Fantasy Steal of 2022
by Big O's Fantasy Guidance
Jaylen Waddle will be the steal of fantasy football drafts in 2022. I truly believe Waddle's record-setting rookie season will be overlooked going into next season. He broke the rookie single-season receptions record with 104 receptions on 140 targets. Waddle was able to convert his 104 receptions into 1,015 receiving yards. A 100 plus reception season is impressive for any wide receiver, let alone a rookie. Waddle was drafted with high expectations as the number 6 overall draft pick in 2021 and he delivered. When I went back to watch his film as a rookie, a number of details stood out to me. Firstly, his explosiveness and quickness are elite. Secondly, he has the ability to high point the football on deep, contested passes. This was very impressive to me considering the fact that he is 5 foot 10 inches tall. Lastly, he has an established and noticeable chemistry with his quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, that dates back to their college days at Alabama.
Waddle and Tua played together at Alabama for two seasons. In 2018, when Waddle was a freshman and Tua was a sophomore, they both played 15 games. Waddle finished his freshman year with 848 yards and 7 touchdowns on 45 receptions. As a freshman, he excelled with Tua as his quarterback. What is even more impressive is that he was so productive while sharing targets with Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, DeVonta Smith, and Irv Smith Jr. Waddle's rookie NFL season is evidence that his established college connection with Tua was able to translate to the NFL.
Now, we have to take a look at Waddle's statistical splits with both Tua and Jacoby Brissett as his quarterback.
Stats with Tua: 97 targets, 72 receptions, 758 yards, 6 touchdowns over 12 games
Stats with Brissett: 43 targets, 32 receptions, 257 yards, 0 touchdowns over 6 games
Waddle's target share with each quarterback is very telling. When Tua was under center, Waddle had a 27.4% target share. With Brissett, Waddle had a 19.9% target share. That is almost a full 8% difference. This is significant because it shows how much more Tua was willing to force-feed Waddle the ball. For example in Week 16, Waddle had a staggering 46.2% target share with Tua playing the full game. Moreover, Waddle averaged 10.5 yards per reception with Tua compared to only 8.0 yards per reception with Brissett. This stat is very important because it shows that Tua was not just hyper-targeting Waddle on shallow routes. Instead, Tua was able to connect with Waddle on some deeper routes.
In order to fairly look at Waddle's per-game averages with each quarterback, I am going to remove Waddle's week 2 and week 10 stats. This way we only have games where it was either Tua or Brissett who solely contributed to Waddle's stats.
Stats with Tua: 93 targets, 69 receptions, 701 yards, and 6 touchdowns in 10 games
Stats with Brissett: 33 targets, 25 receptions, 205 yards and 0 touchdowns in 4 games
Per game averages with Tua: 9.3 targets, 6.9 receptions, 70.1 yards and 0.6 touchdowns
Per game averages with Brissett: 8.3 targets, 6.3 receptions, 51.3 yards and 0 touchdowns
Each category saw an increase when Tua was Waddle's quarterback. The yards and touchdown averages are where we see a significant increase. This is very telling because, with a fairly similar amount of targets from each quarterback, Waddle averaged almost 20 more yards per game with Tua. The reason for showing you Waddle's averages with each quarterback is not to prove that Tua is a better quarterback than Brissett, although he is. Rather, it is to show how much better Waddle could have been if Tua played a full season. If we project Waddle's 2021 stats with Tua over the course of a full 17 game season, he would have finished with 158 targets, 117 receptions, 1,192 yards, and 10 touchdowns. That would have been good for 296 fantasy points and the WR7 in fantasy last season, if you include week 18. These projected statistical totals are a great indicator of the type of season Waddle can produce if Tua is his quarterback for the entirety of the season.
In half-point PPR including week 18, Waddle finished the year as the WR16 in fantasy. He had more fantasy points than CeeDee Lamb and D.J. Moore. As of now, Waddle is by far the Miami Dolphins' best offensive weapon heading into next season. He will receive as many targets as he can possibly handle. Also, Tua has played only 21 games as a starting quarterback in the NFL and is only turning 24 years of age come March. To put into perspective how young Tua is, Joe Burrow was born in 1996 while Tua was born in 1998. Tua will only get better as he gains much-needed experience. Waddle is also only 23 years old and will only improve on his stellar rookie season. The great news is that Tua does not need to become a superstar quarterback next season for Waddle to reach his fantasy ceiling as a WR1. We saw evidence of Waddle's true ceiling in the games where Tua was the starting quarterback. Trust me, there will be plenty of "waddling" celebrations in 2022.
Owen Klukas is a fantasy-football enthusiast with over 10 years of experience playing the game. You can find more of his articles at Big O's Fantasy Guidance