randomness once the returner has the ball.

  26. Clw JB Says:

    Just don’t be a hero, down it when its 5 or more yds deep on KO, catch the ball first, secure it with two arms, then straight up field on punts

    The issue with the youngsters is typically they have to learn the hard way everyone on the field is nearly as fast as they are…unlike the MAC conference…

    If he just plays solid early and gains confidence, then he can start taking a chance here and there at breaking the big one…

  27. Buc50 Says:

    I think the Bucs see he has tools you can’t teach. Another year or 2 and you get the kind of return we are now seeing out of Jones.

  28. Beeej Says:

    Maybe they cut Mickena because he was unvaccinated. That may be how they got to their vaunted 100% vaccination rate

  29. CJBuc Says:

    All these jobs that you basically mock and berate are sorely hurting for help right now. Maybe you shouldnt drag these positions through the mud all the time. Awful high and mighty. Reminds me of all the high end towns in florida where the service workers in the industry have to drive an hour to work because its tok expensive to live there and the residents prefer it that way with their noses in the air….

  30. Mike Says:

    I did a little punt return action in High School. What I remember was just trying to first of all catch and secure the ball, get my eyes up and make the 1st guy miss. Everything after that was just trying to run forward and get as much as I could. Don’t remember much blocking, so yeah, if you are a returner you kinda feel like the whole defense is coming at you and it’s almost like there’s no one else out there but you and them.

  31. SB~LV Says:

    He will have to prove himself to the other teams ST guys. The will be talking chit little to new kid walking into prison .
    I hope he can bust a big run early in his career

  32. SRQ Bucs Fan Says:

    “Run Michael run”

    It was the only time I felt the concrete stadium shake. Crazy fun and a little discerning at the same time!

  33. PSL Bob Says:

    Bruce, I’m thinking the same thing. Doesn’t matter if you only make a few yards, just hold on to the damn ball. He fumbles a few times in his return roll and gives the opponents great field position, he will be on the practice squad.

  34. Chris@Apple Roof Cleaning Tampa Says:

    I agree that Darden’s ceiling is much, much higher.
    I just get this funny feeling he is gonna break one, every time he gets the ball.

  35. JimmyJack Says:

    If you look at just punt returns there is not much of a case Mickens is better. The only thing you could say is that Darden did have one fumble. When you look at yards Darden had two good return for 15+. Mickens just doesnt give us much of anything on punts aside from sure hands.

    On kickoffs Darden has looked brutal and I wont be suprized if somebody else gets to do that job on Thursday.

  36. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Until we burn someone with our kick return, teams will deliberately not try to kick touchbacks against us……watch & see….
    Our blocking is terrible and the chance of a return of 20 or more yards is slim.

  37. BuucccNASTY he p Says:

    Joe your crazy. Turn on some film and watch the kid move… he’s electric. Give him some time and not only will be be as good a return man as mickens, but unlike Mickens he could be huge as an actual WR, you know, like his actual position…

  38. Cobraboy Says:

    Mickens is on the PS, so he is not far away.

    I hope the kid works out.

  39. bucsfan951 Says:

    Joe Says:
    September 3rd, 2021 at 1:27 pm
    With this offense and the way everybody touted it, should it really matter where we start?

    Shouldn’t, bbbuuuttt… an extra 10-15 yards per return might mean 3-4 less snaps per drive. May not sound like much but push that to 17 games + playoffs for a team that had six fewer weeks off than most teams, those fewer snaps will mean a big difference down the road.

    With that logic, let me play devils advocate. that means less offense on the field, more defense on the field. so now the older defense will get gassed?

  40. Rod Munch Says:

    Mickens was one of the worst kick returners in football. As long as Darden doesn’t turn it over, it’s very unlikely to get worse.

    Also I still say the Bucs should try to trade for a proven quality retuner. This team is in win-now mode, so if you give up a future 4th, or even a 3rd for known good punt and kickoff returner, I’m cool with that.

  41. Biff Barker Says:

    Bruce almighty claimed poor blocking. I have to agree.
    Did the North South critics see a lane somewhere? Maybe even even a hairline crack to wiggle thru?
    It’s fair criticism as the East West routine is what most saw.
    i gotta trust our scouts, JL ], BA and Tom Immortal whispers on reaching for Darden. He’ll grow and learn.
    Glad BA is focused on ST blocking.

  42. Architek Says:

    The coaching staff and personnel departments have done more than enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt.

  43. SlyPirate Says:

    Jalen Darden = De’Anthony Thomas v2.

    Same height and weight. DT ran a .10 faster 40. Both drafted same round.

    DT was okay. I’d expect a similar career with Darden.

  44. Bobby M. Says:

    Mickens was in yr 4….his upside is limited and he’s expensive relative to a rookie. Veterans start getting their pensions funded, HSAs funded, annuities, etc after 3 credited seasons. That’s the business side to football few understand….if you dont make an impact by year 3, you’ll be replaced with cheaper talent.

  45. Rod Munch Says:

    Man, I take back what I said…

    Just to make sure I wasn’t full of BS, I wanted to check the stats from last year across the league, and also see who the Bucs could target for a trade if they wanted to go that route (not that they would, but I’m just curious what options are out there).

    Anyways, last year has to be the WORST year for kick and punt returns I’ve ever seen. There are very few quality return guys. Mickens meanwhile was around the middle of the pack for kickoff returns, although his numbers don’t allow him to show up in the qualified rankings, which is why he’s not on the list of returners. But his average was mediocre, which is a big improvement over what I thought, which is that he was near the bottom of returners.

    The issue with Mickens on the roster is that if you dedicated a spot for a returner, you’d want that person to do kickoff and punt returns, which Mickens doesn’t do. Also Mickens only returned 14 kickoffs last year – less than one a game, which, again, is why they’re not going to dedicate a roster spot to him. If Darden gets you 21 yards per kickoff, and Mickens gets you 25 yards per kickoff, and that’s happening less than once a game, now you see why the Bucs made this move.

  46. JollyRoger Says:

    Once Darden gets his confidence he will be a force. Mark it down.

  47. Darin Says:

    Lets see what be does when he gets a full game of reps under his belt. You learn teams tendencies as the game goes on. It’ll be fine

  48. K2 Says:

    I don’t think the coaches believe. Darden is great on special teams. They think he’s a unique and higher potential talent on the field. So, they are making a small trade-off on special teams.

  49. JeffreyLane77 Says:

    Let’s be honest here. Most kickoffs land in the end zone now. After the league moved kickoffs from the 30yd to the 35yard-line. And touch backs from the 20yd to the 25yard-line. The league has tried to limit opportunities to return kicks. Even if the ball is caught at the 10yd line. The speedy guys on the kicking team are sometimes slowing down so they can make the tackle and not get side stepped by the returner. Punt returns are now really where teams get opportunities for returns. But seriously just catch and hold onto the ball. What bothers me is watching the opponent’s return guy slip by the 4th or 5th tackler and be allowed to turn the corner. Tampa’s special teams need improvement for sure. But the improvement needs to be the tackling on the kickoff and punt teams.

  50. Ron says Says:

    Even though he did not break any returns he did show elusiveness in his returns and made sharp cuts. If he gets an opening or some better blocking he will definitely be able to break it open. Even in the few returns he was able to extend the play to the side line on very solid coverage. It will be fun to see him get an opportunity to get through the first wave and see what he can really do.

  51. David Says:

    Not worried at all. I saw him make a couple really nice returns, I think one got called back. I also saw good hands. I also saw no where to go a few times

  52. chris l Says:

    scared as hell with him. so small like mickens but he got the job done. i dont like darden’s fumbling and bright lights first game against the cowboys, he better not be scared of prime time.

  53. Merlin Says:

    It’s not like mickens is something special

  54. All lives matter Says:

    You got to temper your expectations a little Joe. You can’t expect a pro bowler at every position, especially at the 5th or 6th receiver.

  55. August 1976 Buc Says:

    Every year you look at the returners and wish they were like other guys that actually are good. This has never been an area that is very good, like your thinking about our returner like,at any moment he will break one and take it to the house.
    Watching Mickens last year, again I would be thinking/ hoping they would get someone better.
    With Darden ,maybe he will begin to look better then someone that is a rookie that looks a little lost so far.
    We know what we had already, which is average really, nothing special but at least with Darden there still is hope, BUT we shall see. And the fact he might take the top off the defense sometimes as a receiver is better than Mickens. If that happens great, if not then he gets to be the latest “Dexter Jackson draft pick” Grudens fan boy lol.

    GO BUCS!!!!!!

  56. adam from ny Says:

    tom prolly pulled the kid on the side and told him the deal already…

    he said:

    “jaelon get your sh!t together little broski, or i’m gonna be yelling at you on the sidelines on national tv like there’s no tomorrow kid”



  57. John Says:

    Joe, You were down on Rojo during his first yr. I just wasted my time reading this article. You wasted your time as well.

  58. Eckwood Says:

    He has to go up field , not sure he can do that ?? He doesn’t now , 3 tackles missed , 20 yards covered but 1 yard gained !!!

  59. The Deflator Says:

    Iamabuc, if by “clone” you mean smaller version, then I guess you’re right.

  60. Brandon Says:

    If you consider “not messing up” as being effective, then Mickens is very eff effective. But if you consider being effective as being at least average, then he is extremely ineffective.

  61. Brandon Says:

    Darden is ABSOLUTELY not a clone of Spurlock. Spurlock was a sturdy returner in the Brian Mitchell, run right at them mold. Darden is a less speedy, make a few guys miss and run to daylight returners. Worst take of the day. They are NOTHING alike.

  62. Gordon Brook Says:

    Jaelon Darden is an outstanding pick. He has great skill. He is very small but extremely skilled in everything he does. I believe he will be an outstanding player for many years ahead because he has super great ability!!!

  63. Eddie Marz Says:

    Gee whiz guys give Darden a chance. I wouldn’t put any labels on him. Players need to develop, they haven’t even played a regular game yet. Brady didn’t start a game until his second year. Can’t evaluate a player until he gets his feet wet. Go Bucs!