News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Give Jaylen Waddle the ball and good things happen

Oct 3, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) runs for a touchdown after catching a long pass from Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama defeated A&M 52-24. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

The Dolphins selected Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft. It comes as a bit of a surprise, although the Dolphins were expected to be in the market for a skill-position upgrade of some shape or size. Obviously this sort of investment is a major vote of confidence towards Tua Tagovailoa, however it remains to be seen whether or not Waddle will have enough opportunity to truly ball out in Year 1.

View PFF's 2021 NFL Draft position rankings:

QB | RB | WR | TE | T | iOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S

What follows is a breakdown on what makes Waddle such an intriguing prospect, whether or not he fits the mold of a great fantasy football WR, as well as what we should expect from him and this Dolphins offense in 2021.

Waddle is anyone’s idea of an explosive weapon with the ball in his hands

PFF stated the following about Waddle in our 2021 NFL Draft Guide:

“We said going into 2020 that if Waddle can just do what he did in limited snaps his freshman and sophomore seasons on a full workload of snaps, he'd be a top-15 pick. While it was only four healthy games, that's precisely what Waddle did. He went over 100 yards in each and showed he can play strong at the catch point despite his listed 5-foot-10, 182 pounds. Over the last two seasons, he's gone six-of-eight in contested opportunities and averaged over 10 yards after the catch in each. He's everything you want from a speed receiver.”

More than a few outlets have graced Waddle with a Tyreek Hill pro comp. I’m hesitant in comparing any college prospect to a consensus top-five NFL player at the position; just realize Waddle does demonstrate a Hill-esque combination of silly speed and underrated contested-catch ability.

Don't confuse Waddle as an inferior talent at the catch point because of his size. Sure, Bama didn't make a habit of tossing him the ball in contested-catch situations, but he did manage to come down with six of eight contested opportunities over his past two seasons. Perhaps professional corners are able to press him and win at the line; just realize one small misstep can lead to six points in a hurry.

The million dollar question in regards to Waddle is now simple: Just how much opportunity will he see in 2021?

Waddle fits the mold of a great rookie receiver

There have only been two rookie WRs drafted outside of the first three rounds who finished as a top-24 PPR performer since 2010: Mike Williams (the Tampa Bay one) and Tyreek Hill. The latter player undoubtedly would've been a Day 1 selection if it wasn't for off-the-field issues, while the former benefited from incumbent No. 1 WR Antonio Bryant’s retirement.

Keenan Allen is the only third-round WR to thrive as a rookie. The rest were top-two-round selections. The one thing the group (generally) has in common is the reality that each WR is extremely talented and went on to post multiple great seasons:

The 2020 WR class was touted as one of the best in recent memory. They accordingly make up 19% of this list; just realize it’s a bit more rare to see first-year pass-catchers rise up to the top of their depth chart compared to rookie RBs.

Perhaps Waddle is good enough to join this elite list of talents; I’m just not so certain that he’ll be able to take over this Dolphins’ passing game in a timely manner.

This Dolphins’ passing game is sneaky crowded

Firstly: Tua wasn’t as bad as you thought last year.

Here’s the problem: The 2021 Dolphins offense is a bit more crowded than what we saw last year. A healthy DeVante Parker, combined with free agent signee Will Fuller and now Waddle are expected to form three-WR sets, although the likes of Mike Gesicki, Lynn Bowden and Myles Gaskin also figure to be involved on a week-to-week basis.

Perhaps Waddle makes the most of his opportunities. Like his Heisman-winning teammate, Waddle doesn’t let his lack of size impact his ability to ball the hell out on the field. It’s rare to see receivers make defenders look slow in the SEC, but that’s exactly what Waddle managed to do with shocking regularity during his  three seasons with the Crimson Tide.

It’s a good habit to chase volume over talent in fantasy land. This pick is GREAT news for Tua’s development and status as a late-round bargain; I’m just not ready to treat Waddle as more than a borderline WR3. Embrace the upside of Waddle over guys like Laviska Shenault and Marquise Brown, but the guaranteed targets that JuJu Smith-Schuster, Robby Anderson and Deebo Samuel among others possess will lead to me probably not owning too much of Waddle in 2021 if his ADP climbs in accordance with this lofty draft position.

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