Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LLC
Wide receiver isn’t a pressing need for the Giants, but with the way this board fell, he was too good for Big Blue View to pass up. With the 11th overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, the New York Giants selected an undersized and not-terribly-productive, yet explosively athletic, wide receiver out of the SEC.
The Giants were widely expected to use the 11th overall pick on offensive tackle turned guard Zack Martin or athletic tight end Eric Ebron — with undersized defensive tackle Aaron Donald a distant and not terribly popular third choice. Instead, the Giants drafted 5’11, 193-pound wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. out of LSU at 11th overall, much to the consternation of old school Giants fans.
So why do I bring up ancient history like that? Because seven years later, the Giants find themselves in almost the same spot. Coming off of a season full of disappointing offensive play, the Giants are once again drafting at 11th overall. And they could find themselves picking between an interior offensive lineman and an explosive, yet undersized receiver from the SEC.
Depending on how the first 10 picks of the 2021 NFL Draft go, the Giants could find themselves picking between Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater and Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.
Could history repeat itself? It does here, at least a bit, with Ed Valentine’s pick of Waddle on behalf of Big Blue View.
After signing Kenny Golladay as a free agent, the Giants don’t “need” to select a wide receiver in this spot. What they really need is a player who make an impact from Day 1, whether it be as an edge rusher, starting offensive lineman, wide receiver, linebacker, tight end or whatever.
The most obvious impact player on the board is Waddle, and I don’t believe it’s overkill to draft a receiver here. If linebacker Micah Parsons or offensive lineman Rashawn Slater were on the board I might go in a different direction here, but I’m not hesitating to grab Waddle. And I’m not unhappy about it at all.
Waddle walks in the door as the second-best wide receiver on the Giants (sorry, Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton). In my eyes, he immediately makes the Giants group of pass catchers one of the best in the league.
Waddle is a game-breaker with elite speed, but he’s not just a speed guy. He route-running is more nuanced that many realize. Plus, he has elite punt, and maybe kickoff, return skills.
I see DeSean Jackson — maybe without the attitude — when I watch Waddle. I will sign up for that.
Most of Jaylen Waddle’s strengths as a receiver are apparent on tape — in fact, they leap right off the field — but he also has some other more subtle traits and skills which go into making him such a highly regarded prospect.
We’ll start with the most obvious, which is his elite, explosive athleticism. Waddle is not only fast, but he is truly explosive, able to go from a standstill to outrunning the opposing defense in a couple strides. Likewise, he has great quickness and agility, with the ability to change direction suddenly and make defenders miss in a phone booth.
That acceleration, long speed, and explosive lower body make Waddle a threat at all areas of the field. His long speed and explosiveness allow him to stretch the field vertically, forcing defenses to respect the threat of the deep pass. His quickness and agility allow him to cut sharply and uncover on quick-hitting routes like stick routes or slants, or maximize run-after-catch opportunities like on mesh concepts.
While Waddle isn’t as highly regarded as his teammate DeVonta Smith when it comes to route running, he is a deceptively savvy technician. He shows a variety of release strategies at the start of his route, both exploding off the line and using a slight stutter to disrupt defenders timing. He also does a good job of varying the tempo of his routes to change angles and disrupt timing as well. Likewise, he uses subtle misdirection with his body language and presses his routes vertically to keep cornerbacks from breaking with him quick timing routes.
Waddle was used all over Alabama’s offense, running routes from out wide as well as in the slot, motioning between alignments in the pre-snap phase, and even lining up in the backfield. That kind of versatility would give his future offensive coordinator a variety of ways to fit him into the offense or create favorable match-ups.
Waddle is undersized for an NFL receiver, but his leaping ability and willingness to extend and pluck the ball out of the air away from his frame let him expand his catch radius and play much bigger than he measures. Waddle may only be 5’10, but he plays like a much larger receiver, with the ability to high point the ball and win in contested catch situations.
And perhaps the least talked about aspect of his game is his impressive competitive toughness. Not only is Waddle aggressive at the catch point and perfectly willing to extend to make difficult catches over the middle, but he doesn’t throttle down at all when he isn’t involved in the play. He still explodes off the line and works to sell his routes on running plays, even if it only draws one defender away from the tackle box. Likewise, he is a willing blocker who steps up and engages bigger defenders with good leverage and technique. It’s those little things that can help an offense turn a modest gain into a big play — and catch the eye of coaches watching his tape.
Waddles’s weaknesses are pretty apparent as well, with his size and health concerns foremost among them.
That ankle injury was significant, and it cost him most of a year’s worth of development and there might also be concerns as to whether there was any lasting damage. But more generally, his size could present problems in the NFL. Most defensive backs he faces will likely be larger than him, and his long term durability could be in question.
His ankle injury returning the opening kickoff of Alabama’s Week 5 matchup against Tennessee should probably be considered a freak accident. However, his stature could lead to increased injury concerns as his skill set and likely usage will probably mean quite a few reps going over the middle. While there is no such thing as enough “body armor” to withstand the pounding at the NFL level, Waddle will likely be at a size advantage in most collisions at the pro level.
Teams and coaches could also have concerns as to his ability to deal with press coverage on a regular basis. Waddle flashed the ability to clear press coverage with his hands on tape, but he didn’t face it often enough to establish a clear track record. Alabama frequently played him off the line of scrimmage or hid him in stack formations, preventing defenders from getting their hands on him at the start of his route. Sitting here (and not in the Alabama meeting rooms) we can’t know whether it was an artifact of Alabama’s offense or a concession to a limitation in Waddle’s game. Their offense did make an effort to scheme free releases and separation for all of their receivers, but it is still something to be aware of with regards to Waddle. Particularly since there will be defensive backs against whom he will have to win with athleticism and technique.
Speaking of technique, there is room for improvement in Waddle’s route running. He is a fine route runner overall, but he can be prone to rounding his routes some, as well as occasionally taking a few too many steps on sharp breaks. Becoming more of a technician in his route running will only make him that much more dangerous a receiver.
Is Jaylen Waddle the perfect, ideal pick for the New York Giants at 11th overall? Probably not — for my money that would be Penei Sewell or Ja’Marr Chase — but between the Giants’ moves in free agency and how the draft board shook out here, there are a few ways the Giants could go and improve their team over the next five years.
I am a big advocate of taking “best player available” in the draft, even if it feels like a luxury pick at the time. Giants fans have seen entire position groups wiped out in short order by injury, and “luxury picks” turn into “vital pieces” in a heartbeat. The Giants made Kenny Golladay one of the highest paid receivers in the NFL (he’ll be averaging $21 million per year from 2022 to 2024), but he still only has one complete season under his belt. They are only one rolled ankle or pulled hamstring away from being right back where they were the last two seasons.
I’m also an advocate for reserving premium resources (ie: high first-round picks) for premium positions (EDGE, cornerback, offensive tackle, and wide receiver). Those positions have the highest price tag in free agency, so locking up players on rookie deals at those positions makes sense.
Waddle would give the Giants an element of explosiveness their offense has lacked for a few years now, both with his ability to blow the top off a defense and be a run-after-catch threat on underneath passes. That not only forces defenses to play smaller, faster personnel groupings, but also take defenders out of the tackle box — both of which makes Saquon Barkley’s life easier.
So while Waddle might not be perfect, and might even seem like a bit of a luxury for the Giants, he could be a valuable player and a big boost for one of the league’s most anemic offenses in 2020.
Top prospects remaining:
Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami