As the cream of the crop in the college football landscape, it is no surprise that Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide produces elite talents every year. Looking around the NFL as it stands today, at just about every position, you will find prominent Alabama alumni that are impressing in the NFL. Julio Jones, Josh Jacobs, Marlon Humphrey, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Dont’a Hightower, and other stars dot the NFL horizon. This year, Alabama has two wide receivers coming out, and Jaylen Waddle is one of those players who is slated to hear his name called at the NFL Draft.
However, almost as impressive has been the Crimson Tide’s recent streak of producing NFL WR’s. Just last year, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs both became first-round picks. Not too long ago, Calvin Ridley was a first-round pick. Amari Cooper and the aforementioned Jones are just some other Alabama receivers to come out in recent years, and now Waddle finds himself in a position to be the next.
Jaylen Waddle NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 182 pounds
Position: Wide Receiver
In the loaded terrain that is Texas High School football, Jaylen Waddle emerged as someone who was different. His natural speed and explosiveness stood out. It was clear even with other Division-I talents around him that Waddle was special. A consensus four-star prospect, Waddle was the fifth-ranked receiver in the 2018 recruiting class and 39th overall player.
In his high school career, Waddle suited up for legendary Texas football coach Steve Leisz at Houston Episcopal. He was a three-sport athlete, as he played basketball and did track as well. Under the guidance and teaching of Leisz, Waddle worked his way up the ladder, earning himself an invitation for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Earning offers from all over the country, Waddle had his choice of any college he wanted to attend.
Waddle ended up choosing Alabama, thus shunning other in-state schools that recruited him heavily, including Texas A&M. All that meant was Waddle would face stiffer competition for him given the elite talent that Alabama routinely brought in with their recruiting classes. Early playing time would not come easy for Waddle as he headed to Tuscaloosa.
Still, Waddle was up to the task. With elite natural tools and a relentless work ethic that came to him easily, he went into summer camp and impressed the coaches in no time. By the time their season opener rolled around, Waddle had worked himself up to fifth on the deep depth chart. Given Alabama’s rotation of receivers, that meant Waddle was eventually bound for playing time. As the season went on, his playing time only increased.
In 2019, Waddle’s dynamic explosiveness was on display as the true freshman caught 45 receptions for 848 yards and seven touchdowns. All in all, he put up an elite 18.8 yards per reception that showcased his big-play ability. Waddle’s explosive coming out party was against Lousiana, where on three receptions, Waddle posted 138 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He would have two other games where he eclipsed the century mark against Tennessee and Georgia. His showing against Georgia on the national stage was when people started respecting Waddle’s special speed.
As a sophomore, Waddle was still buried on the depth chart. Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and Devonta Smith would all get the starting jobs over him while Waddle was subjected to just a role in the slot as a deep threat. His stats took a hit with less playing time than before. However, Waddle proved to be valuable as a punt and kick returner, where his athletic skills and elusiveness were on full display. An enthralling 77-yard punt return touchdown against LSU was a play where Waddle made something happen out of nothing. Even with less playing time, by the end of the year, Waddle had scouts foaming at the mouth to see how he could raise his NFL Draft stock heading into a bigger role in 2020.
Jaylen Waddle’s season ends due to a devastating injury vs. Tennessee
While Waddle’s expectations throughout the rest of the season were huge, we will not get to see him anymore in 2020. On his way to a big season, Waddle suffered a fractured ankle on the opening kickoff against Tennessee. While it is season-ending, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban did say that the surgery was “very, very successful,” and Waddle should begin heavy rehab sometime in six-to-eight weeks.
The good news is that Waddle is expected to make a full recovery. Assuming he does leave Alabama, Waddle still may not be ready to fully suit up and go for the NFL Scouting Combine or even Alabama’s Pro Day. Even if that is the case and this was the last we see of Waddle until Rookie Minicamp next May, Waddle should still be a slam dunk first-round pick. Now, he may dip out of the top 10, as teams may not take a chance on him due to the injury, but it is hard to envision him falling much further.
Waddle looks destined to be a top-20 pick with his game-changing speed and elusiveness after the catch. While this is not how Waddle saw his season or college career-ending, it is truly a freak injury. As long as the healing process goes well and all of his medicals are checked off, he should not dip far in the draft. Hearing his name called on anything but day one would come as a huge surprise given his rare physical talent.
Jaylen Waddle’s home run ability helps power Alabama to win over Georgia
The stat line for Waddle against Georgia proves to be impressive. With 161 receiving yards, the conventional wisdom would say Waddle had a great day. However, for the most part, Waddle was overshadowed by Smith on the other side. The Bulldogs defense ran coverages specifically to slow down Waddle, who is now playing both on the boundary and in the slot. For the most part, it worked on the day. Waddle had a few receptions through manufactured touches on screens. With great quickness, Waddle can cut and dash in the open field for easy yards after the catch. In fact, after the Georgia game, Waddle has the most yards after catch in the NCAA.
The big play of note will be Waddle’s 90-yard touchdown. Even with a defender slipping, Waddle’s smooth hips and violent feet allow for efficient breaks, and he rarely loses any speed as he cuts as a result. Given his instant explosiveness off the line and easy ability to hit top speed almost instantaneously, Waddle was able to get a step on the defender as quarterback Mac Jones released the ball, and Waddle took it all the way to the house to give the Crimson Tide the lead.
The magnetism of Waddle was shown off in full display on this night. The Bulldogs had to keep Waddle quiet, or he just tore them apart. As a result, he created obvious opportunities for Smith in one-on-one man coverage. That is a player that can open up an offense. The most impressive part of Waddle’s skillset is that as a 5-foot-10 speed receiver, he can climb the ladder and get it. On a crossing route, Jones carried Waddle to the far hash, but the ball was underthrown. As a result, Waddle fought back to the ball, used his elite explosiveness to fly off the ground, and pluck the ball out of the air at its highest point for a great jump ball grab. That is where his background in basketball comes into play.
All in all, the Georgia game proved that even elite NCAA secondaries have trouble dealing with Waddle’s game-changing effects on a defense. It is not just that he can hit a home run, but he will eat you up underneath as well with underrated, crisp route running. The screens to him are so dangerous. Waddle is slippery and has excellent contact balance. He proved it all against Georgia.
Jaylen Waddle embraces a bigger role and explodes in the first three games
Waddle is having a phenomenal opening to the season. He has yet to have a game where he has recorded under 100 receiving yards. That, as a side note, shows his explosiveness on display to a degree. In all of Alabama’s games this season, Waddle has proven that he is not just a deep threat but a complete receiver who is meant to be taken seriously at all three levels of the field.
The most impressive thing that has stuck out about Waddle’s game thus far on the year is his ability to use deception to enhance his routes and speed. Both against Texas A&M and Ole Miss are great examples of how Waddle has utilized these deceptive techniques, especially on double moves. More importantly, he is using his hips and eyes as weapons to sell these double moves. Against Ole Miss, in particular, the break was a bit rounded, but Waddle sold an out route with his eyes and hips and got the defender to commit. As a result of his elite speed, Waddle was still able to burn the defensive back vertically. Even though his route running is underrated, he can round off stems at the top of his route and doesn’t always have crisp, sharp breaks. Still, his skill set right now makes him a weapon.
Against Missouri, Waddle’s unique skills were put on display as well. His releases to defeat off-man coverage are all there. Given his speed, defensive backs love to give Waddle an ample cushion, and Waddle understands how to attack leverage and use it against them. So, when he is threatening the flag route, he can easily come back and stop on a dime for a curl route, turn around, and still take it to the house. The athletic traits with the growing mental development throughout his route strategy are starting to show through on his tape.
Missouri was a game where he continued to showcase his contested catch ability as well. Skying over a defender, Waddle high-pointed a ball between two defenders against a cover two shell. It was a tough catch and showcased his toughness and strong hands, as Waddle got whacked. Making contorted grabs and using his body control, which is also a key trait which he learned from basketball, has been something Waddle has done to enhance this contested catch ability thus far on the year.
Jaylen Waddle’s best NFL fits for the draft
There are few teams where Waddle does not fit right onto well. Let it be known that elite deep threats that can still attack all three levels of the field are easy to mold into most systems. So, a relative best fit is somewhat tough. Still, stability, quarterback situation, and surrounding talent are key factors when considering where Waddle is best suited to land in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Realistically, Waddle is heading his way towards being a top-10 pick. So, while a team like the Buffalo Bills would be a dynamic and electric fit with the strong arm of Josh Allen and the threat of Stefon Diggs opposite of Waddle, it just feels unrealistic. Still, the thought of this fit is so much fun and perfect with Brian Daboll there that it makes too much sense.
The Miami Dolphins have to be an attractive fit for both sides of this equation. Not only would Waddle be reunited with his former quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, but the one thing that Miami is really missing in that offense is a burner. They need speed out wide with the size of Devante Parker already in that receiving room. With what they are trying to build in South Beach, Waddle immediately makes that offense harder to defend, even for New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
The Cincinnati Bengals are also a fit that I like quite a bit. With John Ross not working out and A.J. Green facing rocky times, the Bengals are looking for a true compliment and perhaps even alpha receiver to pair alongside Tyler Boyd. Joe Burrow would love a speed demon that can stretch the middle of the field and force more two-high looks. Not only would that Boyd out in the middle of the field, but it would help open up holes for Joe Mixon as well.
Other realistic teams that should have Waddle on their radar are the Washington Football Team, New York Giants, New York Jets, Detroit Lions, and the New England Patriots. Just going based on the current draft order, the Patriots are 12th, and that is a realistic range for Waddle to possibly still be on the board. Pairing Waddle with Cam Newton would be dynamite. However, all of the other teams listed above are wide receiver needy teams who could use some help, and a great prospect like Waddle can only bolster their groups.
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