Best Out of Bama: The Case for Jaylen Waddle in 2021

by | Apr 22, 2021

The last time a wide receiver won the Heisman Trophy? 1991. That tells the story about former Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith and the season he enjoyed. While Smith benefited greatly from the absence of fellow wideout Jaylen Waddle, he also proved he can handle the expanded role, vacuuming up the targets formerly allotted to Waddle with efficiency. Smith’s ultra-high draft stock has perhaps gone a bit overboard. Expect him to be inside the top two receivers off the board in many of your 2021 rookie drafts. Smith showed out in his final season in an Alabama jersey with 1,862 scrimmage yards, 24 scores, a ring and the Heisman which was exactly what he needed to help him and his teammates bypass the evaluation process as they sat out key measurements at Alabama’s pro days. 

Waddle reaped the benefits of playing at the top football school in the world when he could afford to rest his entire senior season and still win games. Regardless of the work it took to earn his targets there, his sky high Teammate Score is in the 98th-percentile. The production he did manage and the efficiency with which he got it done should always be our focus when identifying NFL-caliber playmakers.

A Better Value

There will be little to no value to be had in acquiring the 2020 Heisman wide receiver. Devonta Smith’s likelihood of busting is simply higher based on how early he will go in the drafts compared to other receivers not named JaMarr Chase; who showed out at LSU’s Pro Day. Smith will be an expensive, volatile asset in fantasy leagues in 2021 as an undersized outside X or Z receiver in the NFL. Why reach when you can trade back and snag an even better weapon, acquirable in the back end of the first round of your rookie drafts? Maybe even a double-digit-round flier in seasonal leagues?

Waddle outpaced Smith in receiving with a 45-848-7 stat line during his true freshman season, with six of his seven touchdowns coming out of the slot. He also showed his chops in the intermediate areas against SEC competition that year while fighting to siphon away receptions from Jerry Jeudy. To cap off that exceptional freshman campaign, he delivered for his team on a crossing route for a 51-yard touchdown in the third quarter that kept the Crimson Tide alive on their way to a championship. You could say that he tends to show up when it matters most. 


Elite Dynamism

Jaylen Waddle‘s prowess in the screen, short, intermediate, deep and return games resemble a Tyreek Hill-esque archetype and make him possibly the best all-purpose player in the 2021 NFL Draft. When contrasting his upside and his current draft stock, he presents the lowest risk for the highest reward. Waddle paced the NCAA in punt return yards and yards per punt return in his sophomore season, posting 487 total. Even the highly drafted Henry Ruggs with his 4.27 straight line speed was unable to earn receiving duties over Waddle. This tells me that his lateral agility is much more developed than what we saw from Ruggs.

Special teams production is one of the more telling attributes when it comes to finding playmakers in the pass-oriented NFL. The 5-9, 180-pound Waddle’s build and play make him a dominant slot and gadget receiver with the ability to play outside and soak up volume if needed due to his blazing speed and sure hands. The speedster clocked an unofficial 4.37 40-yard Dash at the UA Houston Camp before he even stepped foot in an Alabama training facility.

Waddle proved himself a stud on offense just as much as on special teams with high sustained efficiency when targeted, showing technical skills and speed that make him as viable an option as any. Versatility is important and Waddle has quietly shown his ability to be effective and elusive in all phases of the game. His combination of speed and shiftiness will help him stay out of harm’s way in the NFL and come together to offer incredible upside for whatever team he ends up on. Fantasy managers in PPR leagues will enjoy his ability to operate in all phases of the game.


The COVID-19 pandemic was handled decently by the NFL during the regular season, but the absence of the Combine will have huge implications on this draft class. Sitting out both pro days not only tells me that Jaylen Waddle is not all the way healthy from the October ankle incident, but that he is taking his rehabilitation seriously. He still needs time to rehabilitate and was expected to sit out most, if not all, of the drills anyways.

Waddle is set up as a potential value black box prospect this year for both NFL front offices, and pending his destination, for fantasy managers.

Follow Robbie Nealey on Twitter @okayrobe

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