Just A Minute: Why Does Jaylen Waddle Keep Getting Overlooked For Accolades as a Returner?

Christopher Walsh

Last December, when the awards for the 2019 college football season were being handed out, Alabama wide receiver and specialist Jaylen Waddle gave an interesting answer about a national honor he had won. 

In this case, it was being named an All-American as a return specialist. 

“I’m not really big on getting awards," he said while deflecting the attention away. 

Maybe it was because he was otherwise getting snubbed. 

Although it may not have been intentional, one of the more head-scratching decisions last year had to do with Waddle not landing consensus All-American status. 

He averaged 24.4 yard per punt return last season, when only one other player was better than 15.9 yards.

When Alabama finally put him deep on kick returns he busted one for a touchdown against Auburn (one of four touchdowns he scored that day). His season stat line was five returns for 175 yards for an average of 35.0. 

Waddle did land All-SEC honors as a returner, but the league also named Kentucky's Lynn Bowden Jr. a first -team selection as an all-purpose player.

This will be important in a moment.  

Bowden, who was a wide receiver with the Wildcats, set the SEC record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game with 284 yards and four touchdowns against rival Louisville in the final game of the regular season.

He finished the season with 1,235 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, 330 yards passing and two touchdowns, 200 kickoff return yards and caught 30 passes for 348 yards. For this he was named the recipient of the 2019 Paul Hornung Award as college football's most versatile athlete. 

So the all-purpose honor makes sense. 

Here's the problem: The all-purpose spot and return specialist are merged into one for All-American selections. 

Of the five media outlets the NCAA uses to determine unanimous and consensus status, only the Football Writers Association of America and the Sporting News list both a return specialist and an all-purpose player. 

For consensus All-American consideration, Bowden was the pick over Waddle. He landed first-team honors from the American Football Coaches Association, Associated Press and Sporting News. Waddle got the nod from the FWAA and Sporting News.  

The Walter Camp Football Foundational opted for Virginia's Joe Reed, who also had a terrific season (24 kick returns for 796 yards, 33.2 average and two touchdowns; 77 catches for 679 yards and seven touchdowns; no punt returns).

But then check out who the Walter Camp made its preseason selection for 2020: Rondale Moore of Purdue.

He won the Hornung Award as a freshman in 2018, mostly because he caught 114 passes for 1,258 yards. 

Moore's an outstanding player, but he missed most of last season with a hamstring injury. On special teams he returned five punts for 36 yards (7.2 yards) and fielded nine kickoffs for 151 yards (16.8). 

His career averages for punt returns is 6.9 yards, and 19.4 on kick returns.

Waddle? He might be the most exciting player in college football this season. Both he and DeVonta Smith, who led the Crimson Tide in receiving last season, could have huge chips on their shoulders for being overlooked. 

Ask any team who has has faced him who it fears the most on a return and the answer is easy. Waddle is simply the best returner in college football and it's not close.