The New England Patriots have failed to get big-time production from their wide receiver position for the last few years. Given how successful rookies performed at the position recently, and considering that they will pick 15th overall in April, they are in a perfect spot to land one of the top wideouts in this year’s draft to upgrade their current group.
The Patriots, after all, lacked speed and big-play ability at the position all last season so getting younger, faster, and adding some quality depth will be a top priority for the team through the draft to make the job of whoever is playing quarterback in 2021 a lot easier. One player who checks the boxes in all the traits you need to be a successful wide receiver in the NFL is Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle.
Let’s take a closer look at him.
Name: Jaylen Waddle
Position: Wide receiver
School: Alabama (Junior)
Opening day age: 22
2019 stats: 6 games, 28 catches, 591 yards, 4 TDs
Size: 5’10”, 185 lbs
Workout numbers: TBA
Expected round: 1st/Top-15
Strengths: Waddle is a dynamic playmaker that can excel at every wide receiver position. His game-breaking speed paired with his crisp route-running made him an almost unguardable player at the collegiate level. Coming into the year, Waddle was viewed as a lock for a top-10 pick and WR2 behind LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase. Although he was able to return for the National Championship game (somewhat), an ankle injury in October on a kick return still cut his season short.
Waddle’s extremely controlled and polished as a route runner despite his elite play-speed. He knows how to attack DB’s to create separation naturally and can win from multiple spots.pic.twitter.com/oTgTzxFz5z— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) January 19, 2021
Waddle’s suddenness as a route runner makes him extremely dangerous in the short passing game and his vision as a ball carrier make him a threat to score from just about anywhere on the field. He has a deep route tree, strong hands and displayed his ability to catch on the move and immediately turn it into a big gain, whether it was vertically or on a slant/swing pass.
An example here of Waddle’s ability to create. WR that can play at all spots but certainly most dangerous when the balls in hands quickly. Breakaway speed that’s tough to bring down in the open field.— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) January 19, 2021
Overall, Waddle is oozing with potential and hasn’t even reached what he is capable of. If the Patriots have the opportunity to select Waddle at pick No. 15, it’d be a great way to start what will be an enormously important 2021 draft for the organization.
Weaknesses: When you watch Waddle play, there’s very little that he struggled with against college competition. Obviously, the biggest concern for him will be if he can reach the top speed that he played with following a gruesome ankle injury back in October.
One thing he will need to work on is his ability to consistently prove himself against NFL-level cornerbacks. He rarely saw press coverage at Alabama due to his game-breaking speed. His release is solid, but physicality and polishing his technique at the line of scrimmage will be something he will have to work on to completely round out his game and be a consistent threat in all phases of the game.
What would be his role? Waddle was used as a chess piece at Alabama, spending time in the slot, on the outside and sometimes even coming out of the backfield. He has the speed and ability to create natural separation to play outside, but can really excel out of the slot with his polished route running and ability to find the soft defensive spots in all types of coverages. Waddle projects as a slot to start off his NFL career but can certainly compete on the outside for a Patriots team that got almost nothing out of its X and Z receivers during the 2020 season.
What is his special teams value? Some of Waddle’s best plays on tape came as a kickoff and punt returner. He’s a true game-changer with his home-run speed and vision as a ball carrier. Waddle racked up 733 return yards on 38 attempts and two touchdowns over his three-year career at Alabama. He provides a ton of versatility in his game and would automatically become the Patriots’ most dynamic playmaker the minute he steps in the building — no matter if on offense or in the kicking game.
Why the Patriots? The Patriots have gotten next to nothing out of the wide receiver position for the last two years now. Every receiver on their depth chart is slotted a spot higher than where they should be because the team lacks that elite talent at the top of the depth chart — a spot you ideally would want N’Keal Harry to fill, but he has yet to live up to his first-round potential two years into his career.
Patriots lacked big play ability from their wideouts the last few years. The addition of Waddle instantly changes that. So crisp in and out of his breaks and immediately becomes a threat with the ball in his hands. pic.twitter.com/gVRe0uWwNy— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) January 19, 2021
Verdict: We have seen Bill Belichick draft skill positions early on over the last few years and Jaylen Waddle — who most likely would have led Alabama in catches and yards last season if it wasn’t for his ankle injury — would be a slam dunk pick at No. 15. Coming into the year, Waddle was a lock of a top-10 pick, so the Patriots would be getting tremendous value and upside at a position of major need if they choose to pick him in the middle of Round One.