2021 NFL Draft Scouting Report

Jaylen Waddle

February 6, 2021 1:00 AM EST

Jaylen Waddle Scouting Report picture

School: Alabama

Height: 5'10"

Weight: 182

Eligibility: JR

Uniform: #17

Position: WR

Evaluated by: Austin Smith
Twitter: NFLDraftAustin
January 31, 2021

Prospect Overview

2018: 45 rec, 848 yds, 7 TD, 16 PR, 14.6 YPR, 1 TD
2019: 33 rec, 560 yds, 6 TD, 20 PR, 24.4 YPR, 1 TD, 5 KR, 35 YPR, 1 TD
2020: 28 rec, 591 yds, 4 TD (six games)

What an embarrassment of riches the Alabama quarterbacks had at their disposal over the past three years. Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy were each drafted in the top 15 picks in 2020, while Devonta Smith returned for a record-setting year that saw him win the Heisman Trophy. However, the Crimson Tide’s most electric playmaker of the bunch was arguably Waddle with a career-mark of 18.9 yards per reception, higher than Ruggs (17.5), Jeudy (17.2), and Smith (16.9).

JaylenWaddle Scouting Report image 1

In the first four games of the 2020 campaign prior to Waddle’s broken ankle, Smith may have been leading the team in receptions with 38, but Waddle led the way with 557 receiving yards to Smith’s 483. Whether getting behind defenses for big plays or creating them on quick throws, Waddle looked to be having a breakout season before the injury.

He never led Alabama in receiving during his time in Tuscaloosa, but his combination of speed, agility, and strength could make him the top pro prospect of the bunch. In addition, Waddle was one of the most dangerous return men in the country, adding to his value.


While Ruggs displayed top-notch acceleration during his time in Tuscaloosa, and Jeudy showed incredible change-of-direction skills and burst, Waddle might be the best of both worlds. The Houston-native makes defenders look silly in the open field, and even when they’ve got him lined up, his speed can destroy angles of pursuit. Not only do these skills show up when the ball is in his hands, but in his routes as well.

Jaylen Waddle Scouting Report image 2

His aptitude to win with speed deep or across the field is impressive, as is his ability to gain separation at the top of his route. It also shows up off the line where his initial burst is too much for defensive backs to handle without abandoning the attempt to jam him. He can explode right by them or give them a jab step to one side while redirecting past them to the other side. I also expect him to test equal to what we saw from on the field with his speed and agility.

In addition to his play speed, Waddle is also a physical player. As a runner, he sprints through traffic like a running back with little regard for the possibility of taking a shot. He breaks arm tackles with ease and fights forward for extra yards. I’m also pretty impressed with Waddle’s ability to block for a player listed at five feet, ten inches, and 182 pounds. The competitor in him really shows up, and he’s not an easy player to get free from when his hands are locked on.

However, it’s not just his desire to compete. Waddle is a strong player with a compact build, and that is something that we couldn’t say for Jeudy, Ruggs, or Smith. That’s a big reason I think he has a chance to be the best pro of the bunch. Each of those guys entered (or will enter) the NFL needing to add bulk to handle the physical play, yet Waddle will not have that issue along with the questions about how the extra weight will affect his athleticism. Waddle has an NFL-ready build with exceptional athleticism.

Another area that stands out is his capacity to track the deep ball. We see him make some outstanding plays on passes thrown down the field. Even when those opportunities are contested, Waddle shows terrific focus and high-points the ball with keen timing and an exceptional ability to elevate. It’s not often we see players his size win 50/50 balls the way he does, and while a receiver’s height can impact the number of routes a team trusts him to run in the NFL, I don’t believe that will be the case with Waddle. While we are on the topic of how he uses his eyes, I love his vision with the ball in his hands. Waddle spots blockers and open lanes like a running back. A team will not be maximizing his skill set without involving him in gadget concepts in the offense, as well as on special teams as a returner where he scored three times at Alabama.

Areas for Improvement

This is purely an assumption, but I want to see him run more routes. While he did run various routes at Alabama, we didn’t see him run the full route tree a ton. Waddle was the fourth receiver on the depth chart his first two years, and while that changed in the first month of 2020, he broke his ankle in week five. He’s run a lot of different routes, but we have a much smaller sample size of each, and Waddle rarely faced press coverage. I think he can be an exceptional route-runner like Jeudy and Smith, but both have a far more extensive body of work than Waddle.

With his hurt ankle, he probably won’t be able to reassure scouts of this ability in the pre-draft process. Scouts are going to have to trust what they saw on tape, as well as on the practice field for those that showed up in Tuscaloosa over the last three years. Still, we won’t really know if he has some of the more savvy skills to running routes until he is healthy and on an NFL roster. When that happens, he will need to prove he can take accurate angles in his stem, explode out of his breaks routinely, and handle physical play early in the route.

Waddle can also get a little complacent with his hands. We haven’t seen him have an issue with drops, but he does tend to let the ball get to his frame without cause. This isn’t an issue when a receiver is wide open, but that is going to happen far less in the NFL. When you let balls get to your frame in order to catch it, it opens the window for defensive backs to get their hands on it.

I’d like to see Waddle consistently extend his hands to the ball, especially given his size. It bothers me far more from a player his size than a six-foot, five-inch tight end with a 260-pound frame. Still, there are quite a few examples of him extending his hands to the ball and snatching it, so I don’t exactly question his ball skills. It’s more just complacency in this area.

Jaylen Waddle Scouting Report image 3

Draft Stock

When I first started scouting each of the four great wideouts at Alabama over two years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that I would end up giving Waddle the highest draft grade of the bunch in the end. Still, he is neck-and-neck with what I gave Jeudy a year ago and slightly ahead of Ruggs and Smith. Waddle never had All-American campaigns at wide receiver like Smith or Jeudy (although he was an All-American returner), nor did he score as much as Ruggs. Still, he has the most NFL-ready frame of the bunch, and considering his elite-level of athleticism with that build, I have zero questions about his success transitioning to the NFL. I also can’t say enough about his competitiveness. Waddle may be one of the most competitive players in this entire class. It’s not just the fact that he fought through the pain of an ankle injury that wasn’t close to being healed to play in the National Championship this year.

By the way, it takes a special kind of toughness to block out the pain the way he did. Still, he wants to score every time he touches it and plays like it’s the final snap of the game. Waddle can help an offense on any down, regardless of the distance, and will be a dynamite return man as well. Trevor Lawrence and Penei Sewell are my top two players in this class. After that, you can make a case that Waddle is in the conversation to be the next man on the board.

Jaylen Waddle Scouting Report image 4

Player Comparison

I’ve gotten a fair bit of skepticism with my NFL comparison for Waddle, but hear me out when I say his upside could be that of the player we saw Steve Smith become in Carolina. I will always see Smith as a one-of-a-kind player, but the skill set and competitiveness are quite similar. Smith played every down like it was his last and played much bigger than he was with his physical nature and ability to reel in 50/50 balls.

He was also an elite athlete. If that is not the player I just described, I didn’t do a good enough job writing this. I am not saying Waddle will be the next Smith. It’s going to take a sensational career before we can declare that. However, I see the potential for Waddle to be a very similar player in the NFL if he develops as I believe he can.

Games Evaluated

  • at Auburn (11-30-19)
  • at Missouri (9-26-20)
  • vs. Texas A&M (10-3-20)
  • at Ole Miss (10-10-20)
  • vs. Georgia (10-17-20)

Notes from Film

  • While he is listed at five feet, ten inches, he seems bigger. Not sure if he’s closer to six feet or maybe his reach is going to be a plus, but I don’t see a small player. His explosiveness in breaks is indicative of a smaller player, as is the way he does it without much hip sink, but I’ll be very interested to see how he measures when the time comes.
  • He may be listed small, but he sure doesn’t play small. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a receiver listed at his size be better at hauling in contested catches. It’s been a trait that has shined for him since he was a freshman. He attacks the ball at its highest point and extends his hands to the ball when the defender on his backside. He has a lot of abilities and makes a lot of plays that you would expect in a bigger player.
  • He has the vision and instincts of a running back with the ball in his hands and it has made him one of the most dangerous return men in the nation. He is also a player that teams have to prepare for when it comes to gadget plays like screens, reverses and jet sweeps.
  • The explosiveness he displays at the top of his routes on occassion shows that he can be a superior route runner. We don’t always see it, but then again, Alabama doesn’t ask him to run a ton of routes that require it. We see him run a lot of deep routes and crossers, but when he is asked to make a cut and separate, it is obvious that he has taken just as much pride in that area as teammate Devonta Smith, and former teammate Jerry Jeudy.
  • Love the effort and physical nature he plays with as a blocker. When he knows he is on the play side and his block is vital, the dog in him really comes out. He gets very good position which is half the battle. He shoots his hands inside, and most importantly, he attempts to lock on as opposed to just shoving the defender. We don’t see this on every play, but when the ball is headed his way, he usually gives great effort.
  • This guy loves to compete, and he has some dog in him. Against Auburn in 2019, it seemed like every time he touched the ball he got more pumped up. If Alabama doesn’t jump offsides to end their chances in that game, there is no doubt that Auburn would have been making him their primary focus, and that is saying something with the playmakers that offense had.
  • He might have the best focus and ability to track the ball of anyone that Alabama has had since Calvin Ridley. Just does a terrific job of locking on to the ball in the air with his eyes, and plays that should be awkward because of contact by the defensive back or poor ball placement by the quarterback are hauled in with ease. By the way, I have zero concerns with him catching punts which is where focus must be at its highest.
  • I think he can line up throughout the formation, but even if he is limited to being a slot player, he has the ability to offer a versatile skillset in that area. He can attack all three levels of the field, and can use speed or quickness to win. He is also not afraid to operate in traffic.
  • One area I could see him improving in his ability to get off the jam. He has the quickness to win, but his hands have to get better to not only defeat the jam attempt, but also get free to avoid hand fighting in the stem of the route. He hasn’t faced a lot of this, but it has come up.
  • He could also be a little more physical in his routes, although once again, we don’t see a huge sample size of guys getting physical with him.
  • This may be redundant, but this guy really loves to compete. Coming back to help in the National Championship game against Ohio State really shows an ability to block out pain. His draft stock wasn’t on his mind. He just wanted to help in a Championship effort.

Scouting Video Courtesy of RS Highlights

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