The Alabama bloodline rolls on, and the receiver room in Tuscaloosa will have produced four first round receivers in the last two drafts come the end of April. Jerry Jeudy, now of the Broncos, and Henry Ruggs of the Raiders both had their names called in the first round last season, and this year, two more will also become first round draft picks. DeVonta Smith, the Heisman winner, and Jaylen Waddle.
Smith’s draft profile is already available on our website, so it’s Waddles turn in the limelight. Let’s take a look at the multi talented weapon, and see where he might fit best on Sundays.
Jaylen Waddle grew up in Houston, Texas. Like many other talented high schoolers, Waddle did it all. Offence, defence, special teams. However, due to the level of competition he played against in high school, he wasn’t regarded one of the top talents by scouts, and was given a 4 star grade. This still meant he landed as the 5th best recruit in the nation, and attracted him offers from local school Texas A&M, as well as Oregon and Florida State. However, like many others, the draw of Nick Saban and Alabamas long history of NFL talent, Waddle committed to the Crimson Tide in 2018.
Jaylen Waddle arrived at Alabama joining a stacked wide receiver room. Of course, it is now known that all four of those guys turned out to be first round NFL talents… which is pretty impressive. They continue a long line of guys coming out of Tuscaloosa and into the NFL at the position, including Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, and Calvin Ridley.
For Waddle, his opportunity came on special teams. Despite the fact that Alabama were favourites once again to make the playoffs, they lacked productivity in the return game. So Jaylen Waddle would become the punt returner as a true freshman, and get himself noticed that way. He ended up totalling 848 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns, on top of 233 punt return yards and another touchdown there too.
Considering the fact that he wasn’t necessarily expected to play a large part in the receiving game, Waddle had an incredible freshman year, and was named SEC Freshman of the Year.
His ability to make a man miss transitions perfectly into the pass game. He’s shifty, and lightning fast. Waddle has been nursing an injury this past season, and chose not to work out at either Alabama pro day, so no official 40 yard dash time. However, he did race Henry Ruggs (who ran a 4.27), and lost (barely), and when asked about his 40 yard time he said: “Definitely a high 4.2, low 4.3s, that’s normally where I’m around.”
So okay, he runs let’s say a 4.3 to be safe. When you add that speed to his tools after the catch, you have yourself a very interesting wide receiver. Waddle is ideally suited to lining up on the inside, and would make a great slot receiver, taking a lot of the underneath routes over the middle, getting into space and gunning for extra yardage. That being said he has reps on the outside too, and at 5″11 with his speed, he can absolutely make that work.
Waddle is going to create separation no matter who you line him up against, and if you lose him in zone coverage and give him a little space to work with at the point of the catch you could be in trouble. His speed is every bit noticeable in his game, he maxes it out in his routes, and will blow by the majority of defenders. Slippery is the best way to describe him. I’d love to see him paired with a dominant outside receiver, as between the two of them that’s going to be extremely hard to cover, and that’s where you’re going to get the best out of him. In a similar fashion to the success former Alabama alum Calvin Ridley has had as the two guy to Julio Jones, the same is absolutely true for Waddle.
When you factor in the fact that he offers so much in the return game, both kicks and punts, as well as his wide variety of skills as a receiver, you can see why he brings something unique to the draft this year. Ja’Marr Chase & DeVonta Smith are both outside receiver body types, albeit very different to each other, that’s where they will both fit best in the NFL. Pitts is of course technically a tight end, but also a bigger body. Waddle is the one guy at the top of this years draft who will occupy the slot perfectly.
Think about the success that Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller were able to have in Houston. Waddle, in the same way Fuller does, is going to run directly at your safety, and go right by him. He can take the lid off the defence, and you’ll need to account for his speed with over the top coverage at all times. He’s a nightmare match up for slot corners in man to man, and as I’ve said already, if he gets in between zones and finds space, once the ball finds his hands, he’s extremely hard to catch and bring down.
One thing I love about Jaylen Waddle, is the fact that he battled his way back through a tough ankle injury this season, and forced himself onto the field in the National Championship. He said at the Alabama pro day, that there was no way he’d allow his legacy at Alabama to end with him being carted off the field due to injury. That shows grit, commitment, maturity, and the ability to be a great team mate and locker room presence. Yes maybe he pushed a little too quickly to play, and contribute, but his persistence to do so, and to support his team mates is what matters to me here.
As I’ve already mentioned, Jaylen Waddle is going to be a problem to figure out defensively. How you cover him will need serious consideration, and his ceiling is a better, shiftier Will Fuller. His ideal fit is a team who has the one spot already covered, somebody such as Green Bay, but having him land there is both naive and unrealistic, because he’ll be gone long before they get on the board.
Detroit makes sense, as he’s a playmaker, which is something they lack in the passing game, but I wouldn’t love the fit for him, because Detroit seems to be heading more towards smash mouth football, and there isn’t a true WR1 there that’ll open up the field for Waddle. So if he doesn’t go to Detroit, I think he’s perfect for the New York Giants.
Kenny Golladay signed a mammoth deal in New York this off season, so there’s your WR1. Waddle would finally be the replacement for OBJ. Odell was catching slants and taking them to the house, and causing terror with his speed in the big apple. Waddle is faster, and in a New York team that’s improved heavily this off season, plus the return of Saquon Barkley, I’d love to see him land there. The question of course will be whether Daniel Jones is capable of running that offence or not, but with Golladay, Waddle, Kyle Rudolph, Evan Engram, and Saquon Barkley, he certainly couldn’t be given much more help.