Don't call him Darius. Do call him the Eagles' nominee for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award.
The NFL announced on Thursday the 32 nominees for the distinguished honor, which recognizes players around the league who exemplify outstanding sportsmanship on the field. The award was created in 2014 in honor of the late founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pro Football Hall of Famer Art Rooney, Sr.
All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay presents himself as a confident, fun-loving player during his press conferences, but that belies his value in the locker room.
Slay is one of the most liked, most respected teammates in the NovaCare Complex with a resume befitting an elite talent who has been among the best at his position for nearly a decade. Since entering the league in 2013 as a second-round pick, no player has more pass deflections than Slay's 117.
But he's not simply relying on his past performance. Slay leads the Eagles with three interceptions this year and became the first player in team history to score three defensive touchdowns in a four-game span (one pick-six, two fumble returns). He was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week after he returned a fumble 83 yards for a score in the November 24 win over Denver.
It's not just the box score stats where Slay is, well, slaying the competition. Among cornerbacks with 450 coverage snaps this season, Slay grades out as No. 2 in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
Slay has been a valuable resource who has tremendously aided the transition to a new coaching staff this year. When Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon is crafting the game plan each week, Slay is willing to shadow the opponent's best receiver or do whatever he is asked within the structure of the scheme without hesitation. This selflessness is not found within all top-tier players.
On the field and in the film room, Slay is a teacher who works on technique and study habits with the young players, not only in the defensive backs group, but with the wide receivers as well, explaining the details from his unique perspective. Hence, the spirited rivalry with first-round pick DeVonta Smith.
The coaches label Slay as a "football junkie" and when he can't get enough of a fix at the NovaCare Complex, he'll show up at local high school games just to show support for the game he loves so much. Scrolling his social media feed, you'll discover how much respect Slay has for players around the league, consistently showering praise for his contemporaries – even if it means giving away Pro Bowl votes in the process. As comical and entertaining as Slay is during his press conferences, he gives thoughtful and thorough answers when pried about the opposition.
Make no mistake about it. The charismatic, confident public persona that Slay displays is authentic. But so is his business-like mentality when it comes to the game of football. That's why Slay is the Eagles' nominee for the 2021 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award.