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Jaylen Waddle Draft Projection: 5 landing spots for Alabama WR

There’s always caution to be exercised with speed receivers on the NFL Draft circuit. Too often, wide receivers have been gassed up by fast 40-yard dash times, only to underwhelm in the NFL. Nevertheless, Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle may be an exception to the rule. What is Jaylen Waddle’s draft projection, and what are some of the best landing spots for the dynamic Crimson Tide weapon?

Jaylen Waddle is the latest in a long line of successful Alabama receivers

Alabama is home to one of college football’s NFL factories. In the wide receiver room, that truth is especially poignant. Almost every year, Alabama wide receivers are in the discussion as potential first-round picks.

Just last year, in fact, two Crimson Tide pass catchers — Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy — went in the top half of the first round. And again in 2021, two Crimson Tide receivers are set to steal the show.

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DeVonta Smith is perhaps more established and more well-recognized on account of his Heisman Trophy. However, Jaylen Waddle is just as enticing as a talent, and when he was on the field in college, he was able to show just that.

Waddle played in 34 total games over three seasons, amassing 106 catches, 1,999 yards, and 17 touchdowns. He also provided utility as a return man, finding the end zone three times on special teams.

Jaylen Waddle’s production alludes to his draft projection

Waddle didn’t get to play as much in 2020 because of an ankle injury sidelining him for most of the season. Nevertheless, when on the field, Waddle reinforces the excitement surrounding his potential.

Just as Alabama is a factory for wide receivers, Waddle is a factory for big plays. The Alabama pass catcher maintained an astounding average of 21.1 yards per reception in his final season. In fact, he almost averaged 20 for his entire career.

Waddle’s most marketable trait is his athletic makeup. Much like Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, Waddle’s athletic profile makes him a mismatch waiting to happen. He’s not the size/speed matchup that Pitts is, however. Rather, Waddle uses sheer explosiveness, wiggle, and game-breaking speed to stretch open passing windows, run under deep passes, and catalyze offensive dominance.

Waddle isn’t just a speed threat, either. He has the elusiveness to produce yards after the catch, and he catches the ball with authority at the contact point. Despite his size, he’s a tough player who effortlessly rises vertically, approaching contested situations with a mentality larger than his frame.

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Waddle’s toughness was emphasized when the junior receiver came back to play for Alabama in the National Championship against Ohio State. Despite suffering a broken ankle earlier in the season, he came back after less than three months. Then he caught three passes for 34 yards in Alabama’s championship victory.

Waddle has a surprisingly well-rounded skill set and undeniably high upside. To top it off, he’s a hard worker who showed determination in his return to the field. Thus, it’s easy to see why he’s viewed as a candidate to join players like Trevor Lawrence and Pitts in the top 10 of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Best landing spots for Jaylen Waddle in the 2021 NFL Draft

Miami Dolphins

It’s been reported that the Miami Dolphins love Ja’Marr Chase — and with good reason. Ja’Marr Chase is one of the best receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft. But for my money, Jaylen Waddle is a much better fit for what the Dolphins need at wide receiver. Chase is well-rounded enough to be a No. 1 receiver, but his primary function is to win in contested-catch battles.

Technically, Chase has the ability to separate with physicality and further route refinement. However, the Dolphins need someone who can separate organically with searing agility and crisp cuts. They also need someone who can churn out RAC yards in the short and intermediate ranges. That’s Jaylen Waddle.

Waddle would provide an excellent safety blanket for Tua Tagovailoa down low, while also possessing the deep speed and downfield separation ability to generate big plays. Receivers should maximize the efficiency of a quarterback, and Waddle is the receiver who best pursues that outcome for Tua and the Dolphins.

Philadelphia Eagles

Click on a 2021 NFL Mock Draft, and there’s a decent chance it’ll have the Eagles picking a wide receiver. It’s too early to close the book on Jalen Reagor, and there’s also a chance Travis Fulgham could continue his ascent in 2021.

Nevertheless, the Eagles shouldn’t settle. If they’re going to stick with Jalen Hurts at quarterback, they need to invest all their early resources supporting him. Consequently, Jaylen Waddle draws a lot of attention in his draft projection.

Related | How does Henry Ruggs compare to Alabama receivers DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle?

The Eagles have felt the burn in the past by prioritizing speed at receiver in the early rounds. However, they’ve also been on the successful end of that equation.

It’s worth the risk to take Waddle. The Crimson Tide product immediately makes Nick Sirianni’s job a little bit easier with his multifaceted talent. He has the speed to emulate a field-flipping DeSean Jackson in his prime, but he also has other elements to his game that make him a safer pick this early.

New York Giants

I don’t quite trust Jason Garrett to use Jaylen Waddle to his maximum potential. Nevertheless, the Giants need more utility in their receiving corps to support ailing quarterback Daniel Jones, even after signing former first-round pick John Ross in free agency. Waddle doesn’t quite complement Darius Slayton and Ross, but he’s not just more of the same, either.

Waddle has the explosiveness to be a valuable weapon for Jones at all levels of the field, and he also has the vertical ability to rise for passes that might not be pinpoint accurate. The Giants have more needs to consider at No. 11 overall, but if Jaylen Waddle drops that far in his draft projection, he has to be considered.

His addition would give New York one of the fastest, most unpredictable receiving corps in the league. Speed alone doesn’t cut it, but having this much of it in one spot is dangerous, and Waddle has the skill set to be the No. 1 receiver who wraps the group together.

Detroit Lions

The Lions are likely losing Kenny Golladay and have already lost Marvin Jones to free agency this offseason. Those losses only make a receiving corps that underwhelmed in 2020 look even worse.

Detroit seriously lacks in talent at that position. There’s a chance Detroit could pick a quarterback at No. 7 overall, therefore taking them out of the running as a landing spot for Jaylen Waddle. However, if they decide to stick with Jared Goff for a year, Waddle makes a lot of sense.

Related | Dynasty Wide Receiver Rankings: Top assets heading into 2021

The common theme in the relationship between a QB and WR is making each other’s jobs easier. Waddle can certainly fulfill that purpose for Goff, even though he’s not the traditional big-bodied Lions receiver. Nevertheless, Waddle’s two-pronged short-range and deep-range proficiency makes him a valuable chess piece for a team trying to rediscover its footing on the offensive side of the ball.

New York Jets

The Jets approached the wide receiver position with aggression in free agency, signing big-ticket free agent Corey Davis and quality depth piece Keelan Cole within the first week.

Now, the Jets have a respectable group with Davis, Cole, slot receiver Jamison Crowder, and high-upside 2020 second-round pick Denzel Mims. Their depth chart is starting to fill up, but that doesn’t mean they can’t indulge themselves in a potentially historic 2021 wide receiver class.

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Of course, the fit as one of Jaylen Waddle’s landing spots here is a bit unclear. Waddle is likely, at worst, a top-15 pick. The Jets, meanwhile, seem likely to pick a quarterback at No. 2 overall. Their next pick after that is the 23rd selection, which is just out of Waddle’s range. With two third-round picks and a selection at 34th overall, the Jets could trade up from 23 if they like Waddle enough.

His presence would undoubtedly improve the team’s receiving corps’ depth and settle any doubts about the unit’s dynamic potential. Additionally, his versatility would be valuable at the disposal of offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.

Want more 2021 NFL Draft prospect news? Want to do your own mock draft?

Dive into PFN’s Free NFL Mock Draft Simulator and test your own drafting acumen. Continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter (@PFN365) to stay in the loop on all things college football and the NFL Draft landscape.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and his voice and face on Pro Football Network Daily. Follow him on Twitter @ian_cummings_9.

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