Rookie Rundown: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

Rookie Rundown: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

Fantasy Football Rookie Analysis

Rookie Rundown: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

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Alabama standout receiver Jaylen Waddle is poised to be among the top selections in the 2021 NFL Draft, and his game-breaking athleticism presents a generational talent.

Few wide receivers offer video game-like movement skills of Waddle’s caliber, and watching him play immediately redirects the mind to Tyreek Hill. NFL teams and fantasy footballers alike welcome with open arms such a rare skill set.

Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 182 pounds
40 time: 4.30s estimated

Waddle was highly recruited out of Episcopal High School in Houston. He earned AP second-team All-American and SEC Special Teams Player of the Year Award recognition in 2020.

Waddle missed the March 23 Alabama Pro Day, due to a broken ankle suffered six games into the 2020 season, and he was unable to go during the second round of the school’s on-field demonstration for pro scouts. The junior returned to play in Alabama’s national championship game vs. Ohio State — visibly limping at times — and was held to 34 yards on three catches.

Table: Jaylen Waddle NCAA stats (2018-20)

Year
School
Class
Pos
Gm*
Receiving
Rushing
Rec
Yds
Avg
TD
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
2018
Alabama
FR
WR
15
45
848
18.8
7
0
0
0
2019
Alabama
SO
WR
13
33
560
17.0
6
1
5
5
0
2020
Alabama
JR
WR
6
28
591
21.1
4
3
12
4
0
Career
34
106
1,999
18.9
17
4
17
4.3
0

*includes postseason/bowl games

The 2019 Crimson Tide receiving corps was so talented it contributed to Waddle’s limited utilization. He was buried behind Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and DeVonta Smith. While the statistics may not jump off the page for volume, the efficiency metrics are ridiculous. He scored every 6.2 catches, and the career 18.9 yards-per-reception is elite.

Surprisingly, Waddle didn’t see many handles on the ground, although he was dynamic in the return game. He scored three times on 47 combined kick and punt returns. Eleven of his 20 career scores came from at least 50 yards.

Pros

  • Terrifying speed for defenses to game plan against
  • Impressive fluidity and agility
  • Limited touches in college should have him fresh as a daisy in the pros
  • Can line up anywhere on the field and fits pretty much every NFL system
  • Has room to develop his game and fine-tune areas beyond sheer athleticism
  • Loose hips, quick-twitch movement make him exceptionally difficult to cover on breaking routes
  • Dangerous in the return game (averaged 19.3 yards per punt return)
  • Rare leaping ability makes him a formidable challenger in jump-ball situations
  • Adjusts to the deep ball and tracks as well as anyone
  • Utilized on all three levels of the route tree

Cons

  • Can outrun most quarterbacks’ arm strength, which potentially creates problems if the timing isn’t spot on
  • Blocking is unlikely to ever be his strong suit
  • A few body catches and easy drops on his tape
  • Will need some refinement in the game’s nuances as a pro, namely in hand technique to escape press coverage, removing the occasional wasted step, better emphasis on plucking the ball away from him — all minor aspects that come when being picky about an elite weapon
  • The ankle injury shouldn’t be a serious concern or a long-term one, but it warrants noting given his high draft stock

Fantasy football outlook

There will be only a handful of players to come off of the board before Waddle in the upcoming draft. The likeliest landing spot is the Detroit Lions at No. 7. After losing Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones in free agency, the Lions have to assemble more talent around incoming quarterback Jared Goff.

There’s a small chance Miami covets Waddle more than Ja’Marr Chase at No. 6, presuming either is available. If Waddle somehow makes it past the Lions, it’s hard to see him slipping beyond Philadelphia’s 12th overall selection.

Waddle being compared to the Chiefs’ Hill is a mildly unfair in the sense Hill has accomplished so much at this point in his career. Waddle was a part-time player in college and isn’t quite as functionally strong as Hill. There are a few nitpicking negatives, but the potential for superstardom is real, hence the comp.

In Year 1, it’s probable we see Waddle flash several times but fail to string together consistently strong performances. Be prepared to draft him with this frustration in mind. He’s a WR4 with flex potential in the short term and has upside to be among the top few players at his position in no time.

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