Once that hit came Sunday — on his first NFL snap, a 17-yard catch-and-run — he looked like a player worthy of the No. 6 overall pick Miami used to select him in the 2021 NFL draft.
Waddle finished his professional debut with 61 yards and a touchdown on four catches in Miami’s 17-16 win against the New England Patriots. They were modest, albeit promising numbers, but the connection between Waddle and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was palpable. The Dolphins need it to continue Sunday, when they play host to the 0-1 Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
Waddle averaged 3.6 yards of separation against the Patriots, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That’s significant for a Dolphins receiving corps that ranked No. 31 in the league in that category last season (2.96 yards), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Tagovailoa’s passer rating when targeting Waddle was a nearly perfect 157.3, showing signs their chemistry from their time together at Alabama is transferring to the NFL.
The Dolphins quarterback said they have not had time to go over their film from Alabama, but noted that both are vastly differently players than they were two years ago — specifically in terms of how they communicate.
“His biggest improvement is his communication,” Tagovailoa said of Waddle. “In college, Jaylen would speak up here and there, but you really see him now. You come to the sideline after a series and he’s out there telling me, ‘Hey, this is why I’m running this route. I’m running it because of this and that, and this is where I’m expecting the ball.’ He’s telling me ‘do this.’
“And it’s not asking — it’s more so telling.”
Now in his second year as Miami’s starter, Tagovailoa doesn’t take offense to his teammate being assertive; on the contrary, he requested it.
And seeing Waddle’s ability to communicate with him this early his career gives him confidence in his receiver.
Said Waddle: “[That confidence] just comes from [Tagovailoa]. He tells me if [I see] something to just tell him and let him know. So any time that I see something or something doesn’t go as we would like, I always go to him. … He gives me his thoughts and I give him my thoughts, then we go from there.”
Although he’s a higher draft pick than any of them, Waddle has been nothing but receptive to any critiques his elders have to offer.
“He brings it every day in practice,” Dolphins wide receivers coach Josh Grizzard said. “He’s attentive in meetings and, compared to a lot of guys in his generation, he is open to learning from older guys and criticism and not taking it personally.”