The Spotlight Series
A Footballguys Spotlight is an in-depth look at a player. His plusses and minuses are examined, and we give you our bottom-line stance on his 2022 prospects. If a player listed below doesn't yet have a link, don't worry. It's coming soon.
In Week 1 against the New England Patriots, Jaylen Waddle ran a fade route out of what would become his home in the slot. Tua Tagovailoa hit him 25 yards downfield, and Waddle displayed his unique body control, twisting behind the defender to make a challenging contested catch look simple. He caught three other balls in that Week 1 matchup; he had just nine yards before the catch between the three. No one knew it, but that proved to be a microcosm of Waddle's rookie year usage: condensed but with flashes of the tremendous downfield ball skills that made Waddle so appealing as a prospect. There are plenty of ways to explain the usage, most of which center on former head coach Brian Flores' lack of belief in Tagovailoa. But Flores is no longer there, and the new coaching staff has expressed confidence in the third-year quarterback. Jaylen Waddle's role could look a lot different, but fantasy managers have drafted him in a way that reflects the previous usage. His ADP of WR16 has him teetering on the line of being an upside WR1 and safe-floor WR2, and there's plenty of evidence that suggests this range is proper. Plenty has changed in Miami this offseason, from Tyreek Hill's arrival to a vastly different offensive scheme. Waddle may simultaneously benefit and feel a negative impact, making him one of the more unique wide receiver selections at current ADP.
The 2021 Miami Dolphins passing offense was lackluster, at best. They finished 22nd in points per game, 25th in yards per game, 28th in yards per pass attempt, and 20th in passing touchdowns per game. While it's not the only reason the offense struggled, the unwillingness to utilize Waddle as a field-stretcher contributed. Waddle averaged just 9.8 yards per reception, ranking him 10th on the team, behind running back Duke Johnson Jr and tied with running back Salvon Ahmed. Waddle's 5.5 yards before catch per reception ranked 100th in the NFL behind guys like Jarvis Landry, Hunter Renfrow, and Diontae Johnson. Good offenses get the ball in the best player's hands, but Waddle wasn't drafted inside the top ten to become a full-time slot wide receiver. His 21.1 yards per reception during his final year at Alabama ranked 2nd among players with at least 25 receptions. His career yards per reception clip was 18.9. Waddle's best film came on downfield routes, utilizing the body control mentioned above to separate himself from other historical prospects with his size-speed combination. No 2021 rookie receiver that saw meaningful snaps had their on-field usage altered like Waddle.
|Player||College Y/R||Rookie Y/R||Difference|
|Amon-Ra St. Brown||12.8||10.1||2.7|
Fantasy managers may ask why the Dolphins would change Waddle's usage. He finished 8th in the NFL in catch percentage and, despite an average depth of target of 7.1 (which ranked 133rd), posted 1,015 yards. Replacing Brian Flores is Mike McDaniel, the former offensive coordinator for the 49ers. Both Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk saw targets further downfield in 2021, despite Samuel taking snaps as a running back. The Dolphins likely won't incorporate everything from the 49ers' 2021 scheme, but they will transition to a wide zone rushing attack. A wide zone scheme often utilizes the play-action pass more effectively, moving the pocket and getting quarterbacks moving on rollouts. That allows for routes to develop downfield; the Dolphins now have two of the best deep ball receivers in the NFL with Waddle and Tyreek Hill. Even when removing the need to fill the Samuel and Aiyuk roles, the system will inherently change Waddle's usage. But is that a positive thing for fantasy?
Pushing Waddle downfield more will likely decrease his per-game reception volume. He averaged 6.5 receptions per game, ranking top ten in the league and mainly becoming the source of his fantasy success.
|Player||FPTS||% of FPTS from REC||% of FPTS from YDS||% of FPTS from TDs|
Of the top ten reception leaders in the league, Waddle relied most heavily on receptions for fantasy success. A decrease in volume could impact his success for fantasy; likewise, the amount with which his yardage increases will significantly affect his end-of-year finish.
The Tyreek Hill Effect
The Dolphins swiftly traded for Tyreek Hill when the Chiefs made it known that he was available. While that move will improve the offense drastically, no move this offseason shows the potential of having a higher impact on a team's No. 1 receiver like this one. Jaylen Waddle commanded a 23.4% target share in 2021. That's a good mark for a rookie. But Tyreek Hill's 25.0% target share and similar usage present an interesting dilemma that could go in a flurry of ways. Many think of Tyreek Hill as strictly a deep threat because of the association with speed, but Hill operated closer to the line of scrimmage in 2021. His aDOT of 10.4 ranked 69th in the league, and his yards before catch per reception clip of 7.2 was 74th. Both marks were higher than Waddle, but the Chiefs pushed the ball vertically more than the Dolphins in 2021. With two wideouts known for their speed and ability to win the ball downfield and similarities that drew Waddle comparisons to Hill during his pre-draft process, deciphering who will lead the team in targets is difficult.
The Dolphins added Cedrick Wilson and retained Mike Gesicki on the franchise tag, but the offense will likely run through its receivers. Even still, only two teams had two wide receivers reach at least a 20% target share.
|Team||WR1||Target Share||WR2||Target Share|
|CIN||Ja'Marr Chase||23.7%||Tee Higgins||20.4%|
|SEA||DK Metcalf||27.2%||Tyler Lockett||22.60%|
Hill and Waddle are talented enough to join this shortlist, but a split that mirrors the San Francisco duo seems more likely. Samuel received a 24.3% share, with Aiyuk receiving a 16.9% share. Hill received a large contract when he arrived in Miami, and while contracts don't guarantee targets, his salary says he's the No. 1 receiver. However, Waddle and Tagovailoa have history, which could give Waddle the nod. The upside of the latter situation coming to fruition makes Waddle an upside selection at WR16. The downside of the former would almost certainly relegate Waddle to weekly finishes outside the top twelve.
Stats and Projections
Jaylen Waddle possesses immense upside. The new offensive scheme should free him to assume a role more in line with his skill set, and the staff's belief in the quarterback should allow the offense to capitalize on that. But Tyreek Hill and the potential for less volume create a downside that could be costly in drafts. Waddle is appropriately valued when considering both sides of the spectrum. Still, each fantasy manager will need to assess their risk threshold to determine if he's a better selection than the surrounding players in 2022 drafts.
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