Jaylen Waddle is yet another top-tier prospect from the infamous 2019 Alabama receiving core, which - when is all said and done - is likely to produce four first-round picks with Jerry Jeudy (2019), Henry Ruggs III (2019) and Devonta Smith (2020) being the other three. Despite coming off an injury that sidelined him for most of the 2020 season, not much could get in the way of Waddle becoming a high first-round pick in this year’s draft. Whichever team lands Waddle will be getting a rare talent with positional versatility. If you are a team looking to give defensive coordinators nightmares, Waddle is your guy in this draft class.
Jaylen Waddle's college stats
As a 19-year-old freshman, Waddle dominated SEC competition early, putting up 848 yards and seven scores while averaging nearly 19 yards per catch. Cumulatively, Waddle’s freshman year was his most productive.
Waddle would go on to have a good follow-up sophomore season, but his raw production took a minor step back as he shared the field with the previously mentioned Jeudy and Ruggs, who would both go on to be top-15 picks in the next NFL draft. The highlight of Waddle's sophomore season came in Alabama’s rivalry game against Auburn, in which he completely dominated, scoring four touchdowns (three receiving, one kick return), each of which showcased the wide spectrum of his skillset; whether it be his route running/separation, explosiveness, ball tracking or ability to go up and get the football.
With Waddle ending 2019 on such a high note and the departure of two starting wide receivers, the hype heading into Waddle’s junior campaign was palpable, rightfully so. Unfortunately for him, his season would be cut short due to injury. The 2020 season was not all bad for Waddle though, as he started the 2020 campaign on absolute fire, posting four consecutive games of at least 120 yards receiving while racking up four touchdowns. Waddle would set a career-high in receiving yards, putting up 161 against SEC powerhouse Georgia. In total, before suffering his ankle injury, Waddle was out-pacing Devonta Smith in yards. Smith went on to win the Heisman trophy at the end of the season, becoming the first WR in 30 years to do so.
Jaylen Waddle's notable data points
Averaged 32.5 yards per reception on targets five yards and beyond the LOS (nobody in the last two draft classes come within 8 yards, min 20 targets).
Averaged 10.1 yards after the catch for his career.
Athletic phenom. Waddle displays elite-level explosive movements, speed, quickness and acceleration in just about everything he does. Most noticeable in both his route running and his ability after the catch. Waddle is enormously tough to cover both downfield and in the short parts of the field. If you give him an inch, he will take a mile.
Waddle is a nightmare in space. If I could summarize his game in one phrase, I would call him “The destroyer of angles.” This has as much to do with his feel for the game as his previously mentioned explosive movements. He just gets it. Whether it's finding soft parts in zone coverage running routes or knowing when to hit the gas to race past his blockers, Waddle is a threat to score every time he touches the ball and there is no hyperbole in that statement.
Creates separation by purely existing. Defenders fear Waddle’s speed to such a degree that they have no choice but to give cushion and let him work underneath, which opens the door to free yards on quick outs and hitches. Furthermore, whoever is covering Waddle has no choice but to respect and commit on the first break in double move routes, giving Waddle a distinct advantage to getting free downfield with ease.
Ability to win at the catch point is superb. Despite the smaller stature, Waddle has had tremendous success winning at the catch point. His freak catch against Missouri comes to mind.
Positional Versatility. Waddle did most of his damage in college from the slot but has all the tools to win on the outside in the NFL.
Jaylen Waddle's weaknesses
Inexperience being the “alpha” in an offense. Having only been “the guy” for four games can leave some to wonder if he can really be the focal point of an NFL offense.
Occasional drops though not overly concerning.
Where will Jaylen Waddle land in the NFL Draft?
Miami Dolphins (Picks 1.03 and 1.18): Reuniting with his former quarterback is certainly a possibility here with the Dolphins having two picks inside the top 20, and they will be certainly looking to add WR talent in this draft. Waddle could immediately step in as a focal point of the passing game, which would give him tremendous upside. Worst case scenario, he would be a strong No. 2 option on a team with a lower volume No. 1 target.
Cincinnati Bengals (Pick 1.05): There is a strong possibility the Bengals want to give their franchise QB as many weapons as possible. The public seems to favor a Burrow reunion with Ja'Marr Chase and while that could certainly be true, Waddle would add a dynamic to the offense that Higgins and Boyd just do not bring to the table. Unfortunately, Higgins and Boyd are also shoe-ins for high target volume and would likely cap Waddle’s fantasy upside, at least in the short term.
Detroit Lions (Pick 1.07): The Lions have major holes at WR and both head coach Dan Campbell and GM Brad Holmes have discussed the desire to build the roster from the “outside-in”. This certainly could lend to the Lions using their first-round pick on a WR, and Waddle could very well be the best player on the board at that point. With the perceived opportunity, an established offensive line, and veteran quarterback in tow, this could actually be one of Waddle’s best landing spots for the early parts of his career. Should he land here, consider Waddle an immediate impact player early in his career.