If you haven’t stayed away from offseason NFL news, you have most likely have come across sports analysts’ rankings of players in the 2021 draft class. Among wide receivers, most analysts don’t even have Miami Dolphins’ 2021 number one pick, Jaylen Waddle at the top or even number two. Those rankings will most likely reveal Ja’Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith being the number one and number two rookie wide receivers in 2021. But in terms of stats, observation, raw talent, and speed, the analysis from the so called NFL experts can’t realistically justify Jaylen Waddle being beneath anything below the top of the list.
From an observation standpoint, if you had asked any Alabama football fan who was the best player, not wide receiver, but best player on the team in the past two seasons, they would tell you by far, before being injured, would have been Jaylen Waddle. That isn’t taking away anything from Heisman trophy winner, DeVonta Smith. Yes, Smith was good, but Waddle was better. And most people that watched Alabama football religiously will tell you if Waddle had not broken his ankle the fifth game of the 2020 season, he would have won the Heisman instead of Smith.
Former Alabama offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian said that Waddle is the only player he would ever put in the same category as former Heisman winner, Reggie Bush. Prior to the 2020 season, ESPN named Jaylen Waddle as the most exciting player of 2020 for Alabama. Many analysts have also compared Waddle to Tyreek Hill. If you have never seen Jaylen Waddle with a juke move or a kick off return for a touchdown, go watch some of his Alabama highlight reels. They will definitely be worth the watch.
DON’T BE SLEEPING ON JAYLEN WADDLE
However, just an observation doesn’t give what Jaylen Waddle can really do justice. As far as speed, Jaylen Waddle runs a 40 yard dash in 4.29 seconds, which is only second to Tutu Atwell’s and Anthony Schawrtz’s 4.28 seconds among wide receivers. And some coaches believe that Waddle has been even faster than that. That Jaylen Waddle speed has credited him with some incredible punt and kick off returns for touchdowns. In 2019, he returned a 77 yard punt for a touchdown against LSU and a 98 yard kick off against Auburn. Those performances awarded Waddle the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year in 2019. In 2018, Waddle won the SEC Freshman of the Year.
For comparison, how much difference is there with Waddle, Chase, and Smith? Among the three, Waddle never had enough attempts thrown to him where he would be able to catch more than 45 passes in any of his college seasons. During 45 receptions thrown to him his freshman year, Waddle had 848 receiving yards for an average of 18.8 yards per reception. The most receptions Chase ever had in a season was 84 and Smith had 117 during his Heisman campaign.
If Waddle had those same numbers at an average of 18.8 yards he would have over 1500 and 2000 yards respectively. Not even Julio Jones had those kind of numbers during his playing years at Alabama. Before his injury in 2020, Jaylen Waddle was having a monster year. He was on pace to a record setting season among wide receivers in college football. Waddle had already amassed 557 yards in 25 receptions. Returning for the college football national championship, Waddle finished his season with 591 yards in 28 receptions with an average of 21.1 yards per reception.
Hypothetically, if he had not been injured and had attained 117 receptions as DeVonta Smith did with a 21.1 average, he would have ended his 2020 season with a whopping 2,468 yards, which would have easily awarded him the Heisman Trophy over Smith. That would have been the best season any wide receiver would have had in college football history, shattering the former single season receiving record of 2060 yards.
Many feel that Waddle isn’t at the top of the rookie wide receiver list because they think that Ja’Marr Chase will be a better receiver than Waddle and Smith. But as far as raw talent, Waddle is faster, a better punt and kick off returner, and has a better juke move. Waddle also has been mentioned to be not at the top of the list because of his injury, but that was a broken ankle in October of 2020. By the time the 2021 NFL season starts, his ankle will be at 100%.
If opposing NFL teams sleep on Jaylen Waddle this season, then it will cost them. Waddle won’t be just the best rookie wide receiver in the NFL this season, but he will be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL overall. Barring any type of freak accident or injury, Tua and Waddle will re-establish the chemistry they had at Alabama in Miami, and no NFL defense will be able to stop that.