Jaelon Darden Is Still Mastering The Playbook

May 27th, 2022

Second-year receiver/returner Jaelon Darden opens up.

Second-year receiver/returner Jaelon Darden has become a bit of a punching bag for a lot of Bucs fans.

Has the criticism been fair for a fourth-round pick out of the University of North Texas?

There are different ways to answer that, but Darden hears his detractors and they help fuel his fire, so he told Pasco County-based Route God.

Darden detailed how tough the adjustment was from playing against the likes of Rice University and Louisiana Tech to jumping into the complex Bucco Bruce Arians offense of a Super Bowl champion.

“The only thing I’ll say that I really had to pick up and learn for real was the speed of the game and the terminology they used. The terminology is different, but at the same time you play ball and you’re knowing what they’re trying to say. So I may not be saying it right, but I know what he talking about. I know football,” Darden said.

“So that’s one thing I’ve been working on, making sure I’m on the same page with the coach, how we’re talking.

“Obviously, I know what we’re talking about, but it got to be the proper way. So I’ll say that’s the main thing. And then the speed of the game, reading 2-high [safeties], 1-high, having to really dissect that sh*t because in the league they do a lot of disguising. It’s fast. It’s deceptive. It’ll be 2-high [and] they’re rolling three. …  … Now my route has changed. You gotta be on your Ps and Qs. The speed of the game is really the main [adjustment from college] and then the mental come in afterwards.”

Darden was asked why he didn’t play much on offense as a rookie. The answer? The playbook.

“That’s just going back to the terminology and just learning the NFL aspect of the game. It’s a big difference. I don’t care what nobody says. You gotta be on the same page with everybody, quarterback, receivers and O-line. Like everybody gotta be on the same page. In college, it’s not like that at all. So that’s one thing for sure, and then keeping the main thing the main thing — that’s the playbook. I had to really get familiar with it. I had to really understand the offense.”

Will Darden make a big leap in Year 2, the one typical of good players in their sophomore years? He thinks it’s coming because he’s had a good start to spring practices and the game is slowing down for him and he’s understanding the routes.

Darden also said he won’t get caught loafing off the field. He noted that anyone can work hard at One Buc Palace “but what you doing when nobody watching?”

This has Joe all fired up for the competition coming this summer at receiver. Darden is steaming with a humble confidence. Scotty Miller has a giant chip on his shoulder and has added a lot of muscle. And Tyler Johnson is lean and mean.

Enjoy today’s Ira Kaufman Podcast!

52 Responses to “Jaelon Darden Is Still Mastering The Playbook”

  1. Rayjay1122 Says:

    I am a Bucs fan and hope every Buccaneer becomes a Baller. If this Buccaneer becomes a Baller I will be utterly amazed. Here is to hope…

  2. Defense Rules Says:

    It’s all just talk until the bright lights come on; then it’s perform or ‘Bye Bye Birdie’. Like Rayjay1122, I want to see every Buccaneer succeed, but success equals performance on the field. Git er done.

  3. David Says:

    He is really quick in and out of breaks and could be a massive asset if he takes a leap forward. He looked very tentative last year and I think much of it is what he said, over thinking and not being on pace with the speed of the game.

    Hopefully him, Grayson, Johnson, Miller all get even better!


  4. Steven007 Says:

    Mastering seems to be the wrong word here apparently. Perhaps finally learning would be the correct term. Let’s hope it happens.

  5. GOB Says:

    He needs another move, desperately. He also mustn’t be a liability in the run game, or he’ll be targeted and trampled. Adjust your expectations for the player, or you’ll be disappointed.

  6. Bucs Win Says:

    The first thing he needs to master is cleat selection.

  7. Maniac Buc Says:

    Darden is the best WR on this team not named Evans, Godwin or Gage. And I think he can eventually be as good. I honestly think he’ll pull away from the others before the season start. I could see Evans, Gage and Darden as the starters to start the season.

  8. Goatfarmer Says:

    So not only is Dardung a scared wuss, he’s also not that bright. Great combo for a guy who can’t run routes, can’t catch, can’t block, can’t return kicks or pints. At least he’s good at slipping and falling down. Gone in August.

  9. Tbbucs3 Says:

    Yeah im not going to get my hopes up on a 5’8 wide receiver who cant seem to run 4 steps without slipping. Did Darden use Mike Jenkins cleats last year?

  10. JimmyJack Says:

    Critism is always fair but Ive heard fans go as far to say cut him already which is beyong foolish.

    To come from a baby college in round 4 and play well enough to be the kickoff guy and some reps at WR is actually not a bad rookie season for his situation.

    Fans just expect too much from a late round pick. Theres no reason to write this kid off yet. Plenty of rookies struggle at every position. And plenty of 2nd year players have what they call a breakout season.

  11. Goatfarmer Says:

    Scotty was a 6th rounder.

    Scotty>> Dardung

    Give him a chance, sure. 98% chance he’s in the CFL by September.

  12. Maniac Buc Says:

    Scotty Miller Last Season
    9 games
    135 snaps
    5 Rec
    38 yards

    Jaelon Darden last Season
    9 Games
    89 Snap
    6 Rec
    43 Yards

    So Darden was more productive as a rookie than the third year guy, in less snaps, but you want to cut the guy with more control.

  13. GOB Says:

    GF, BlahahHa BlahahHa

  14. SB Says:

    I just hope he plays WR better than he speaks.

  15. Tampabaybucfsn Says:

    He’s a Buc….root for him to succeed

  16. Buczilla Says:

    I’m rooting for him! We are going to need him to step up bigtime since Licht thus far seems to be in denial about us needing another receiver.

  17. LakelandSteve Says:

    He may not have known the offense but he just didn’t pass the eye test. He looked more like Dexter Jackson from App. State. It’s a shame we let the guy who should have been returning go for this guy. If the Bucs are serious about another Super Bowl I would give Dexter Jr. about one pre-season game and if he doesn’t absolutely light things up then cut our losses.

  18. Buc92’ Says:



  19. Goatfarmer Says:

    BucManiac – you do realize that Scotty had a severe turf toe injury? And his speed is his thing. With the tow he could neither generate speed nor plant. Look at his first 8 games of 2020 before AB joined the team.

    Cmon man! Dardung? Bwaaahaaahahaaa!

  20. Goatfarmer Says:

    PS – I’m not sayin g to cut anyone. I’m just predicting it.

  21. kgh4life Says:

    I hope he masters staying upright.

  22. Maniac Buc Says:

    @Goatfarmer, there isn’t even a remote chance Darden gets cut. Miller on the other hand, probably will be.

    Oh, and those first 8 games wasn’t anything special. Scottie wished he was as talented as Darden. But we all know why he’s so popular.

  23. 1#bucsfan Says:

    I like the competition for WR room. Hope it pushes them all to be better. We need this kind of competition at the CB spot dean n smb n cd all need to be pushed too. The standard which TB12 lives by is perfection. Get better every single play. Once that becomes the culture man watch out for years to come

  24. Goatfarmer Says:

    Maniac – you are truly hilarious. I realize you’re not trying to be which makes it even funnier.

    Scotty had 30+ grabs for 500+ yards over the first 8 games . Then AB arrived and appropriately got as many snaps as possible.

    If you can do 3-rd grade math you can see that Scotty was in pace for 1000 yard season. Nothing special. Sure. Don’t let facts spoil your narrative.

    Dardung won’t have 1000 receiving yards in his whole career, because he sucks at real football.

  25. PSL Bob Says:

    At least he recognizes his deficiencies. That’s the first step in fixing them. I’ve been down on Darden, but if he can become the threat he was drafted for, I’ll be his biggest fan.

  26. BucsBeBack (Artist formally known as: BringBucsBack) Says:

    Bucs Win, for the win!

    Darden looked over-drafted when he played and he sounds over-drafted when he talks. Maybe…?

    I hope he proves me wrong!

  27. AlabamaBucsFan Says:

    This time last year I had high hopes for Darden but now I seriously doubt he makes the final roster. I have a hard time believing he will make a jump in his 2nd year. Some kids have all the natural ability but just can’t grasp the complexity of the game to make in the NFL.

  28. Show Me the TDs Says:

    Start by mastering English.

  29. Tbbucs3 Says:


    Scotty Miller helped the Bucs win a Superbowl. Jalen Darden was a significant downgrade from Jaden Mickens.

  30. D-Rok Says:

    Hopefully this year Darden gets his mentals in check (playbook) and we can see his physical potential become reality. Either way, he’s on our team so I’m rooting for him.

  31. BelleGladeBuc Says:

    I agree with people like Goatfarmer and Tbbucs3.

    We were told by the Bucs that Darden was a better kick return man than Mickens and so that is the reason why they cut Mickens in favor of Darden.

    Kick returning has nothing to do with reading safeties. It’s about vision, speed and courage.

    Darden was a major downgrade from Mickens. Mickens has vision, speed and courage.

    Darden has horrible vision and runs timid as a kickoff return man. Two awful attributes to have for an NFL kick returner.

    TB12 also had no faith in him as a receiver to date, and that’s a problem I don’t think Darden has the ability to overcome.

  32. BelleGladeBuc Says:

    I agree with people like Goatfarmer and Tbbucs3.

    We were told by the Bucs that Darden was a better kick return man than Mickens and so that is the reason why they cut Mickens in favor of Darden.

    Kick returning has nothing to do with reading safeties. It’s about vision, speed and courage.

    Darden was a major downgrade from Mickens. Mickens has vision, speed and courage.

    Darden has horrible vision and runs timid as a kickoff return man. Two awful attributes to have for an NFL kick returner.

    TB12 also had no faith in him as a receiver to date, and that’s a problem I don’t think Darden has the ability to overcome.

  33. Mike Says:

    Really believe the kid has talent and will succeed. It’s a big leap to the NFL. Sometimes it takes guys awhile to adjust.

  34. Bucamania Says:

    The playbook and defensive shifts weren’t the reason he looked horrendous on punt returns. He ran scared looking for a place to fall. Hope he turns it around but I’d be shocked if he did. If you’re small you gotta be fearless.

  35. Maniac Buc Says:

    @Goatfarmer, go back and look at Scotty stats and then get back to me. He definitely wasn’t on pace for 1000 yards. And he definitely didn’t have 500 after 8 games.

  36. BelleGladeBuc Says:

    During AB’s 8 game suspension in 2020 Scotty Miller had 25 catches for 400 yards.

    Darden had 6 catches for 43 yards for the entire 2021 season.

    Anybody arguing that Darden is a good NFL receiver right now is arguing against the facts and putting a lot of faith on hope and potential.

  37. Cobraboy Says:

    I wish him well, but he strikes me as a low-score Wonderlic guy…

  38. BuxfaninTX Says:

    He needs to study the playbook and keep his ass off of Instagram

  39. Oprahsbrowntaco Says:

    I’m pulling for the kid how could you not

  40. Brandon Says:

    Darden’s main strength is his speed. He didn’t look particularly fast last season. At all. That’s my problem with him. Guys that have to use speed to succeed and aren’t actually fast isn’t a good combo.

  41. Anonymous Says:

    Mickens didn’t get cut. The jags signed him off the practice squad. The reason he was placed on the ps was probably someone ( coach or front office) was protecting Darden. It was after Mickens was lost that Darden got his bell rung and his game suffered. After reading about Ali Marpet’s reasoning for retirement I figure maybe Darden needs a break from all the bashing. Injuries are bad but CTE is a little more problematic than a limp.

  42. firethecannons Says:

    Hope we get a much better returner and Darden makes the practice squad he sounds like he needs an additional season to gel into this offense

  43. SB~LV Says:

    I have Darden’s back simply because he was a rookie coming from a small college program. This year I’ll be a little more critical, if he makes the team.
    That spot he is competing for will be super competitive. Too bad we will only be able to judge by the preseason games , unlike the coaches who will have all the practice tape.
    There are other pros that have had difficulty with the playbook and knowing WTF the are supposed to do. That is what the coaches see from the film even if they are out of the play on any particular call

  44. VabucSINCE’97 Says:

    You made him the punching bag JOE 🤷🏾‍♂️ But blame us

  45. Goatfarmer Says:

    Maniac – Belle Glade saved me the trouble.

    Look everyone wants to see Dardung succeed, but the people who watch him objectively have weighed in. And when Scotty is healthy, he is a weapon. Fortunately there are real football people looking at the roster who will make the decisions .

    Your Dardung love is a little weird. Is he your nephew or something?

  46. Power of Pewter Says:

    Between Miller, Johnson, and Darden, the best player will make the team. I just don’t think it will be Darden. On a lest competitive squad he might get enough reps to show improvement. Not happening here.

  47. Crickett Baker Says:

    Maybe he is training with Route God? I did not see the interview but he must be working with them. The only time I noticed him last year was as a returner and he looked, to me, just like BellleGlade said. It also seems like he is STILL having trouble with the NFL playbook and still thinking about his college career. I have little faith in him.

  48. Cobraboy Says:

    Arians kept saying Darden was sudden with the quicks. Maybe he was just pumping him up, but I never saw it. I never saw the blazing speed…because he doesn’t have it. He’s fast, but most WR’s & DB’s in the NFL are.

    Just like some guys play faster than their combine speed, fact is some play slower.

  49. Mike Johnson Says:

    Not raggin on Darden but..he’s been mastering that playbook for quite some time now. We want to see some results this season sir.

  50. Jeff McClain Says:

    OK. He needs confidence. Well, maybe a little more than that. He should hire AB.

  51. Goatfarmer Says:

    Enough of Dardung.


  52. Wild Bill Says:

    Speed is just one factor. Football smarts, toughness, confidence and determination are equally important. The kid looks lacking in all but speed. He needs to show up in preseason or see ya wouldn’t wanna be ya.