NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2020. This is the 18th in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
The more I study college football's top wide receivers, the more impressed I am with the current prospects at the position. That's especially true when it comes to the talent at the University of Alabama. The Tide sent two first-round wideouts to the draft this year in Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, yet they still have two pass catchers who'll generate similar buzz when they move on to the next level. I've already raved about one of those prospects in this series. Now it's Jaylen Waddle's turn to go under the microscope. Here's my scouting report.
Height, weight: 5-foot-10, 182 pounds (school measurements).
2019 statistics: 33 receptions for 560 yards (17.0 average) and six touchdowns; 20 punt returns for 487 yards (24.4 average), one TD; five kickoff returns for 175 yards (35.0 average), one TD.
Game tape watched: All of his targets, punt returns and kickoff returns from the 2019 season.
What I liked: Once the ball is in his hands, the fun begins. Waddle is one of the best run-after-catch prospects I've ever evaluated. He has rare explosiveness, change-of-direction quickness and instincts. It's unusual to see the first defender get him on the ground. He consistently turns quick hitters and reverses into big plays.
Waddle's also a deep threat. He creates massive separation on vertical and deep-over routes. He provides tremendous value in the return game, too, as he returned a kickoff and a punt for a TD last fall. His combination of burst and toughness is perfectly suited for those roles.
Where he needs to improve: Waddle has outstanding raw tools, but he needs more polish as a route runner. He relies more on pure speed to get open than on setting up defenders and dropping his weight to efficiently get in/out of breaks. He also needs to improve his consistency as a pass catcher. He allows too many balls to get into his body and occasionally fails to adjust to poorly thrown balls down the field. With his targets expected to increase this fall now that Jeudy and Ruggs have moved on to the NFL (and with defenses forced to respect teammate DeVonta Smith, whom I recently compared to Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison), I believe Waddle will gain more confidence and become more consistent.
Biggest takeaway: Every team in the NFL needs a player like Waddle. He's a threat to score from anywhere on the field and his speed opens things up for the rest of the offense. His run-after-catch skills will provide big-play potential on minimal-risk throws. We've seen the NFL adapt over the last few years to the point where the RPO (run-pass option) game is a staple in nearly every offense, and guys like the 49ers' Deebo Samuel have redefined the role of the receiver. Teams have figured out how to quickly get the ball into the hands of their best athlete and let him work. That's going to be Waddle's role at the next level.
He reminds me of: I see some similarities to current NFL players like Marquise Brown and KJ Hamler. However, I had to go back a little bit to find the best comparison. Waddle closely resembles former Pro Bowl receiver Santana Moss. They both make defenders miss without gearing down and have the speed to pull away from the pack. Moss was a little heavier and stronger, but both guys play with a fearless attitude. Moss ended up racking up over 10,000 receiving yards during his professional career (2001 through 2014). Waddle needs to add more polish to his game, but he has the potential to enjoy a similarly long and productive NFL career.