An ankle injury wrecked most of Jaylen Waddle's junior season, but it shouldn't prevent him from being one of the first wide receivers taken in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. An explosive playmaker with game-changing speed, Waddle is slated to join fellow draft classmate DeVonta Smith, as well as Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy (2020 draft) and Calvin Ridley (2018) as the most recent Alabama wideouts that wound up as first-round picks.
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Jaylen Waddle Draft Profile
A threat to score from anywhere on the field, Waddle brings the kind of big-play ability that every NFL offense is looking for. Upon entering the NFL, he’ll immediately become one of those handful of receivers who simply play at a different speed, and it’s not just long speed. He accelerates to top speed in a flash, making him a serious threat as soon as the ball gets in his hands on tunnel screens and in run-after-catch situations. He also has the lateral agility to be a nightmare for tacklers in space. His ball-tracking skills are excellent, and he shows the ability to contort himself and adjust to the ball downfield. While he’s not a big receiver, he plays bigger than his size due to an ultra-competitive demeanor, vertical-leaping ability and knack for high-pointing the ball. As a route-runner, his speed combined with tremendous balance allows him to snap off routes and create easy separation on stop routes. He has big value as a return specialist as well.
He missed most of last season with an ankle injury, so medicals will be the first hurdle for Waddle to clear; you know NFL front office types noticed him limping in the national title game. He also has some rough edges that still need to be sanded down. He ran a relatively limited route tree at Alabama and needs to get a better sense of how to leverage defensive backs who will be able to almost match his athleticism.
Alabama has been sending top receivers to the league for years, and Waddle might have the biggest upside of them all. He’s an explosive big-play weapon downfield and in catch-and-run situations, with the potential to develop into a threat at all three levels.
Final Grade: 1st round