Scouting Report: WR Jaylen Waddle 5’10″ 182 (Alabama)
Dynamic. This is the one word I would use to describe him. Instinctual big-time receiving play maker with exception skills as a return specialist. Soft-hands and he excels at all the route levels. He looks extremely smooth – and fluid. He looks like he was born to play receiver. Extremely dangerous offensive and special teams threat who is capable of scoring every single time he touches the ball (17 yard per catch average in 2019 and 21.1 avg per catch in 2020 per espn.com). The name of the game is scoring and that is what this guy is all about. I went back and watched him since his freshman year against big time competition. He did not bat an eye going from high school ball to playing at Alabama. He stepped in between the lines like it was second nature. Confident and sure hands – plucks ball out of the air with his hands. I love that he consistently looked good all three years. I love that he excelled with three different quarterbacks while at Alabama. This bolds very well at the next level. Has a knack for finding spots in defenses – at all levels – and exploiting them. Elite talent level. Reports indicate he should be ready to go by the time the season rolls around with the ankle injury. Waddle has a lot of heart and desire, which shows up consistently on film. Gives a really high effort.
Excels on short receiver screens.
Nightmare for defenders to bring him down after the catch. The best yards after the catch (YAC) ability I have seen in a receiver in my forty years of watching the game. His YAC ability is insane in heavy traffic areas. YAC reminds me of a cross between Gary Clary (WSH) and Jerry Rice (SF). Reminds me a bit of Barry Sanders in the open field. Waddle is not as elusive, but he has great balance, he is slippery and he is very strong willed. Waddle does not want to go down, which makes him very challenging to bring down. Does not shy away from contact. He shows he wants the end zone and he wants to win. He has a high-level running back type skill set in the open field.
Excels on intermediate routes.
Tough and courageous. Will go across the middle – no problem. Has a knack for finding soft spots in coverages and gaining just enough leverage and positioning to create a favorable advantage for himself. Great concentration and focus. Tunnel vision. Capable of taking a real shot – and holding on. Even with defenders coming at his face he shows he can secure the catch. Highly skilled route runner who excels at slant and crossing routes. Easily can take a slant to the house. Makes the catch and takes off like a sports car on an open highway. Great second gear. Waddle runs away from defenses.
Excels on deep routes.
Shows a great hard sell on double moves that can leave corners in the dust. Runs under the ball – tracks the ball like a hunter. Great ball tracking skills. He is like a ball magnet. Soft bread-basket for the ball to fall into. It was like watching poetry in motion watching him go deep. He can run away from defenses after the catch. In situations where it is a 50-50 ball – he showed great instincts and timing to go up at the high point and come down with it – even in tight – highly contested situations. Reminds me of Randy Moss that way. He looked so natural and dominant deep. Big play receiver. Home-run hitter.
Capable of taking a hand off in the backfield and taking off from there as well. Adds that dimension to the offense. From there, he becomes the same type of nightmare for defenses as he works his way downfield.
Waddle is exceptionally gifted as a return specialist.
This gives him even more value. As a former special teams scout with the New York Jets, I know special teams and Waddle is special. This guy rocks. Waddle is absolutely everything a team would want in a returner. He has the heart, speed, desire, balance and vision for it. Very tough to bring down. Despite a couple muffed punts as a freshman, he was special as returning punts. He was fun to watch. He was a threat to score every time he returned a punt. Most punt returners go straight up-field, but not Waddle. He shows patience and wisdom. He tends to allow the punt team to come to him. He allows them to funnel towards him and then goes lateral to gain further control of the return. This also further exposes the lack of agility and athleticism so many have on the punt team. Waddle then picks his spot and cuts it up. This strategy creates a lot of big returns. He is a huge threat and on punt and even kick returns. He is special anytime he can make defenders react to him in space. Easy projection and transition to a star return specialist in the NFL. The same lack of agility and athleticism on special teams that exists at the college level – exists at the NFL level.
I could not find anything I did not like about Waddle despite being a hard grader. This is extremely rare for me. Slam-dunk NFL superstar waiting to happen. Plug-in and play type who will be fun to watch in his rookie season. He will be a headache for NFL defenses. Do not overthink this one. Send the card in. Waddle is a once-in-a-generation player. He is a combination of some of the greats (Gary Clark, Jerry Rice and Randy Moss).
Daniel Kelly’s Draft Board: First Round (Top 5 Pick – WR1)
Probability of being a bust: Zero
If I were a GM, this is the question I need to have answered in my mind about Jaylen Waddle: I would need to talk to my team doctor about his ankle and get a professional briefing.
My top concerns about Jaylen Waddle: I do not have any outside of the injury. I searched the film and dug into him online and nothing popped up.
How NFL defenses will be able to stop him: Pray and play tight man. Lock up top cover corner on him. Challenge him hard upon release and do everything possible to take away the screen game. Play tight high-low bracket in the intermediate areas. Scheme for safeties to provide over the top deep-halves help deep.
Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK.