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Can NFL Draft prospect Jaylen Waddle thrive in the league at 5-foot-10?

Andrew Buller-Russ

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In the past 10 years, only five wide receivers measuring 5-foot-10 and under have been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. What does that have to do with this year’s draft class? Highly-touted Alabama wideout Jaylen Waddle has measured in at 5-foot-10.

Widely expected to go in the first round, if not the top-15 picks, could the media perception of Waddle be exaggerated? Is Waddle a candidate to slip on draft day? Or is his stature just the latest reminder that if the skills are elite, height doesn’t matter?

We take a look at the NFL careers of the five wide receivers taken in the first round since the 2011 NFL Draft.

Read More: 2021 NFL Draft: Ideal fits for top 5 wide receivers

Receivers under 5-foot-10 drafted in the first round since 2011

Jaylen Waddle compares to Marquise Brown heading into the 2021 NFL Draft
NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans

For some additional context, here are the wide receivers 5-foot-10 and under who have been selected in the first round of the draft in the past ten years.

  • Marquise Brown
  • 5-foot-9, selected 25th by Baltimore Ravens in 2019
  • 1,353 yards, 15 TDs
  • Phillip Dorsett
  • 5-foot-10, selected 29th by Indianapolis Colts in 2015
  • 1,634 yards, 11 TDs
  • Brandin Cooks
  • 5-foot-10 selected 20th by New Orleans Saints in 2014
  • 6,880 yards, 40 TDs
  • Tavon Austin
  • 5-foot-8, selected 8th by St. Louis Rams in 2013
  • 2,026 yards, 15 TDs (also had 1,340 rushing yards and 10 TDs)
  • Kendall Wright
  • 5-foot-10, selected 20th by Tennessee Titans in 2012
  • 3,858 yards, 19 TDs

Without looking at their individual stats, most NFL enthusiasts will take one glance at that list of receivers and realize it’s not pretty. While Brandin Cooks is a definite difference-maker worthy of his first-round selection, it’s hard to argue any other player was.

The jury is still out on Marquise Brown so we won’t fault him. But if you are an NFL evaluator determining whether Waddle is worthy of a top 15-20 selection, when looking at the results of the above-mentioned careers, would you take Waddle that high?

I probably wouldn’t but it all depends on what your team needs. 

If your team is sorely lacking speed at wideout or if a downfield threat would help push the offense to the next level, Waddle may be the best option. What he brings to the table as an electric returner also has to be taken into consideration.

Typically, I tend to think evaluating a prospect based on height is a cheap copout.

One of the greatest football players of all time is Barry Sanders. All his life Sanders was told he was undersized, yet the game will always miss his skillset.

Even more recently we’ve had examples of players such as Drew Brees or Steve Smith Sr. who were overlooked due to size, yet on gameday proved few competitors could outplay them.

Read More: 2021 NFL mock draft: QBs dominate top-10 picks, big trades

Is Jaylen Waddle the outlier or part of the pack?

New England Patriots draft picks: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) applauds after a Tide first down in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no reason to believe Jaylen Waddle’s skills won’t translate to the next level. His GPS speed was faster than any receiver in the country, per Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network. 

But if there are some NFL evaluators who still hold old-school beliefs that size is a huge indicator of future success, Waddle could struggle to find an early first-round fit on April 29.

Waddle dominated college football playing against top competition in the SEC for Alabama under coach Nick Saban. In the NFL, teams are always looking for game-breaking playmakers who can stretch the field. 

When draft day rolls around, you can bet a team will be enamored with the skillset Waddle has displayed and selects him to fill a big role on Sundays.

Even if some scouts are unsure of his receiving prowess translating to the next level, Waddle has the potential to be one of the better kick and punt returners in the NFL from the moment he enters the league.

Read More: 2021 NFL Draft big board: Ranking top 100 prospects

NFL wide receivers 5-foot-10 and under selected outside of first round

Tyreek Hill
Nov 3, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) during the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

While the list of first-round receivers since 2011 under 5-foot-10 doesn’t instill confidence if you doubt Waddle’s size, several other recent examples help his case.

As mentioned earlier, Steve Smith was just 5-foot-9 and carved out what should be a Hall-of-Fame career. But Waddle is not akin to Smith, who had a reputation for being a bully on the gridiron despite his diminutive size. 

Though Waddle doesn’t need to replicate Smith to become successful, he can look to other Pro Bowl receivers to draw inspiration.

T.Y. Hilton was selected in the third round in 2012 and has earned Pro Bowl honors four times with the Colts.

Even more recently, Tyler Lockett has become one of the NFL’s better receivers since being drafted in the third round in 2015, topping 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons.

Many will also point to Tyreek Hill, who slipped to the fifth round in the 2016 NFL Draft (due to off-field concerns) as a reason why Waddle can be an impact player at the next level. Both players are extremely elusive and can change the game in a flash.

Read More: 5 most underrated, huge-upside 2021 NFL Draft prospects

Best first-round fits for Jaylen Waddle in the NFL Draft

  • Detroit Lions: The Lions lost both Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay in free agency and could look to provide Jared Goff with a player capable of being elite wherever he lines up. While Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams are solid options, they’re not No. 1 receivers. Detroit currently has the seventh pick in the first round. We will see whether a wideout is on their radar on draft day.
  • New York Giants: The New York Football Giants have done a fine job of adding talent to the roster via free agency this offseason. GM Dave Gettleman could take it one step further by adding an all-out weapon at wideout with the 11th pick. Doing so would provide Daniel Jones with yet another option while allowing Saquon Barkley to not be overworked as he comes back from injury.
  • Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles need more production from their receivers. That’s nothing new. While he wouldn’t be that far off from last year’s selection of Jalen Reagor, Waddle would bring more top-notch talent to the mix. Hurts is a big fan of Waddle, perhaps the former Alabama teammates will reunite in the NFL.
  • Miami Dolphins: Adding an ideal slot receiver such as Jaylen Waddle to the mix in Miami would be a great way to add star power to a group including DeVante Parker and Will Fuller. Not only does Waddle have the speed to take the top off the defense, his best season came when Tua Tagovailoa was throwing him the ball. While taking him at six may be a bit too rich for their blood, the Dolphins do have another pick at 18. Don’t be surprised if Waddle lands in South Beach if he slips on draft day.

Random fact of NFL history

When researching recent players who have overcome their less-than-ideal football size, I discovered the historic tale of Jack “Soupy” Shapiro

Shapiro was just 5-foot-1 and is believed to be the shortest player to ever play in the National Football League. Soupy played fullback, but his career was short-lived as he played just a few games.