Jaylen Waddle may not lead the 2021 NFL Draft class in receptions at the conclusion of his career, but from here, it would be far from shocking if he proves to be the most valuable overall weapon at the position from this crop of wideouts.
The Miami Dolphins hope that's the case, as they used the sixth pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft on him.
A right ankle injury cost Waddle a sizable portion of his final season at Alabama, but the 22-year-old shined when he did play, averaging 21.1 yards per reception in six games. Waddle's elite athleticism also allowed him to thrive as a returner in 2019, as he averaged 35 yards per kick return and 24.4 yards per punt return, scoring a touchdown in both areas.
In some senses, the 1,999 receiving yards that Waddle had during his collegiate career may not jump off the page, but you have to factor in that he missed time in his junior season and also had to compete with Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith, among others, for targets during his time at Alabama. If he's able to stay healthy, the bet here is that Waddle will be a better professional than collegiate player.
2020 stats: 6 games, 28 receptions, 591 receiving yards, 21.1 yards per catch, 4 touchdowns
Accolades: SEC Freshman of the Year (2018), First-Team All-SEC (2019), SEC Special Teams Player of the Year (2019), Second Team All-SEC (2020)
Strengths: If he gets a step on you, it's a wrap - he will outrun you to the endzone...It might not have been the wisest career move, but Waddle returned to play in the National Championship when he was clearly less than 100%, a clear indication of how much he loves the game...He has the potential to be an immediate Pro Bowler as a special teamer
Weaknesses: Though we don't know that he's incapable of doing so, he never lead Alabama in receptions or receiving yards in a given season
Expert scout analysis: "Waddle's adept at working all three levels, so it will be tough for defenses to predict how offenses will utilize him, as he has the potential to post a higher catch volume in the right offense. Waddle can instantly upgrade a team's scoring potential, whether it's with the deep ball, the catch-and-run or as a return man," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein said.
Player comparison: Tyreek Hill
This isn't a comparison that's made lightly. But Hill is 5-foot-10, 185 pounds. Waddle is 5-foot-9 1/2, 180 pounds. Perhaps no wide receiver in NFL history has been as fast as Hill, but when you watch Waddle's blazing speed, it's not hard to understand why his college teammate Najee Harris called him "the closest thing to Hill."