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Why the Detroit Lions should draft Jaylen Waddle

Making the case for the Lions to draft Jaylen Waddle.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Alabama The Tuscaloosa News-USA TODAY Sports

Today, we’re kicking off a multi-part series in which one of our writers makes the case for the Detroit Lions drafting one of each of the top talents in the 2021 NFL Draft. The purpose is to examine the fit each of these players have in Detroit and profile the talent prior to next week’s draft.

We kick off the series with Mike Payton explaining why he thinks Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle is the perfect pick for Detroit.

It’s almost here. The NFL Draft is next week ,and Lions fans will finally have some long unanswered questions answered. Of all the questions out there, “what are the Lions going to do in the first round?” is obviously the biggest. For the next 10 days everyone at Pride of Detroit will be making the case for who they think the Lions should be picking in the first round. For me, it’s all about the receiving game. And nobody fits the Lions better than Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. Here’s why.

Allow me to elaborate. The Lions’ previous group of receivers was pretty talented. Both Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay were capable of making incredible catches. However, what they were not talented at was getting separation from corners. This affected what the Lions were able to do with their offense. With those guys gone, speed and athleticism has become the name of the game in Detroit.

Since becoming the Lions, general manager Brad Holmes has built a receiving corps that you wouldn’t want get in a foot race with. Breshad Perriman’s official 40-yard dash time was 4.25. There’s always been the word on the street about the scout that clocked him in at 4.19. Couple that with his 18.2 yards per reception that he had last year and you can see what the Lions are looking to do.

He’s not alone, either. Tyrell Williams also has the same abilities. His 16.5 yards per reception is second among receivers with at least 125 career receptions. And there’s Kalif Raymond, whose speed has kept him in the NFL despite struggling to find a team to stick with.

With all that in mind, it’s clear speed is the name of the game in Detroit, but the big issue here is that none of these guys are top receiver material. There’s enough here to believe they can be a fine supporting cast to a top-tier receiver. Enter Jaylen Waddle.

How fast is Waddle? Well it’s hard to really show that based on 40 times since Waddle did not run the 40-yard dash during the pre-draft workouts. But there is the time he lost by a step to former teammate Henry Ruggs in a foot race. Ruggs ran a 4.27 in the 40-yard dash last February and when you watch the video, you really can’t tell who won or lost.

Does that work for you? No? How about this? Jaylen Waddle averaged 44.53 yards per touchdown during his time in Alabama. That means he was catching the ball and out running everyone on his way to the end zone. He averaged 21.1 yards per catch last season and 142.3 career passer rating on deep 20+ yard targets is first among all receivers in the class. Imagine an even faster Golden Tate and Tyreek Hill had a child. It’s just YAC all day long.

You want more? I got more. Pro Football Focus put out their grades for each receiver last week, and while everyone’s dream pick Kyle Pitts was number one with a 92.9, Waddle was not too far behind with a grade of 91.9, third among all receivers in the 2021 class.

It’s not all about speed, though. Waddle has experience all over the field. He can play outside, inside and even out of the backfield. He can returns kicks, too. While he’s small, Pro Football Network said this about his abilities:

“Containing consistent hands, he also has a wide catch radius that enables him to attack the ball at its apex when entering his target range. A player that can be used as an ultimate decoy with various types of motions, he forces defenses to always account for where he is on the field no matter where he aligns.”

Not only can the guy play the game, he’s perfect for what the game is becoming right now: It’s all about explosive plays these days, and that was Waddle’s specialty at Alabama. If you have worries about Jared Goff at quarterback, a guy like Waddle can help pick up the slack by not forcing Goff to have to throw deep all that often, and he keeps defenses honest.

Now there are some concerns to address. Jaylen Waddle doesn’t have the most experience out there. He’s shared the field with not only the aforementioned Henry Ruggs, but also Heisman trophy winner DeVonta Smith and 2020 first-round pick Jerry Jeudy. These guys took the bulk of the targets during Waddle’s time at Alabama, which means Waddle never got the eye-popping stats that his teammates had. But he was on his way to having a blowout season before suffering a serious ankle injury in October.

That bad ankle injury kept him sidelined during most of the 2020 season, and speaks to a larger question about his durability in the NFL due to his less-than-ideal size. The good news is that Waddle played in the 2021 National Championship game. The bad news is that he was not quite ready to come back yet, and he only touched the ball once: a jet sweep he took for 15 yards. But wait, there’s more good news.

The Lions have a chance to add a solid player that can be a very big part of their offense with the seventh pick. Jaylen Waddle should be that player.