Tape Grinders Vs. Analytic Nerds
In a game about a game that, to its core, is about statistics, it’s always been funny that people will argue what is more beneficial; film study or analytical breakdown. To say one is better than the others to the detriment of ignoring what they each have to offer holds back many who play fantasy football. When it comes to college prospects especially, you especially hear this debate come up every offseason.
Jaylen Waddle was the rare breed that both parties did not have the amount of data or film to make a 100% judgment call that you can be confident in. At the end of the day, you likely got lucky if you invested in him in your rookie drafts, especially if you took him in a startup dynasty league. I count myself as one of the fortunate ones that trusted the man that would soon have the most adorable TD celebration in the league, “The Waddle.” It pays to be good in this game, but sometimes luck can pay off just as much, if not more.
To Much ‘Bama In Me
A 4-star recruit out of Episcopal High School from Bellaire, Texas, Waddle committed to Alabama. Led by Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, he joined possibly the most talented receiver group in college football history. Alongside Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs IV, and DeVonta Smith, these receivers would strike fear into all opposing defense.
On 16 returns, Waddle amassed 233 yards and a touchdown. His speed and quick-twitch ability couldn’t be missed by anybody that tuned in Saturdays for a Crimson Tide game. With comparisons to Tyreek Hill, Jaylen’s elite-level speed was getting the attention of many early on. Although many doubted this praise at the time, the crazy part would be that this wasn’t even the worst comp. Waddle had his best statistical season as a freshman as a pure receiver. Totalling 45 receptions for 848 yards and seven touchdowns, Waddle made his presence known as one of the top talents in college football.
Entering the 2019 season, Alabama was the favorite to win the National Championship. This was nothing new for head coach Nick Saban and his team. Alabama had its sights set on becoming Tuscaloosa legends. Lofty expectations for most; this was simply the standard for the best team in college football. Their consistent dominance has them viewed by many as the big villains of the NCAA.
It turns out that Joe Burrow had his suit tailored, his cape ironed, and he was the superhero everyone needed. LSU and the Tigers had a date with greatness, and greatness had their eyes set on one team that season. In one of the best games in college football history, Joe Burrow, Coach Orgeron, and the LSU Tigers had all the counters to every attack Alabama had to offer. ‘Bama would lose this epic game and dash their National Championship hopes. The best receiving core in college football history would never win a National Championship together.
The National Championship Season
This didn’t stop Waddle from having possibly the most impressive play of the contest. He would have his facemask ripped on a punt return, altering his direction and taking his momentum in the opposite direction that the LSU punt team was heading. In my opinion, there was no better play in his college career that showed off the talent, abilities, and traits for the 5’9” receiver that weighs in at 180 lbs. His statistical totals on the season would be 33 receptions for 560 yards and six touchdowns.
Entering his junior season, Waddle would see many notable changes to the Alabama offense. Tagovailoa was replaced by Mac Jones. Also, two of their four-star wide receivers, Jeudy and Ruggs, would leave for the NFL. The receiver room would now be led by the talents of Waddle and Smith.
The start of the season had Waddle hitting the ground running. In his first four games, Waddle eclipsed 100 receiving yards in each game. Unfortunately, this electric start came to a screeching halt in Week 5 on the opening play against Tennesee. Suffering a combination of a high ankle sprain and a fracture to his right ankle, many presumed this was the last we would see of Waddle in an Alabama uniform.
Shocking almost everyone, Waddle returned in the National Championship against Ohio State. Having far from his best performance (3 receptions for 34 yards), Jaylen was more of a motivation boost for his ‘Bama teammates. Alabama would be crowned the 2021 National Champions on the backs of Jones and Heisman winner Smith. Waddle’s season totals were 28 receptions for 591 yards and four touchdowns, bringing his college career totals to 106 receptions, 1,099 yards, and 17 touchdowns.
After a season with a major injury setback, many knew that Waddle was a lock or a top draft pick in the NFL Draft. NFL teams will always seek out speed. Although he never broke out to please the “numbers nerds,” the limited eye test was plenty for some, especially if you were following Waddle’s entire college career.
South Beach, Bring the Heat
In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins selected Jaylen Waddle with the sixth overall pick. Like Will Smith once said, “Welcome to Miami.” He was the seventh Alabama wide receiver taken in the first round and the sixth to go in the Nick Saban era. It would also be the second time in NFL Draft history that two WR teammates, Waddle and Smith, were selected in the first round of the same draft. The first time came the year prior when their ‘Bama teammates, Ruggs and Jeudy, were both selected. It is improbable we ever see a wide receiver core with this much draft capital ever again.
Reuniting with his old college quarterback, Tagovailoa, Waddle was poised to have a significant role in the Miami offense at the least down the line. He would have to overcome the talents of newly signed free agent Will Fuller V and the veteran presence of Devonta Parker. This is all not to mention the tight end that lines up as a receiver more often than not, Mike Gesicki. Whether it was injuries that cleared opportunity or eventually talent you could not ignore, Waddle quickly became the key piece of this Miami offense and Tua’s go-to target.
In all but a single game, Waddle received five or more targets each game in his rookie campaign. The high number of targets would come with consistency to the point fantasy gamers began to view Waddle as an every-week starter by the midway point of the season. Totaling 140 targets as a rookie is truly telling of Waddles’s ability. This total would have him tied for 12th in the league along with Jamaar Chase and Darnell Mooney (info courtesy of teamrankings.com).
The target volume, along with his connection with QB Tugovailoa, would lead to a record-breaking rookie season. Taking down the rookie reception record previously held by Anquan Boldin, Waddle posted 104 receptions and opened the eyes of everybody that may not have noticed the crazy season he was having. Aside from a single game, Waddle never would eclipse 100 yards. Averaging 63.4 yards per game, he would amass a total of 1,015 yards on the season.
Many great players take multiple years to break the thousand-yard barrier. It was just another example of the skill we saw right before our eyes. More often than not, we see improvements on just about every statistic after a player’s rookie season. I expect this to also be true with his touchdown numbers, of which Waddle had six on the season. We are in store for plenty more “Waddle dances.”
So the real question that needs to be asked is, “How should we value Waddle in Dynasty?”. You ask ten different players of this game, and I’d bet you get opinions ranging all over the place. Some will still be skeptical of him not because of Waddle himself but for their belief in other receivers in his value range. Not this jabroni. Shooters shoot, and I’ve got the range. On the DynastyNerd DynastyGM tool, you can find my Standard Dynasty rankings. Currently, I have Waddle ranked at 14th overall (one spot behind Mark Andrews and one spot ahead of Nick Chubb), and he is my WR6 overall (one spot behind Tyreek Hill and one spot ahead of Adams).
Mind you, that is in Non-PPR. In PPR, I have Waddle ranked tenth overall (one spot behind DeAndre Swift and one spot ahead of Andrews), and he is my WR6 (one spot behind Deebo Samuel and one spot ahead of Adams). This offense has much room to improve. I believe Waddle and Tua will build off their already great connection moving forward. Creating more offense and generating more scoring plays will only raise Waddle’s fantasy production ceiling. It is improbable that this was Jaylen’s ceiling, and I expect nothing short of better seasons ahead. The thought that we may have just seen Waddle’s floor is insane.
“What would it take to acquire Waddle in your dynasty leagues” is the magic question. Luckily I’m in a small minority that value Waddle this highly at the moment, and this should be capitalized on before it’s too late. Attaining him should not break your wallet.
Examples of a few trades that, in my opinion, should get the deal done include Michael Pittman and a 2022 second, Smith and a 2023 third, or George Kittle straight up can all get the deal done with the right trade partner. Each of these deals is borderline robbery in my eyes. Now, if I was going to trade away Waddle myself, it’s going to take an arm, a leg, and odds are I’m going to want you to mow my lawn all next summer on top of that.
Whether you are a contender or rebuilding, there is always a price for any player if you’re doing your team some service. Three trade examples that would get the deal done for me include Diontae Johnson and a 2023 third, Kyle Pitts and Adam Thielen, or Mike Evans, Jacoby Meyers, and Boston Scott for Waddle. These may seem extreme to some, but I know what I’m about. I recently was offered AJ Brown for Waddle and Amon-Ra St. Brown. I couldn’t have laughed harder, and it still puts a smile on my face thinking about it. Perhaps this would get it done for some, but this was insulting to me, and truthfully I’m out on AJ Brown and think he is an easy trade away candidate due to injuries and overhyped value as a whole.
Get ‘Em Before He’s Hot
I’m not suggesting you ignore your own beliefs entirely, but take what I’m saying as an enlightened suggestion. Waddle will be near the top of all dynasty player rankings sooner than later. Getting in on a dynasty rockstar before they blow up is how you excel in this game. Waiting till they explode and make themselves known is now a way to profit and make your team better. Most dynasty gamers tread water and never improve their teams because they don’t take chances and believe in their ability to forecast future player values and only choose to value what the current market is.
I often say, “Women lie, men lie, stats don’t lie.” Trust the rookie numbers of Waddle and trust he will improve as a player moving forward. An overpay today is a hustle tomorrow. Get yourself this future Hall of Famer and reap the rewards down the line.
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