The early buzz around the 2021 wide receiver draft class has a lot of people wondering “How many receivers will go in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft?” Following the universally praised 2020 WR class, the 2021 group might be even better. While it’s way too soon to know for certain, I think it’s fair to say that the number of first round talents could be more than we are accustomed to when draft day arrives.
Today we will take a look at two players from the 2021 class who have been labeled as game-changing playmakers, Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle and Purdue’s Rondale Moore. We will focus our discussion on one game from each player, highlighting how dynamic these players are and showing how each player has the ability to take over a game.
We will begin with the 2019 game between Alabama and Auburn. One thing that says a lot about a player is how he performs in big games. The rivalry between Alabama and Auburn is well documented and showcases on a massive stage every year. Waddle’s performance in this game was frankly incredible and will go down as one of the best games in this historic rivalry by a player to date. He finished with 4 receptions for 98 yards and 3 touchdowns, 3 kickoff returns for 132 yards and 1 touchdown totaling 230 all-purpose yards and 4 touchdowns.
One of Waddle’s best attributes is as a kick/punt returner. He was arguably the best returner in the country last season. Here’s a couple of returns from the game that show just how dangerous he is including his first touchdown of the game.
Waddle is a nightmare to tackle. With his mix of speed, quickness, agility and vision he is a major headache for anyone to stop and he proved it by leading the nation with 484 punt return yards on 20 attempts with an average of 24.4 yards per punt return and scored one touchdown. He only had five kickoff returns but gained 175 yards averaging 35.0 yards per kick return with one touchdown.
Now let’s take a look at what he can do in the passing game. Here’s his second touchdown of the game where he puts his yards after catch (YAC) ability on full display.
Waddle is extremely effective after the catch and his breakaway speed is insane. He should put up some eye-popping numbers at the combine next year.
For his third touchdown, watch how Waddle gives the defensive back an inside look then breaks outside as soon as the defensive back turns his hips. He used his deceptive release with quickness and speed to create enough separation for an easy touchdown.
The defensive back looked like a deer in headlights, not knowing which way Waddle was going. Once he figured it out, he was already beat and Waddle sealed the deal.
Now let’s see Waddle’s fourth touchdown of the game. Yes, you heard right, fourth touchdown. Waddle hit the accelerator and just runs right past the defensive back like his feet are stuck in cement.
Waddle times his jump perfectly, snagging the ball with strong hands at the high point after the defensive back makes an effort to recover. Just an all-world display of athleticism.
It’s wild that Waddle was WR4 on Alabama’s wide receiver depth chart with player’s like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Devonta Smith ahead of him. Now that Jeudy and Ruggs have new homes in the NFL, Waddle will be the focal point along with Smith in the Alabama offense this season. All eyes will be on him to see what he will do with a bigger role. He’s a first round talent without question and he can potentially become a top 10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft if he puts together another strong season this year.
Let’s shift gears to another player generating tons of love, Purdue’s Rondale Moore. Moore’s 2019 season was cut short due to a hamstring injury, but before his season ended, he started the campaign exactly where he left off in 2018. We will look at his impressive performance against an extremely talented Ohio State secondary in 2018 that helped Purdue upset the Buckeyes 49-20. He finished the game with 12 receptions for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns, two rushes for 24 yards, three kickoff returns for 49 yards and one punt return for 9 yards for a grand total of 252 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
Moore is a Madden cheat code. Thanks to his vast skill set Purdue utilizes him in many different ways. Here we see multiple out routes from the slot including his first TD of the game.
Just look at how fast he is out of his breaks! Moore stops on a dime, changes direction, and explodes up field to gain more yards. He’s always looking to make a guy miss.
Next we see how Purdue let’s Moore go to work in the middle of the field with drags, slants and in routes. He consistently gets early separation off the LOS which allows for quick non contested catches and YAC opportunities
He blends very reliable hands, great football IQ and an extensive route tree to keep defensive backs guessing and on their heels. Combine that with elite athleticism and you have a special player who’s ceiling is sky high.
Moore is built like a running back and runs like one too with the ball in his hands. With a low center of gravity and awesome contact balance he can make life very difficult for defenders trying to tackle him. Take a look here at a couple of runs, one being a sweep from the slot and one receiving the handoff while in motion.
The Buckeye’s defense undoubtedly came into this game game planning to stop Moore but he still racked up missed tackles. Speaking of missed tackles, he led the nation in forced missed tackles in 2018 per PFF.
Last but not least, one of his best plays all year and Moore’s second TD of the game. If you don’t wrap him up he will make someone look silly.
He lowers his helmet and plows into the defender, almost goes down, somehow maintains his balance and bursts through for the score! His mentality is infectious and gets me fired up. What a spectacular play.
Moore won the Paul Hornung Award for the nation’s most versatile player in 2018 as a true freshman. Breaking the school record for all purpose yards in a game, 300+ yards in his debut vs Northwestern, put a huge spotlight on Moore from the minute his college career started. He did not disappoint as he broke the school’s record for all purpose yards in a full season.
Bruce Feldman’s annual college football Freaks List is always a fun read and highlights the elite athletes to know for the upcoming season. You can take a look at his 2019 list here. Here’s what he had to say about Moore:
Last year, he took the Big Ten by storm and provided a huge boost to the Boilers’ resurgence. He was third in the country with 13 plays of 30 yards or longer. The 5-8 Moore earned his Freak status last summer before ever playing a game at Purdue when he squatted 600 pounds despite weighing only 174 pounds. Moore has added about 10 pounds this off-season, according to Purdue strength coach Justin Lovett, who describes the sophomore as a rare talent.
“We wear Catapult (Athlete GPS Tech) like most teams. What we found is that Rondale will hit a minimum of 21 mph every time he steps foot on the field, regardless of designed practice tempo,” Lovett says. “Rondale also routinely doubles the volume of the next closest player. This means he is running faster than everyone else while doubling up on reps. He is full speed all the time. His practice load would be higher than most game loads we typically see. His game loads blew us away when we saw them for the first time. We have been forced to keep a pitch count on him so to speak just to keep him within acceptable practice and training volume ranges.”
How special is Moore?
“I was in Denver with the Broncos, then at UGA with Todd Gurley, two of our assistant strength coaches spent time in NFL and got Super Bowl rings,” Lovett says. “Collectively, we had NEVER seen ANYONE like Rondale from an athleticism standpoint before he showed up! When we asked to measure his height on his official visit he said, ‘How tall is fast?’ I figured right then that we might be in for a ride!”
The upcoming college season will allow both players to increase their draft stock. Both Waddle and Moore are projected as first round selections. Just how high will they go? Only time will tell, which brings me to my question for you. Who is your early favorite so far out of these two wide receivers? I look forward to seeing your responses in the comments below.