The Future: 2021 NFL Draft Prospects Jaylen Waddle
Jaylen Waddle was stuck behind NFL wide receivers during his freshman and sophomore seasons at Alabama, with 2 of the 3, Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy, both getting drafted in the 1st round of the NFL. Now in his junior season, he was finally going to be a top target for the Alabama offense. Unfortunately, Waddle was only able to play 4 full games, getting injured on the opening kickoff against Tennessee, and will miss the remainder of the season. In those 4 games, Waddle was able to show enough to be in the conversation as the best wide receiver in this draft class.
Hands- this is simply how well receivers can catch the ball and it is the most important trait of a receiver because if you can't catch you can't be a receiver. Waddle's hands are very good. He catches the ball away from his body, with arms extended, and strong hands. With defenders all over him, he is still able to consistently come down with the ball. On deep throws, he tracks the ball well over his shoulder and can make circus-like catches.
Separation Quickness- this is how well does the receiver create separation from the defender. Waddle is elite in this area of his game. He mainly uses his elite athletic ability to create separation. On deep routes, he can rely on his speed to create separation and his double moves are very dangerous to opposing defenses. When going in and out of cuts his burst is elite, he does a very good job of dropping his hips to get through cuts as quickly as possible. When looking at his route running ability he has all the traits you could ask for to be able to run any route you could ask. He has shown the ability to set his route up to be able to get exactly what he wants. Little things I've noticed about his route running is he uses every part of his body to deceive defensive backs. Whether it be hard jab steps and cuts, head/shoulder fakes, and even his eyes to manipulate defenders into thinking he is doing one thing and doing the opposite. This is arguably the best aspect of Waddle's game with his yard after the catch ability as well.
Release- the release is the first 3-5 yards of the route to see how a receiver can get off the ball. This is most important when going against press which Waddle does not see a lot of which makes it a little harder to grade this aspect of his game. Against Missouri, he saw the closest thing to press with defenders playing within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Waddle's burst and quick feet show that his lower body can handle being pressed but one aspect that I like is that his hands at the release point are really good. This allows him to almost completely avoid being jammed at the line of scrimmage. His play strength will come into question at the next level strictly because he is not the biggest of players which can cause some concern when going against bigger corners who, if they can get their hands on him will easily overpower him.
Adjust/Body Control- this is the receiver's ability to adjust the throws that are outside the frame of his body as well as control his body on the sideline, back of the endzone, and when going up for jump ball/contested-catch scenarios. Waddle's athletic ability is shown off in his ability to be able to out-jump defenders, even when he is double-teamed he can win contested catches. His ability to adjust is elite as he can bring down just about any throw that is within his wingspan, but he is best at adjusting to throws that are high as he can easily go up and highpoint the ball. His body control is also very good along the sidelines as he seems to always know where he is on the field to be able to get his feet down to complete catches.
Yards After the Catch- this is what can a receiver do with the ball in his hands? Waddle is an electric threat with the ball in his hands. This can be seen with all of the screens and short passes he takes for first downs. He just makes defenders miss with absurd cuts, vision, burst, acceleration, and speed to get the corner. Now with a guy of his size, you wouldn't expect his to finish every run as a tough runner but he is not afraid of contact and fights for every yard. His contact balance is also elite as he always finds a way to stay up through contact, especially at the end of his runs he gets tossed around but keeps his feet. This has led to him taking some big hits but he always gets up ready for more which is a really good sign of his physical and competitive toughness.
To finish off Waddle is the ultimate team player. In the run game he gives great effort to block and to top it off he is not only an elite special team returner but he is willing to play on the kickoff team to run down and make tackles. The number 1/2 wide receiver does not often play special teams to make tackles, Waddle though might just be a different breed of a player which leads to him being a team favorite in the locker room. I currently have Waddle as the 2nd ranked receiver right behind 2019-20 Biletnikoff winner Ja'Marr Chase.