Carolina Panthers: Ranking the top 6 WRs in the 2021 NFL Draft

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) Jaylen Waddle
(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) Jaylen Waddle /
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Carolina Panthers
(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) Jaylen Waddle /

Jaylen Waddle – Alabama

  • Projected round – High-1st
  • NFL comparison – Ted Ginn Jr.
  • Projected role – Vertical slot receiver

The Good

Jaylen Waddle was an exceptional game-breaker during his tenure with the Alabama Crimson Tide, putting up ridiculous yardage numbers on limited receptions. The speedy receiver had a long of at least 45 yards in each of his four regular-season games in 2020 and never dipped below 120 total yards in any contest. A true yards after the catch master.

Waddle also showed the potential to be a gifted returner with an average of 24.4 yards per punt return and 35 per kick in 2019, registering touchdowns on both areas.

The receiver is a true turn and burner but with hands good enough to cash in on that speed. Running lots of simple vertical routes or soft crosses, using his ridiculous speed and quickness to blow by the defense. He also shows a knack for high pointing underthrown balls and coming down with them more often than not.

The Bad

Most of those highlight return plays could’ve easily been lowlights without his speed and bad angles taken by the defense. That kind of risk-taking, while highlight-worthy, tends to be a liability in the NFL when a player tries to do too much.

Route running is a bit of a concern as Waddle tends to round off his routes instead of cutting them, relying heavily on his speed to get open. That difference in speed will lessen at the next level and can be a rude awakening sometimes – which the Carolina Panthers will take into account if the prospect does fall into their laps at No. 8.

Likewise, Waddle was limited to only four regular-season games due to an ankle injury in 2020 and when he came back in the CFB Championship game he just didn’t look the same. Totaling only 34 yards and looking more like an afterthought than a top target.

If that ankle injury is hampering Waddle or reducing his speed at all, that should be a red flag for any team looking to draft him as that is the main draw of his game.

The Comparison

Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. has made a career out of blowing by defenders on vertical routes and being open downfield, but not always being able to cash in on those long bombs. Something Waddle has done consistently at the college level with the same type of speed and much stickier hands.

The Verdict

Waddle’s rare mix of speed, quickness, and hands has turned the heads of NFL scouts and draft experts around the league, and rightfully so as he is a truly gifted player with high potential. That game-breaking ability is nothing to be scoffed at. However, that ankle injury may cause his stock to drop slightly.

Whichever team picks him will get a prolific weapon out of the slot but not a true No. 1 target. In spite of that, teams aren’t made up of only one receiver and Waddle will make any team he goes to better and draw defenders away with his speed taking pressure off his teammates.