Jaylen Waddle hasn’t garnered as much acclaim as some of his 2021 draft classmates, but he’s been as outstandingly consistent as just about any of them.
That dependable excellence took center stage Monday night, as the Miami Dolphins wide receiver hauled in game-highs of 10 receptions and 92 yards along with the evening’s only offensive touchdown to propel the Fins past the host New Orleans Saints, 20-3.
Waddle came into Monday night with 86 catches and with his seventh catch in the first half passed the Saints’ Michael Thomas (92 receptions) for second-most by a rookie in league chronicle. Now he sits at 96 and just five away from Anquan Boldin’s all-time rookie record of 101 set in 2003 with the Arizona Cardinals.
It’s not a milestone Waddle is too concerned with, though if it comes with victories for the streaking Dolphins (8-7), who have now won seven in a row, he’s all for it.
“As far as importance, I wouldn’t say it’s like something I got my mind focused on,” Waddle said. “I’m all for it as long as it comes with some wins. It would obviously be pretty cool, cause NFL is a special league so anything in this league to have a record in is always big.”
Selected sixth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft by the Dolphins, the Alabama product has quickly become the top target of his former college teammate Tua Tagovailoa.
Waddle had seven catches for 63 yards in the first half and added three more in the second half, including a 1-yard score from Tagovailoa that built a 17-3 lead in the third quarter and essentially salted away the game against a depleted Saints squad.
On the night, Waddle ran three or more routes from three alignments (wide, slot, backfield), per Next Gen Stats. He caught a pass off a flea-flicker and he got the TD off a misdirection that was as much of a flip as anything else.
The play saw Tagovailoa take a shotgun snap from the Saints’ 1-yard line, roll left and then flip it to Waddle, who was motioning right underneath and easily scored.
“I know it was like a weird play design, but it was smooth,” Waddle said. “Liked the play call, it was a great play call,” Waddle said. “Any time you score, it’s hard to score in this league, so any time you score in this league, it’s big.”
The Dolphins are scheming him open and using him every which way they can. And it’s paying off.
Following Monday night, Waddle has 96 catches (first among rookies and tied for first in the AFC), 941 yards (third among rookies) and five touchdowns (T-third among rookies). With four consecutive games of eight or more receptions, Waddle’s on track to break Boldin’s rookie record in Week 17 against the Tennessee Titans.
Obviously the Dolphins had high hopes for Waddle considering where he was drafted. But was this kind of success prognosticated?
“I’m not a genie, so I’m not gonna say that I did foresee that in Jaylen’s future,” Tagovailoa said when asked if he saw this kind of success from Waddle so early on. “I knew that he had a lot of potential, of course, just being able to play with him at Alabama and then also the OTAs that we’ve had together and leading up into training camp, he’s done a really good job. You can just see his development within his understanding of coverages, his understanding of getting open fast against man coverage and then blitz-man, and so forth. I think he’s done a great job for us.”
The Dolphins have escaped from a 1-7 hole with seven consecutive wins to find themselves in the AFC’s seventh seed heading into Week 17, and Waddle has emerged as a crucial reason why, hauling in catch after catch during a remarkable and potentially record-breaking season.
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