Jaylen Waddle put up big numbers as a Dolphins rookie, but this statistic gnaws at him

Hal Habib
Palm Beach Post

The stats from Jaylen Waddle’s 2021 season jump off the page.

The 104 catches, an NFL record for rookies.

The 1,015 yards, a Dolphins record for rookies.

And the 9.8 yards per catch, which tied for 109th in the NFL.

Waddle's average was the only knock on his first season in the league. And, it turns out, that’s not just the critics talking. It’s the most important person in this equation talking.

Waddle himself.

“I ain’t going to lie,” Waddle said on the “I Am Athlete” podcast. “I think my average was like 9.5 or something like that a catch. I’ve got to show something.”

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Dolphins receiver Jaylen Waddle wants to create more scenes like this one, against the Saints, in 2022.

What Waddle plans to show in 2022 are more yards after the catch.

“I’ve got to be YAC crazy out there,” said Waddle, the team's MVP.

Another way to increase Waddle’s average would be for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to connect with more deep balls, but that’s out of Waddle’s control. What Waddle does once the ball is in his hands — that is under his control.

“I’m not going to talk too much about it,” he said. “I’ve just got to go out there and show it.”

Jaylen Waddle expects to learn from Tyreek Hill

There are reasons to expect Waddle to do just that. There’s new coach Mike McDaniel. And, oh yes, there’s Tyreek Hill playing opposite Waddle and drawing double coverage to that side of the field. He’ll also be spending time teaching Waddle some of the things that helped Hill receive six Pro Bowl invitations in six seasons.

“Man, I think I’m going to learn a lot,” Waddle said. “I think he’s been in the league so much. What’s he going on? Seven years? Had tremendous success. Six-time Pro Bowls, been in the Pro Bowl every year. I can learn a lot from him. I know he’s going to be willing to teach it.”

He is. In his introductory news conference three weeks ago, Hill said he was eager to sit down with Waddle, “chop it up” and work out together.

That’s not all. Hill already was looking forward to getting in the starting blocks and racing Waddle to settle the question of who’s the fastest on the team and possibly the league.

“I already knew this was coming,” Waddle said.

To hear Hill say it, there could be no other way.

“Hey,” Hill said. “Wherever I go, the ‘Cheetah,’ he’s always got to prove he’s the fastest on the team no matter what. I mean that.”

Waddle said he was working out when his trainer informed him the Dolphins had traded for Hill.

“I’m like, ‘OK, then. Whatever,’ ” Waddle said. “But I think the next day, I say, ‘I know he’s going to try to race. Let me get on these legs real quick. Hit the legs.’ ”

If Waddle is correct, it won’t be a two-man match race because running back Raheem Mostert will want in.

“We got a running back 23 miles per hour, too,” Waddle said. “I know he’s going to get in on it, too. It’s going to be a track meet for sure.”

Will all this speed translate into more points for the Dolphins?

The race, if it ever happens, would break up the dog days of summer. But what about Sunday afternoons in the fall? Will it be a track meet then?

“I ain’t going to lie,” Waddle said. “One thing you can’t coach: speed. I feel it’s going to open up everything, from the backfield, from the running game, passing game, play-action. I’m excited. It’s going to be a learning experience but I think it’s going to be fun.”

The Dolphins were 25th in offense and 17th in passing last season. Hill and Mostert are just part of the new faces on offense.

“I feel it’s going to be different,” Waddle said. “I’m not going to sit here and try to convince the world because obviously we’ve got to work to get that stamp of being one of them high-powered offenses. But I feel like who we got, if we put it together, we should be all right.”