Forget the Super Bowl; the only SB we recognize here is the Senior Bowl. It’s NFL Draft season, baby, and Mel Kiper issuing his first 2021 NFL mock draft on ESPN+ confirms as much.
Kiper’s cohort, Todd McShay, previously had a very unrealistic pick for the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 6 overall. This one from Kiper is at least more in the realm of possibility:
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Eagles had a disastrous 4-11-1 season, with quarterback Carson Wentz regressing and getting benched for rookie second-rounder Jalen Hurts. And yes, Wentz was not very good, but his receivers didn’t exactly give him much help. The Eagles got only 20 total catches from veterans Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson due to injuries, and 2019 second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside barely got on the field. So even though Philadelphia drafted Jalen Reagor in Round 1 a year ago, I still see this as a hole in the offense. Waddle, one of the fastest prospects in this draft, could be the go-to target in new coach Nick Sirianni’s offense. He was one of college football’s most electric receivers over the past three seasons, even if he was overshadowed at times by teammates Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy and DeVonta Smith. His ceiling at the next level is as a No. 1 pass-catcher.
It should be noted that Waddle is the third wide receiver off the board in this simulation. Kiper has DeVonta Smith going to the New York Jets at No. 2 (!) and Ja’Marr Chase coming off the board to the Miami Dolphins at No. 3. Not exactly an ideal scenario for Philly fans.
Then again, there’s some thought that Waddle belongs in the WR1 discussion.
He doesn’t boast the elite production that Smith and Chase have posted. But Waddle sure is a big-play threat, logging 18.9 yards per reception. That’s higher than Smith’s mark of 16.9. Waddle is also a weapon as a returner with 38 punts returned for two touchdowns and a 19.3 average. There’s reason to be intrigued by Waddle’s pure speed and athletic ability.
The Eagles can’t fall into the trap of becoming too enamored with how fast a guy is, though. Such an emphasis on “fit” contributed to them taking Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson last year. Would be nice to see them more focused on if a player is actually really good or not.
If Smith and Chase are off the board, Waddle could reasonably be in play at No. 6. Daniel Jeremiah has him ranked as his No. 8 overall prospect:
Waddle is a slightly undersized receiver with extraordinary speed and playmaking ability. He has the ability to line up inside or outside. His acceleration in his release is elite. He destroys the cushions he receives from defenders in a hiccup and can find a second and third gear once the ball is in the air. He’s at his best on runaway routes, but he flashes the ability to efficiently gear down and work back downhill. I thought his hands were improved this fall (see: crazy catch versus Missouri in the season opener). He’s one of the most talented kickoff and punt returners (just watch the tape of his 2019 performance against Auburn) to enter the NFL over the last decade. Overall, Waddle isn’t quite as strong as Tyreek Hill, but he’s capable of having the same impact in the NFL.
Some will argue Waddle’s skill-set is redundant with what Reagor offers but the feeling here is the Eagles shouldn’t be relying on the latter as a sure thing. This isn’t to say the Eagles need to give up all hope for their 2020 first-round pick. At the same time, they can’t merely bank on him becoming a good player and passing on Waddle with that hope in mind.
The hope here is that the Eagles don’t have to think about drafting Waddle because either Smith or Chase will be available to them. But there’s no guarantee they both make it to Philly’s pick.
Grade Mel Kiper’s mock draft pick (Jaylen Waddle at No. 6) for the Eagles
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