TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you ask Alabama football junior wide receiver Jaylen Waddle about the Heisman Trophy hype that has begun to swim around him, he’ll give you a short answer.
“No I actually haven’t heard nothing about that,” Waddle said. “I kinda don’t look into that kind of stuff.”
Apparently Waddle isn’t too fond of ‘rat poison.’
Earlier this season when discussing who could potentially win the 2020 Heisman, former NFL wide receiver, return specialist and football analyst on ESPN stated that Waddle is his favorite to win the award this year.
Howard would know. He won the award for his work at the wide receiver position himself back in 1991.
After two seasons of playing third and sometimes fourth fiddle to the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith, 2020 has forced Waddle to front and center and into the spotlight.
“He’s fun to watch, that’s for sure, whether he’s on punt return, kickoff return, playing on the field,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “I think the big thing that Jaylen has, sort of, expanded his role in his game, is that he can play all the roles at receiver, you can move him around.
“Before, he was mostly a slot guy, but now he can make plays anywhere on the field and I think that’s very helpful. Guys like him, you expect teams to double guys like him, so when you can move him around, he makes it a little more difficult for the defense. This guy has great energy, plays with great enthusiasm, loves to play, is a great competitor, and really a joy to be around.”
In Saturday’s season-opening game at Missouri, Waddle led the Alabama core of receivers with eight receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns. While in previous years Waddle was known for his punt-returning abilities, punters across the SEC have learned their lesson and try to kick the ball as far as possible away from the ever-present touchdown threat. Missouri’s punter was no different, with Waddle not fielding a single punt or kickoff the entire game.
Sophomore linebacker Christian Harris was quick to note how Waddle’s speed makes him a very tricky receiver for defenses.
“He’s the fastest dude I’ve ever seen,” Harris said. “There’s times he leaves me in practice and there’s nothing I can do about it. I even take an angle and he just takes off. It’s ridiculous, like I said. But we have so many great guys on our offense. They do this stuff every single day in practice. Whenever it comes to the game, I’m not necessarily surprised. It’s more expected to see those guys do what they do.
“I think when Jaylen Waddle gets the ball and he’s in open space, everybody on the sideline starts to pay attention.”
With over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns already under his belt just one game into the season, one thing that is certain is that Waddle will be enjoyable to watch as the season progresses.
Despite the Crimson Tide emerging from Columbia on Saturday with a 38-19 victory over the Tigers, Saban — along with his players — have repeatedly stated that they did not play with the same energy and tenacity in the second half as they did in the first.
For Waddle, reviving that energy and sustaining it throughout the course of the whole game is key to improving as the season rolls on.
“I think that energy that we bring — the same energy that we brought in the first half — I think we need to bring it and finish with that same energy,” Waddle said. “It don’t matter the scoreboard. Can’t look at them type of things so that’s what really needs to change.”
If 134 yards and two touchdowns was what Waddle was able to accomplish with low energy levels, it begs the question of what the young wide receiver could accomplish at 100 percent.
Maybe Howard was right all along.