Darius Slay is earning his nickname in 2021.
It’s not that he was bad in 2020. He wasn’t. In his first season in Philly, Slay was still very good. But this year, he’s showing everyone why he’s called Big Play Slay.
And the 30-year-old is 11 games into what is looking like a historic season.
“What I'm seeing,” head coach Nick Sirianni said, “with the 11 games I have been with him is like, ‘Man, he's really good with that football in his hands. He gets that football in his hands, he can go.’”
On Sunday against the Saints, Slay picked off a pass from Trevor Siemian and took it 51 yards to the house. It was his third touchdown in four weeks.
In his first 125 career games, Slay had 1 career touchdown. And now he has three in four weeks. And he’s just the second player in Eagles history to have three defensive touchdowns in a season, joining Eric Allen in 1993.
“And so, that makes me think maybe I got to get him a couple reps on offense and get him some touches,” Sirianni joked.
Slay was a Pro Bowler from 2017-19 with the Lions and appears to be well on his way back to that honor. And he’s even making an extremely strong push to be an All-Pro for the second time in his career.
It has been a long time since the Eagles have had a cornerback play this well.
The last Pro Bowl cornerback the Eagles had was Asante Samuel in 2010.
The last All-Pro cornerback the Eagles had was Lito Sheppard in 2004.
Slay had a very realistic chance to capture both if he keeps things going in 2021. Slay is in the concussion protocol after Sunday’s game, but there’s some hope he’ll be able to play this weekend against the Giants.
If Slay continues to play this well and gets named to the Associated Press All-Pro team this year, he would become just the fifth Eagles cornerback in franchise history to take home the honor, joining Sheppard (2004), Troy Vincent (2002), Eric Allen (1989) and Tom Brookshier (1960).
That’s some elite company.
Sirianni didn’t have a lot of first-hand experience with Slay before this season. Sirianni had faced Slay only once, when the Chargers hosted the Lions in 2015. The Chargers won that game 33-28 at Qualcomm Stadium, but Slay of course picked off Philip Rivers at the goal line just before halftime to preserve a Lions lead.
The one thing Sirianni remembers he knew about Slay before he began to coach him?
“Really sticky in coverage,” Sirianni said.
Throughout the years, that hasn’t changed. And this season, Slay is still proving to be an elite cover corner.
In the last two weeks in wins against the Broncos and Saints, Slay has been targeted 5 times and has given up just 2 catches for a total of 7 yards with 1 pick-6 and one PBU, according to ProFootballFocus.
And all season, Slay has given up just 33 catches on 51 targets for 280 yards. He has given up 30 or fewer yards in 8 of 11 games. He also had 3 picks, 5 pass breakups a career-high 4 tackles for loss and, of course, those 3 touchdowns.
Aside from the stats and coming accolades, the things that really stands out about Slay is his persona. He’s just a fun guy to be around and his charisma is infectious.
“I just think he's truly happy to be a football player, and what a dream that we all have as a coach, as a player, we're living out our childhood dreams,” Sirianni said.
“You know how grateful you are when you live out your childhood dreams, it makes you even work harder. It makes you work harder at it. So, I see him just so grateful to be an NFL player, and then he takes advantage of all his opportunities by working every day to get better at his craft so he can be one of the best in the league.”
He’s been exactly that in 2021.
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