Jaylen Waddle wants to be known as more than just a field-stretch, deep threat, but he also wanted to be known as more than just the guy feasting on short passes in the Miami Dolphins’ methodical offense. He wants to be the complete package as an NFL wide receiver — it’s why the Dolphins took him with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft — and it’s what he was Sunday in Miami’s 33-10 win against the Carolina Panthers.
He picked up first downs and third-down conversions on short throws. He had the longest catch of his career in the second quarter and scored the sixth touchdown of his career a few plays later. The rookie topped 100 yards for the first time in his career and even broke out a new signature celebration when he stuck his hands out against his hips, and waddled back and forth like a penguin alongside Christian Wilkins.
“He was kind of making fun of me at first and then he just started doing it,” Waddle said after laughing about his “Waddle waddle.”
Jaylen Waddle scored a TD and proceeded to waddle in the end zone. pic.twitter.com/n0Gy0LWOgt
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 28, 2021
It was a performance worth celebrating. Waddle finished with nine catches for a career-high 137 yards and a touchdown to help the Dolphins (5-7) pick up a fourth straight win in Miami Gardens with their highest scoring performance of the season.
Waddle was already putting together a historic season for the Dolphins, on pace to set the NFL’s rookie receptions record and the franchise’s rookie record for receiving yards, and Sunday marked a high point for the 23-year-old wideout.
“Jaylen’s just been in the right place at the right time,” said quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who was a teammate of Waddle’s for two years with the Alabama Crimson Tide. “There’s times when he gets covered and he’s still open.”
Of Waddle’s nine catches Sunday, four went for first downs and three resulted in third-down conversions for Miami. In the first quarter, he hauled in a slant from Tagovailoa and picked up 25 yards to push the Dolphins deep into Panthers territory, then he turned another slant into a career-long 53-yard gain in the second quarter to set up his touchdown.
The touchdown was another impressive play for the 5-foot-10, 182-pound receiver, as he jumped into traffic to make a 7-yard grab through contact to give Miami a 14-7 lead on Carolina (5-7) at Hard Rock Stadium.
The two long passes were a throwback to the early days of the Waddle-Tagovailoa connection, when they helped set Alabama records for total yards and passing yards in 2018.
Waddle has 848 receiving yards as a freshman that year and his signature move quickly became turning Tagovailoa’s precise slant throws into long touchdowns. They got back to it Sunday.
“I think it’s definitely a good thing,” Waddle said of his prior relationship with Tagovailoa.
Waddle is now up to 77 catches for 759 yards and four touchdowns this season. He’s on pace for 109.1 catches and 1,075.3 yards, both of which would shatter team rookie records. He’s even now on pace to break the league’s rookie receptions record — currently 101, set by Anquan Boldin with the Arizona Cardinals in 2003 — in 16 games.
In the first half of the season, Waddle showed off clear high-level strengths — most obviously, his ability to get open in short-yardage situations — even if the promised big-play ability was taking time to reveal itself. While fellow rookie wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Devonta Smith dazzled elsewhere, Waddle had a high standard to compete with.
For the first half of the season, those two outplayed him. Waddle, though, is getting better every week and establishing himself as a clear cornerstone of a fast-improving offense.
“I work extremely hard not to be completely known as like a speed guy or a guy that’s just a vertical threat,” Waddle said. “I’m continuing to try to go out there every week, and show that I can actually run routes and do things I would say people don’t expect of me.”