By Dylan MacKinnon
With the Eagles now picking at 12, the expectations for what WR they could draft obviously changes. Many might think Jaylen Waddle is a consolation prize. When your team mate at the same position wins a Heisman, it is easy to go over looked. But would Jaylen Waddle be a better pick than Smith anyway?
Fastest in the Draft
The new trend in NFL Scouting circles is GPS speed. Instead of tracking how fast a player is in a 40 yard dash, they can measure their speed in game. And according to Daniel Jeremiah, Jaylen Waddle had the fastest GPS speed of any WR in the draft.
And to anyone who has watched him play, this comes as no surprise. His speed jumps off the screen. He would race former team mate Henry Ruggs, and their speed was evenly matched. Henry Ruggs of course blew people away with a 4.27 40 time at last years combine. Waddle is just as fast, even if we wont see a 40 time for him.
This is what NFL Network Analyst Bucky Brooks had to say about him.
“He has the juice. He has what every Offensive coordinator in the NFL Wants at WR, the ability to create explosive plays. When you watch him, I come away looking at the tape saying, man he’s the best run after catch playmaker in college. His ability to go from 0 to 60 is fascinating. When you see him move and evade tacklers, it’s exactly what you want in any offense.”
But don’t take my, or Bucky’s, word for it, just watch this play from 2018 vs Georgia. Waddle used his speed to turn what for most people would be a short catch, into a long TD.
Confirmed: Jaylen Waddle is incredibly fast. pic.twitter.com/p6TgHkBVsa— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 1, 2018
Better than Smith?
If two WRs are on the same team, and one wins the Heisman and sets team records, they are the better one, right? Well not so fast. The problem for Waddle was not lesser play, but that he missed most of this last last season. In fact before he went out, one could argue he was on track to have better numbers than Smith.
He had less targets and catches, but equal TDs and more yards. That’s thanks in part to his 22 yards per catch. That number is 8th in the NCAA, and 1st in the SEC. In Fact he was the only SEC WR to AVG more than 20 yards per catch. And in 2019, he lead the NCAA in Yards After Catch. On top of that, for two straight years, Bama QBs had a perfect pass rating when targeting him.
Jalen Hurts sure seemed to have an high opinion of him. This is what the Eagles QB said when he joined Adam Schefter’s podcast.
“I just saw something on how Waddle said he is different and he is different. He’s a heck of a player, a great friend of mine, and a little brother to me. The things he can do with the ball in his hands, his speed, his athleticism, high-pointing the ball, there isn’t anything he couldn’t do.”
Anytime a player is coming into the draft off a major injury, there is going to be questions. He fractured his ankle in October. Even though he came back to play in the Championship game, he was far from himself. So the question should be, how well to athletes recover after fracturing their ankle? Can they regain the speed and lateral quickness they once had?
The good news, according to Dr. Matt Provencher, a Orthopedic Surgeon and NFL Doctor, is that its likely he will make a full recovery and have no loss of mobility.
"Jaylen can come back quite well and even at a higher level after recovery from this injury."@drprovencher says there's reason to be hopeful for Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury today. pic.twitter.com/HOkZqgNWvX— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 25, 2020
And the fact he did return to play in that final game, despite not being 100%, says a lot as well. Nick Saban thought so himself.
“My hat’s off to him. I had the same injury, so I know the difficulties coming back from that. You’re healed but your ankle is so stiff, it’s difficult to sort of get the flexibility and the flexion back so you can explode like you want to, especially when you drop your weight on that foot… I have a lot of respect for Jaylen Waddle, his mental toughness and his ability to be able to come back.”
What the Experts Say
“Every team in the NFL needs a player like Waddle. He’s a threat to score from anywhere on the field and his speed opens things up for the rest of the offense. His run-after-catch skills will provide big-play potential on minimal-risk throws. We’ve seen the NFL adapt over the last few years to the point where the RPO (run-pass option) game is a staple in nearly every offense, and guys like the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel have redefined the role of the receiver. Teams have figured out how to quickly get the ball into the hands of their best athlete and let him work. That’s going to be Waddle’s role at the next level.”
“Jaylen Waddle is a dynamic wideout that’s spent time on the outside, in the slot, and periodically as a chess piece in the backfield. Possessing a unique skill set, he’s a smaller wideout that contains a well diverse skill set. With notches of speed that most defenders are incapable of reaching, he plays the game with a jetpack. The former Crimson Tide wideout makes his surroundings look as if they’re moving in slow motion compared to his high level controlled speed. Containing consistent hands, he also has a wide catch radius that enables him to attack the ball at its apex when entering his target range… Still needing polish on his routes in the intermediate areas as he can take extra steps at the top, the good far exceeds the bad in that department.”
His last name is a bit ironic, because waddle he does not. Waddle will be the fastest player almost anytime he steps onto the field. And that shows up in more ways than just straight line speed. Get the ball into his hands, and watch him go. He has good hands and runs good routes to go with that speed. The questions will revolve around if he can be physical enough to last at this level, and if he can recover from his ankle injury.
Some scouts say Waddle is right in the conversation with the best WRS in the draft. Maybe not over Chase or Pitts. But with them unlikely to be there at 12, Waddle isn’t as big a drop off as many might think