Can Giants' Darius Slayton continue to produce like a No. 1 receiver?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The names in the running to be the New York Giants' No. 1 receiver are splashy. Sterling Shepard. Golden Tate. Even tight end Evan Engram or running back Saquon Barkley.

Yet the results keep saying it is Darius Slayton.

Slayton was the Giants' top receiver in their season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, finishing with six catches on nine targets for 102 yards with two touchdowns. This after a rookie season when he burst onto the scene with obscene production for a fifth-round pick (48 receptions for 740 yards and eight TDs).

Since he recovered from a hamstring injury and Daniel Jones became the Giants' starting quarterback in Week 3 last season, Slayton is tied for the NFL lead along with Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp and Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews with 10 touchdown receptions. His touchdown every 8.9 targets blows away what any of the league's top active receivers have done throughout their careers.

Before a game against the Giants last season, an opposing executive raved about Slayton. He was the receiver they feared most.

The question isn't whether Slayton can maintain this rate of production -- it's much more likely he'll regress to the wide receiver mean -- it's more about whether he can remain Jones' No. 1 target and become that go-to receiver when teams start putting more emphasis on his presence. Slayton admitted teams haven't yet shaded coverage in his direction or focused their game plans on stopping him from making the big play.

"Not so much. We've got a guy named Saquon Barkley," Slayton said. "They have to worry about him all the time. That really helps a guy like me as far as that goes."

That was never more evident than Monday night. The Steelers were bringing resources into the box on early downs to stop Barkley. They blitzed on 23 of Jones' 32 dropbacks (72%) on first and second down, per ESPN Stats & Information. That compared to 40% on third and fourth downs.

This will likely continue to be the case going forward. It will create opportunities for Slayton and the Giants, especially downfield where he flourishes, with 24.1% of his receptions having been for gains of 20+ yards.

The comfort between quarterback and receiver is another reason for optimism. There is an undeniable chemistry from their time together, beginning with minicamp last season and through last summer when they both spent training camp working with the second-team offense.

"I certainly have a lot of faith in him," Jones said.

That isn't likely to change, even if Jones has all his top playmakers on the field for the first time this Sunday as expected against the Chicago Bears (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Slayton is likely to remain among the starting receivers despite Tate (hamstring) getting healthier. It was likely, based on training camp, going to be Slayton and Shepard as the Giants' top two receivers, with Tate being shuffled into the mix as the No. 3.

That said, it's going to be hard for Slayton to maintain his TD production considering he has averaged 6.0 targets in the 13 starts he's made with Jones. And that is with Barkley, Tate, Engram and Shepard in and out of the lineup with injuries.

And it's not like when watching camp every day Slayton was out there dominating. More often than not, he was solid but not spectacular. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

There are other numbers that suggest Slayton isn't about to explode into a true No. 1 receiver. His 1.73 yards per route since Week 3 last season is 50th in the NFL. His 2.1 yards of separation per catch is the lowest among the Giants' top pass-catchers during that span. And his 204 yards after catch is 97th among all receivers.

What does stand out about Slayton analytically is he seems to consistently make contested catches. His expected catch rate according to NFL Next Gen Stats is 52.8%. His actual catch rate is 58.1%. This is especially valuable with 34.4% of his targets coming in what is considered tight windows.

But not everything can be measured analytically.

"I think he played fast [Monday night]," Giants coach Joe Judge said. "And that's definitely something that's kind of one of those, 'Yeah, Joe, we got that, he's a fast guy.'

"But there's a difference between being a fast guy and playing fast, and he plays fast. He comes off the ball fast, he makes decisions fast, he cuts fast, he plays aggressive in traffic to make the catches. That to me is something you can't replicate. There's a lot of people out there that can run a 40 at a good time. Then there are people that play fast as well. That's something that definitely stands out with him."

Most of all, it comes back to the production. That has remained a constant since he first entered the lineup with Jones with three catches for 82 yards in their debut in Week 3 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. It hasn't slowed since, including in the opener against the Steelers.

Maybe we shouldn't think it will now.