After an injury-shortened junior campaign that only allowed him to play in six games, former Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle is officially off to the professional ranks as the Miami Dolphins selected the Houston product as the sixth overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft on Thursday night.
Before his fractured ankle, which was suffered on the opening kickoff against Tennessee back in October, Waddle was lighting up SEC defenses, hauling in 25 passes for 557 yards and four touchdown.
"It's a dream come true," Waddle told ESPN after hearing his name called by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Without the injury, one could make the argument that he was on his way to win the Heisman Trophy rather than teammate DeVonta Smith.
Waddle is now reunited with his former teammate, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in South Beach.
Waddle is the sixth wide receiver drafted in the first round from Alabama in the Nick Saban era. Many draft analysts and scouts are praising Waddle as the next Tyreek Hill, the electrifying Kansas City Chiefs wideout.
An early look at what Waddle's contract might include is a four-year deal with $27 million, which is fully guaranteed, and a $17 million signing bonus.
Draft Profile: Jaylen Waddle
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Height: 5-9 1/2
Arms: 30 3/8
Hands: 9 1/8
• Averaged 18.9 yards per catch for his career to rank second at Alabama all-time (minimum 100 catches)
• Led all Crimson Tide returners with a 19.3 yards per punt return average across his three seasons, nearly six yards better than second place on the career list.
• Selected as second team All-SEC return specialist despite playing in only half of the Crimson Tide's regular-season games in 2020 due to ankle injury.
• Eclipsed the 100-yard receiving marker in all four games to start the 2020 season. Converted a first down or scored on 22 of his 28 receptions.
• As a sophomore was named a first-team All-American by the FWAA and The Sporting News, and second-team from the Associated Press and Walter Camp. Consequently just missed on consensus first-team status.
• 2019 SEC Special Teams Player of the Year and a first-team selection at return specialist by the league’s coaches. Also earned second team all-league honors as an all-purpose player from the coaches, and Associated Press.
• Led the nation in punt return average at 24.4 yards per return with 20 for 487 yards and a touchdown, including a long of 77.
• Shattered the previous single-season mark at Alabama with his 24.4 yards per return average.
What they said ...
Lance Zierlein, NFL.com: Thrilling, game-breaking talent who will come into the league as one of the fastest receivers to ever play the game. His whereabouts pre-snap and post-snap must be accounted for at all times. Despite his size, he's a legitimate outside option, thanks to his ability to not only take the top off the defense, but also go up and win 50-50 throws. Waddle's adept at working all three levels, so it will be tough for defenses to predict how offenses will utilize him, as he has the potential to post a higher catch volume in the right offense. Waddle can instantly upgrade a team's scoring potential, whether it's with the deep ball, the catch-and-run or as a return man.
Jim Nagy, Senior Bowl Director: "What separates Jaylen Waddle from a bunch of other good slot-type receivers in this year's draft is he's not just quick — he's quick and fast. You go back to last year's draft — his own teammate, Henry Ruggs, was the fastest receiver in last year's draft. There's a video circulating on social media right now with these guys in a photo finish in a 40-yard-dash footrace and I've been on the field and I've timed Henry Ruggs in the 4-2 (range). So if Jaylen Waddle gets anywhere close to the 4-2s, we're talking about a blazing-fast guy. And then the other thing that just separates Waddle is the return ability. He's the best college returner I've evaluated since Devin Hester, who is the GOAT, as we all know."
NFL Draft Bible: Arguably the fastest player in college football, ‘The Cheetah’ is a lightning quick game-breaker, possessing blow torch speed and quickness. Waddle is a lethal weapon in the slot with his ability to create separation, he has a playing style that is very similar to Santonio Holmes (Ohio State/Pittsburgh Steelers), as that type of athlete playing receiver with his fluid moves and creativeness after the catch. While he lacks size, it doesn’t prevent Waddle from going up in traffic and competing for contested balls. He has plenty of toughness to go over the middle and has proven durable, enduring some big hits, plus the ability to break tackles. His main focus for improvement during the offseason has been working on getting a cleaner release, while also getting in and out of his breaks faster when running routes. Loves the game and possesses a high football IQ, according to the coaching staff, who head coach Nick Saban says they have a lot of confidence in. A relentless worker, Waddle has been on an intense Monday-Friday (8 am-6 pm) workout regime back home in Houston during the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown. Has provided excellent return capabilities both on kickoffs and punts. In fact, Waddle averaged an eye-raising 35 yards per kick return (five attempts), 24.4 yards per punt return (20 attempts) and 17 yards per catch in 2019. The 2020 season was off to an even more spectacular start, arguably Alabama’s top offensive weapon before his season was cut short with an ankle injury. When healthy, Waddle is the type of dynamic playmaker that every team dreams about. In a lot of ways, his combination of explosiveness, vertical speed, toughness and YAC ability are reminiscent of current Chiefs star Tyreek Hill."