With the No. 6 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Dolphins select Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle….
Jaylen Waddle Career Statistics
Caught in the Alabama talent vortex that has produced multiple first-round wide receivers in back-to-back seasons, Waddle won’t be the last Bama player to be considered highly above his production collegiate output by the NFL. With just 3.1 receptions per game over his collegiate career, the only first-round wide receivers to average fewer receptions per game than Waddle over their careers since 2000 have been Henry Ruggs, Anthony Gonzalez, Troy Williamson, Phillip Dorsett, John Ross, Breshad Perriman, Kelvin Benjamin, and Demaryius Thomas.
While Waddle is never going to be a player that ignites a production model big picture, there are production data points that are positive signals that had him drafted this highly in the first place.
Waddle came in and posted a 45-848-7 line as a freshman. That yardage was second on a team with Jerry Jeudy, Ruggs, and DeVonta Smith. This past season, Waddle was set to explode as well. Injured on the opening kickoff of their fifth game of the season, Waddle had opened the season with these games…
8-134-2 at Missouri
5-142-1 vs Texas A&M
6-120-0 at Mississippi
6-161-1 vs Georgia
Over that span, Waddle had more receiving yardage than the future Heisman Trophy winner while averaging 4.5 yards per team pass attempt, which would have been second in this class over a full season. Waddle turned in a gaudy 21.1 yards per receptions this past season while his 18.9 yards per reception for his collegiate career trail only Ja’Marr Chase among early-declare prospects in this draft class.
Waddle also comes with an electric resume in the return game to showcase his versatility and splash-play ability. He averaged 19.3 yards per punt return with two touchdowns on 38 career returns. Not kickoffs. Punts.
Waddle is larger than Smith (listed at 182 pounds) but also is not built as an alpha NFL wideout and on the smaller side, if splitting things. That size could have him solely as a splash-play dependent option next level.
Miami came into 2020 with limited talent at wide receiver and lost a number of the limited bodies they had along the way. Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opted out for the season while DeVante Parker (two games), Preston Williams (eight games), and Jakeem Grant (two games) each missed multiple games in-season. To compound matters, they then turned things over to a rookie pass for half of the season.
By the end of the season, Miami wideouts ranked 17th in receptions (12.6) and 27th in receiving yards per game (140.0 yards) while 27th in touchdown receptions (11) as a group.
Miami already has made a major addition this offseason by signing Will Fuller to a one-year contract. Reuniting Waddle with Tua Tagovailoa gives him a runway to play alongside and behind Fuller for a year while giving Tagovailoa another weapon.
Tagovailoa managed just 6.3 yards per pass attempt (37th) with 11 touchdown passes. Entering an offseason with no workouts and coming off a major injury, we did not even know if Tagovailoa would play as a rookie and the Dolphins only gave him marginal surrounding help. Tua’s top receivers on the season were Mike Gesicki (29 receptions), Lynn Bowden (27), DeVante Parker (23), and Jakeem Grant (21). We are still left with questioning how much Alabama’s supreme talent depth at receiver played a role in elevating Tagovailoa as a prospect, but Miami’s moves this offseason signal they do not see him as an immediate sunk cost and are committed to giving him more assets in year two.
Early 2021 Jaylen Waddle Projection: 94 targets, 57 receptions, 884 yards, 5 TD