Prospect Preview: Jaylen Waddle

Position: WRWeight: 182
College: AlabamaAge: 22
Height: 5′ 10″247 Rating: 4 Stars (0.9791)

By Nate Christian (@NateNFL)

The Rundown:

Coming into the 2020 college football season, Jaylen Waddle was a somewhat popular pick for the classes’ top receiver. In his first four games of the season, Waddle amassed 557 yards and 4 touchdowns with only 25 catches. At an incredible average of 21.1 yards per catch, it was an incredible start to the season and Waddle was the most exciting player in the country. In his 5th game of the season, he went down with a severe ankle injury early in the first quarter and exited the game, looking like his season had prematurely ended. He showed incredible progression in his training and was able to play in the National Championship game (although looking a little hobbled by his injury). An incredible feat just to get back onto the field, Waddle proved to a lot of teams that day that he was a true competitor, ready for the NFL stage.

College Production:

It’s often that we hear fast and explosive players likened to Tyreek Hill ($15,850,500), but it’s not often a player actually deserves that comparison. Waddle may need to add a couple more pounds of muscle to show the same strength that Hill has, but his speed and overall ability to take it to the house are reminiscent. His Junior season stats were impressive, but Waddle has made an impact since he was a true freshman. In 2018 Waddle compiled 45 receptions, 848 yards, and 7 touchdowns. This on the same team as older teammates, Jerry Jeudy ($3,452,949), Henry Ruggs ($3,789,006), and DeVonta Smith. His ability to step into the top program in the nation and immediately compete on the field is incredible and speaks to his work ethic and athletic talent.

Strengths:

  • Lightning Speed
    • There’s a video out on Twitter, from last year, showing Waddle essentially tying Henry Ruggs ($3,789,006) in a 50-yard dash. Ruggs showed up at the 2020 NFL Combine later that year and posted a 4.27 second performance. One of the fastest attempts ever recorded, Waddle is likely to bring that again this year. Unfortunately, with no NFL Combine we may never really know how he’d stack up against Ruggs, John Ross, and Chris Johnson.
  • Offensive Weapon
    • Waddle isn’t just capable of being a team’s top wideout, but he also has the ability to be a playmaker in the return game as well as on the ground (whether out of the backfield or on sweeps). He’s a dream come true for a creative offensive coordinator, but independently talented enough to fit in nearly any offensive scheme. Any team that drafts Waddle isn’t just getting a deep threat, they’re getting a weapon to score touchdowns.
  • Eating Up Green Grass
    • It’s been said many times already in this article that Waddle has the special edge to his game, the ability to score on any play, but as a wide receiver he excels in getting into space (with or without the ball). Without the ball he’s able to speed past cornerbacks, zoom through zone coverage, and make himself an open target for the quarterback. Once the ball is in his hands, he has great vision to find running lanes and can make the first defender miss on his way to pay dirt.

Weaknesses:

  • Not Prototypical “Alpha” Size
    • At 5’ 10” and 182 pounds, he about mirrors Tyreek Hill’s ($15,850,500) measurables. And the reason that’s who I compare him to is because that’s the same role he can play for a team. Hill might not be a “big” receiver, but he still is the WR1 for his team and one of the main offensive outlets. I predict Waddle can be used in a similar fashion and with a team willing to commit to him, I wouldn’t expect any regret for his lack of height.
  • NFL, but not Fantasy
    • There’s a chance that Waddle ends up becoming a much better wide receiver for his NFL team than for your fantasy team. His ability to stretch the field and be used as a decoy in motion could open up space and time for other players on the offense and may be much more valuable to a team than getting his stats some padding. I think most speedsters can have this issue, where they are on the field but don’t make a consistent impact due to the nature of their role in the offense. Waddle brings a lot more to a team than just speed, but this is always something to keep in mind.
  • Dak Prescott ($$$)
    • No, Waddle isn’t going to end up in Jerry World, but the ankle injury he suffered is quite similar to Prescott’s. Teams will be spending as much time as possible weighing the pros and cons of Waddle’s ankle injury and if there is anything more to it. A decision that could prove quite costly if things go south for Waddle, he might be pushed down some teams’ boards depending on what their doctors say.

Things to Watch:

With his continued rehab it will be really interesting to see how he feels at the Alabama Pro Day. With every millisecond counting on some the drills, Waddle will want to be at full health before he starts giving NFL teams a number to study. If Waddle is fully healthy, he’s going to blow up the underwear Olympic activities, but if he’s not 100% I wouldn’t expect him to participate in much. Waddle is constantly talked about as one of the top receivers, but not quite in the top 2 or 3 of the class, I think as the NFL Draft gets closer Waddle will become more and more popular as media outlets realize that NFL teams are interested early. We’ve seen enough teams “ooh” and “ahh” over many other speedsters in the draft.

Projected Round/Contract:  

Without the injury this season, Waddle would have been a lock for the middle of the first round. While the injury may scare a couple teams off, Waddle was able to get back on the field and show he’s made progress in recovery. If teams aren’t worried about the long-term repercussions of the ankle injury, then I’d expect Waddle to still find himself in the early/middle slots of the 1st round. In the scenario that Waddle falls into Day 2, one lucky team would be getting a steal. If drafted in the 1st I would expect Waddle contract to look similar to CeeDee Lamb’s ($3,184,094). Lamb signed a 4-year deal (with 5th year option) worth $14,010,012, counting for $2,547,275 in his rookie year.

Team Fits:  

Perhaps the most popular fit in mock drafts is currently the New York Giants, a team that has a lot of young offensive players but has been lacking high-quality receiver play. Sterling Shepherd ($9,000,000) is good but struggles to stay on the field, Darius Slayton ($908,497) had a sophomore slump, and Golden Tate ($10,852,942) has been in and out of the doghouse all season. The Giants, if willing to give Daniel Jones ($7,189,288) one more year to prove himself a franchise quarterback, could do worse than selecting Waddle to give the offense an extra spark.

A second team that could end up selecting Waddle is the Detroit Lions, the now Matthew Stafford ($20,000,000)-less Detroit Lions. With Jared Goff ($27,825,000) coming into Detroit, and Matthew Stafford ($20,000,000) leaving to LA, I don’t expect Kenny Golladay to re-sign with the Lions. That leaves a huge gap on the depth chart as Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola are both moving on as well. Insert Jaylen Waddle and let him take over that offense an either provide a outlet for Goff ($27,825,000) or a safety blanket for the next quarterback in Honolulu Blue.

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Prospect Preview: Najee Harris

Position: RBWeight: 230
College: AlabamaAge: 22
Height: 6′ 2″247 Rating: 5 Stars (0.9984)

By Nate Christian (@NateNFL)

The Rundown:

Coming into the 2020 season, most draftniks were caught between Travis Etienne and Najee Harris for the best running back in the class. By the end of the 2020 season, Harris has distanced himself enough from Etienne to be the consensus top runner. Eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft, Harris decided to go back to Alabama for one more shot at a National Championship, and it worked out. Not only did he win the 2020 National Championship, but he was also able to boost his draft stock enough to now be considered a possible first rounder, rather than the likely third rounder he would have been last year.

College Production:

Harris finishes his Alabama career as the Crimson Tide’s all-time career touchdown leader, with 57 (46 rushing, 11 receiving), and his 3,843 career rushing yards place him at the top of the school’s history as well. His senior year production was quite impressive as he rushed for nearly 1,500 yards, at 5.8 yards per carry, while scoring 26 touchdowns on the ground. He showed off his ability to be more than just a runner though with 43 receptions for 425 yards and 4 touchdowns. With 30 total touchdowns in his final season, Harris cemented himself as a playmaker ready for the next level.

Strengths:

  • Great Runner
    • It’s hard to rack up 26 touchdowns on the ground without being a great pure runner. Harris has great vision and patience behind the line of scrimmage, and that combined with the Alabama offensive line, meant constant positive gains. While he’s not likely to have such a dominate OL in the pros, Harris’ ability to see gaps develop and dictate linebackers, gives him the edge to quickly transition to the next level.
  • Bulldozer
    • Harris has an impressive highlight reel, but not many of them are long runs with him leaving defenders in the dust. That’s not his game. Most of them are him stiff arming, hurdling, and trucking his way down the field in a methodical bulldozer kinda way. Nearly impossible to bring down at first contact, Harris is going to sit atop the list of Yards after Contact week-in and week-out.
  • NFL-Ready Size
    • There’s really no way to complain about 6’ 2” and 230 pounds. And while he’s not a burner out there, Harris shows off plenty of burst and athleticism to go along with his incredible size. Some players have to gain some more weight to their frame to prepare for the NFL grind, but Harris is going to be just fine and will likely make his opponents consider eating a couple extra cheeseburgers before their matchup.

Weaknesses:

  • Alabama Senior-itis
    • While I wouldn’t call Harris a “generational prospect” (that gets thrown around all to easily, he’s pretty darn close. There aren’t really too many weaknesses that he shows on tape, and receiving concerns have been settled in 2020 and he’s shown up on every stage. The biggest question mark surrounding Harris is what will he look like without Alabama’s talent? Recent Alabama running backs have been just fine, so I don’t think this will be too much of an issue.

Things to Watch:

In a slight surprise, Harris accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Without a formal NFL Combine though it makes sense. Harris wants to get in front of scouts as much as possible and show teams that he’s worth a 1st round selection this year. He will want to show off that he can still dominate outside of the Alabama offense. This year’s Senior Bowl should be one of the most exciting, and Harris will be in the spotlight.

Projected Round/Contract:  

When it comes to projecting NFL Draft capital, running backs are always hard to predict. Harris could go as early as the late-teens or fall as far as the second round, simply because running backs don’t get drafted as high as they used to. But to at least give you a sense of what Harris’ contract could look like we’ll use Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s ($2,705,393) contract. That contract was signed for $10,821,570 over 4 years, and of course as 1st round selection would add in the 5th year option for a team to use. But will he go in the first round? Let’s look at some teams that could really use him.

Team Fits:  

My preferred dream landing spot? The Pittsburgh Steelers at pick 24. Now coming from a Baltimore Ravens fan that hurts to say, but as far as a product on the field and in fantasy, you couldn’t ask for much better. James Conner is a free agent and the Steelers have made no attempt to re-sign him, and Benny Snell ($805,517) and Anthony McFarland ($1,004,357) have done nothing to prove that they could lead a playoff team on the ground. The Steelers offense became one-dimensional this season as they struggled to establish the run.

Yes, the offensive line was a factor in that, but also Conner has struggled to stay healthy and isn’t a difference maker when less than 100%. Harris fits this scheme so well, a bigger back who can be used as a power runner, but also hit outside zone and catch the ball out of the backfield. This match could give Big Ben Roethlisberger ($41,250,000) his championship window for another year or two.

Trying to find other landing spots pre-free agency can be difficult as running back is such an easy position to plug-and-play, but another spot for Najee Harris that I quite like is the Buffalo Bills. Yes I know they drafted Zack Moss ($1,048,255) last year, and Devin Singletary ($1,108,956) the year before that, but in the AFC Championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs they were rolling out T.J. Yeldon (a free agent in 2021).

That is unacceptable for a team with Super Bowl hopes. The Bills have a pretty strong team all-around and grabbing the best running back in the class would help them go ahead and have the position set for the future. Harris can fit into just about any offense and make it better, and the Bills would be more than lucky to have him.

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Prospect Preview: DeVonta Smith

Position: WRWeight: 175
College: AlabamaAge: 22
Height: 6′ 1″247 Rating: 4 Stars (0.9717)

By Nate Christian (@NateNFL)

The Rundown:

You most likely already know this name, after all he did become a college football star in 2020, but what does his transition into the NFL look like? Well, depends on who you ask. The film-grinders will tell you the Smith is one of the best receivers in the class and somebody who always impresses. Analytical minds might say that he had a late breakout age (he didn’t produce great numbers until his senior year) or maybe that he’s not worth a high pick because he’s two years older than Ja’Marr Chase. Everyone is right. So, this makes his prospect profile a hard one to comb through. Winning the Heisman did not make Smith a top wide receiver, but his all-around skillset combined with his high-level production are what puts him at the top.

College Production:

It started with a Jaylen Waddle injury and ended with a Heisman. Not to disrespect Smith, who was a top receiver coming into 2020, but Waddle was the receiver everybody wanted to see this year. Once Waddle suffered a (nearly) season-ending ankle injury, Smith stepped up into the WR1 role at Alabama and thrived. One his way to winning the National Championship Smith recorded, 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 25 total touchdowns. He set the SEC career receiving touchdown record (46), passing Amari Cooper (31) early in the season. Smith’s season (and career) will go down in college football history as one of the best.

Strengths:

  • Crisp Route Running
    • Considered one of the best route runners in the draft coming into the season, Smith improved upon an already incredible ability and spent the majority of the season wide open. His cuts are smooth and he doesn’t seem to lose any momentum out of his breaks. He understands the bigger picture and therefore has great pacing in his routes to setup defenders based on route combinations. They should start calling him Smoothie King because he’s constantly putting defenders in the blender (yeah, I know).
  • Instant Release
    • While Smith is used all over the field, and oftentimes in motion, his ability to line up outside against the other team’s top cornerback is perhaps one of his greatest traits. Within seconds he’s usually past his defender already stacking within 10 yards. When the ball is snapped the defender has to be ready for anything, and with Smith’s wide array of moves and routes he’s almost unstoppable. It doesn’t matter if it’s an outside or inside release, Smith usually wins.
  • Plenty of Athleticism
    • It’s hard to play at the level Smith has for so long without some great athletic ability. His ability to run past the defense and find open grass behind the safeties was nearly unmatched this season, and you can see on the screens and punt returns that he’s a burner and can make people miss. The stop/start ability is there, and defenders struggle to get their hands on and tackle the aptly-named “Slim Reaper”.

Weaknesses:

  • Frame
    • “The Slim Reaper”. It’s a good nickname, but it also points out one of Smith’s few “weaknesses”. His listed playing weight at Alabama is 175 pounds, that’s a bit concerning for the longevity of his pro career, as players at that size don’t have a great history or production or health. But there’s still time until official weigh-ins. While he’s not expected to come in at 200 pounds at any point, gaining a bit of weight would silence a lot of his critics (right or wrong).
  • Breakout Age
    • Breakout Age (BOA) is a great stat, basically measuring how early a player started showing off elite production at the college level. Naturally the earlier the better. And it checked out, players statistically have a better chance of being a top fantasy receiver the lower their BOA. Smith’s breakout age comes out to 20.8, which isn’t terrible, but at the 42nd percentile it surely isn’t lighting up the board. This doesn’t worry me too much considering the competition within the team for touches at Alabama over the past couple years.
  • Overhyped?
    • The first receiver to win the Heisman since 1991. It’s impressive, but that doesn’t really equate to NFL success. Smith is a great prospect and an even better college football player, but the Heisman technically shouldn’t affect his player profile, but he’s become an icon. We’ve seen plenty of players get overhyped in the media and setup to fail with lofty expectations. I’m hoping we don’t see this with Smith, I’m rooting for the kid, but it is certainly something to take into account when projecting his NFL career.

Things to Watch:

Everyone around the league will be keeping their eyes peeled on the scale when Smith finally weighs in. If he comes out at his college listed weight of 175, some teams may push him down the board, scared of the lack of thickness. But if Smith can weigh in around 185 pounds, may doubts will be alleviated, as this puts him in a whole new level of comparisons. Smith needs to be shooting for 185, that’s the number that Marvin Harrison played at and he worked out okay. Outside of this factor, Smith will likely test well and will go into the NFL draft as likely one the of first receivers to be drafted.

Projected Round/Contract:  

Smith’s contract has a bit of range throughout the beginnings of the first round. While some have marked him as high as three overall (to the Miami Dolphins), he’s been seen as low as 18 overall (again to the Miami Dolphins). So it seems the consensus is that the Dolphins don’t pass on Smith twice. If we project him to be projected somewhere in the middle of that range, then his contract would likely mimic the deal that Henry Ruggs ($4,167,907) signed this past summer. That deal would give him 4-years at a total of around $16,671,626, though a bit higher of a draft position could see this number climb to around $20,000,000 total.

Team Fits:  

Well, I guess the obvious first fit is the Miami Dolphins. Pairing DeVonta Smith with his college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa ($7,568,860) just seems too exciting. We saw this last year with draftniks mocking CeeDee Lamb ($3,502,503) to the Arizona Cardinals to pair backup with Kyler Murray ($8,789,661).  The fit seems good, Smith would bring a different dynamic to the current offense which boasts two big receivers on the outside in Devante Parker ($7,625,000) and Preston Williams ($588,333). Smith has the ability to be used all over the field and would be a great (and familiar) weapon for whichever quarterback starts the 2021 season in Miami.

Another common landing spot for Smith is the Philadelphia Eagles. While they just spent a 1st round pick on receiver Jalen Reagor ($3,317,669) in the 2020 NFL Draft, the group of wideouts in Philly could still use help. At sixth pick it may be a luxury for a team that needs so much help along the offensive line, but whichever quarterback the Eagles decide to champion into the 2021 season, they need more weapons. Reagor ($3,317,669) and Smith would create a great 1-2 punch of young receivers to build around.

Lastly, I’ll have to mention a landing spot that I don’t think has been brought up a single time… the Arizona Cardinals. This team already has their WR1 in DeAndre Hopkins ($27,250,000) but there are some questions after that. Christian Kirk ($1,473,717) has failed to consistently impress and will be entering the last year of his rookie contract. There’s also Larry Fitzgerald ($11,500,000) who is likely mulling over retirement. With Kingsbury relying on a fast attack spread offense, Smith would be an incredible fit with all the motion and screens the Cardinals would be able to implement. The Cardinals don’t necessarily need a wideout in the first round, but if Smith is still around at pick 16, I would expect the front office to think long and hard about the future of their current receiver corp.

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