With free agency slowing down, attention is now shifting to the NFL draft which begins in just over a month. For the Detroit Lions, it represents another pivotal step in their most eventful offseason in recent memory.
Sitting at pick seven and with needs up and down the roster, the Lions will be set to select an elite talent at almost any position. Today, we examine a player that could drastically improve their passing attack, coming from a program known for producing high-level receivers.
Prospect: Jaylen Waddle
2020 Statistics: 6 games played, 28 receptions, 591 yards, 4 touchdowns, 21.1 yards per reception
For the second straight year, the draft looks like a gold mine for teams looking to upgrade their receiving corps. Wideouts of all varieties are available, and Waddle figures to be one of the earliest selections come April 29th.
Few other receivers in this year’s group offer Waddle’s combination of explosive speed and dizzying twitchiness. Though those skills weren’t always maximized during his time at Alabama, his incorporation into an NFL offense could put those abilities to excellent use.
Don’t let his slight frame fool you; Waddle is a sturdy presence at all parts of the field. His game-breaking acceleration and athleticism lend themselves to any offensive style. He is also a gifted contested-catch threat and makes solid adjustments on deep throws. This combination helped him log a jaw-dropping 11 career touchdown grabs of 50 or more yards.
Though speed is his most notable trait, Waddle could be dangerous in a number of roles at the professional level. He has little trouble gaining yards after the catch on dump-offs and short passes and could even be deployed out of the backfield on jet sweeps and reverses.
Additionally, he could serve as a potent return option. He led Division I football in 2019 with 487 punt return yards before his special teams role was scaled back in 2020. Any way that you can get him on the field figures to be a plus.
Despite his impressive resume and unmistakable potential, there are some concerns. A fractured ankle last season required surgery and limited him to just six games. He was able to make a cameo appearance in Alabama’s National Title victory over Clemson but caught just three balls for 34 yards in that game. His medical evaluations will be a major factor in determining his draft position.
As with any rookie receiver, he will have to make adjustments to NFL defenses, particularly when it comes to press coverages. Not to mention, he could best be suited to a team that features a rocket-armed quarterback to complement his velocity. Those are harder to come by than one would think.
Regardless of these concerns, Waddle has all the makings of a quality NFL receiving weapon in practically any offensive system. Though new Lions quarterback Jared Goff’s limited arm strength may not be a perfect match for Waddle’s game, the Lions should still strongly contemplate selecting him with their first pick, particularly considering their lack of depth at the position. You make it work with this type of talent.