Coming off of the heels of an impressive 2020 wide receiver group, which featured the likes of Jerry Jeudy (Alabama), Henry Ruggs III (Alabama), CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma), and Justin Jefferson (LSU), there is no chance the 2021 group could be even better, right? Wrong. The 2021 group offers more depth, breadth, and top-end talent, featuring Ja’Marr Chase (LSU), Devonta Smith (Alabama), Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), and Rondale Moore (Purdue). With that said, the cream of the crop in the 2021 group is Alabama’s electric playmaker Jaylen Waddle.
Jaylen Waddle’s background
In the 2018 recruiting cycle, Jaylen Waddle was dubbed a four-star wide receiver by major recruiting outlets, and Rivals ranked him as the No. 2 overall player in Texas, as well as the seventh-best receiver nationally.
Waddle was a well-sought-after recruit, with programs such as Auburn, Florida, LSU, Michigan, and Texas coming after him, but ultimately he decided to go with Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Jaylen Waddle producing at an insane clip in 2020
If you look at the box score to review Jaylen Waddle’s career statistics, you will be puzzled about why I am so high on the Alabama wide receiver. As a freshman in 2018, Waddle caught 45 passes for 848 yards and seven touchdowns, while averaging an impressive 18.8 yards per catch.
His production as a sophomore dropped a bit, as a crowded Alabama wide receiver room featuring Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, and DeVonta Smith limited the number of targets that came Waddle’s way.
Waddle still made a big impact on special teams, serving as one of the best returners in all of college football. He returned 20 punts for 487 yards (24.4 average) and a touchdown while returning five kicks for 175 yards (35.0 average) and a touchdown.
With Jeudy and Ruggs III now playing their football on Sundays, Waddle has been afforded the opportunity to light up the box scores and he has not disappointed. In three games, in 2020, Waddle has hauled in 19 receptions for 396 yards and three touchdowns, while averaging a staggering 20.8 yards per reception.
It is fair to expect big-time production from Waddle for the remainder of the college football season.
What traits make Waddle WR1 in 2021?
The two words that immediately come to mind when watching Jaylen Waddle on the field for Alabama are dangerous and electric. Waddle, a 5’10”, 183-pound junior, possesses the speed to kill and elite ball-tracking ability.
I’ve explained my love for Waddle before, stating: “Waddle can create yards in chunks after the catch and is lethally elusive in the open field. Jaylen Waddle thrives in the vertical passing attack. Combine that with his breath-taking speed and playmaking ability, and you have all of the ingredients for a top-ten selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.”
Matt Valdovinos shared my love for Waddle, exclaiming: “Waddle has legit sub 4.3 speed, and he uses it as both a receiver and a returner. Whenever the ball touches his hands, he’s a threat to score. Expect him to provide value to an NFL team in all facets of the game, as whichever team drafts him tries to find a way to use his elite speed as often as possible.”
Don’t make the mistake and label Waddle as a one-trick pony, or as simply a deep threat. He is magic with the ball in his hands, has demonstrated drastic improvement at winning the contested catch, and is a gifted route runner. Also, he contributes on special teams and could serve as one of the NFL’s most dangerous return men, which adds value to his draft stock.
Waddle’s NFL comparison
There are several popular comparisons out there for Jaylen Waddle, but the player that Waddle compares to most is Kansas City Chiefs gifted wide receiver Tyreek Hill. His speed and ability to create separation is very reminiscent of Hill and will make him a tough assignment for NFL defensive backs.
Like Hill, Waddle is a talented route runner, as Nick Farabaugh points out: “Waddle’s vertical route running is ridiculously impressive. A lot of it comes down to how good he is at stemming his routes to get defensive backs to hesitate and open their hips.”
Comparing Waddle to one of the NFL’s most menacing game-changers is certainly high praise, but he fits the bill.
Jaylen Waddle’s 2021 NFL Draft Prospectus
Complete wide receivers that possess world-class speed are a rare breed and due to this, Jaylen Waddle likely will not be available beyond the top 10 picks of the 2021 NFL Draft. He is a big play waiting to happen and will thrive in a vertical NFL passing attack.
In his most recent mock draft, Dalton Miller agrees with me, as he projected Waddle to be selected by the Detroit Lions with the ninth pick in the 2021 draft. My guess is that he goes even higher come next April.