MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The highlight from Week 1 of Miami Dolphins training camp came on the very first day. Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle made a spectacular catch on a deep ball from Tua Tagovailoa that was so impressive the Dolphins’ social media team gave it the slow-mo treatment when they posted it to Twitter.
On the play, Waddle got a step or two behind safety Jevon Holland on a go-route but had to adjust to a slightly underthrown ball. That allowed Holland to get his hand between Waddle’s and deflect the pass. But Waddle stayed with the ball and pulled in the big gainer with one hand.
Miami Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle’s Next Step
A contested catch that early in camp had to have been gratifying for Waddle, who didn’t make enough of them in 2022.
Even though Waddle ranked 11th in yards per route (2.6) thanks in large part to his 2.8 average yards after the catch over expectation (which led the league among receivers with 50 or more targets), there was the sense that Waddle left some meat on the bone in 2022.
The way he finished the year didn’t help. The lasting memory from Waddle’s Wild Card playoff game against the Buffalo Bills wasn’t one of the three balls he caught from Skylar Thompson, but one he dropped.
He couldn’t come down with a perfectly thrown deep ball from Skylar Thompson in the first quarter. Waddle, who had ample separation, jumped for no reason, and as a result, he dropped a pass that was right in his hands.
The mistake fed into a broader narrative last year that Waddle wasn’t strong enough with the ball. (His late fumble against the Minnesota Vikings that contributed to a loss did as well.)
Waddle’s catch rate in 2022 (64.1%) ranked outside the top 50 league-wide, and he was tied for 56th in FiveThirtyEight’s catch and contest rating (55), which is calculated using the following criteria for every target every player receives:
“Given the array of all 22 players’ positions, directions and speeds, the model estimates the probability of a completion. If a completion occurs, the receiver is credited with the marginal difference.”
Taken collectively, the data suggests that the only thing stopping Waddle from making the jump to elite is making the catches the elite receivers do.
And he seems to understand that.
When asked this week to name his top personal goal for 2023, he replied:
“Just be more consistent. I think I had a lot of ups and downs last season, so just staying consistent throughout the whole season is kind of my goal for this year.”
Waddle’s already put in serious work to make that happen. He wouldn’t reveal how much muscle weight he put on this offseason, but the eye test suggests it was substantial.
That added bulk should help him be stronger with the ball — and stronger once he catches the ball.
Waddle said the following when asked if there were plays from last year that, upon film review, he believes could have been bigger gainers if he were able to break a tackle:
“You kind of get that feeling throughout the year, especially later in the year, going through a whole bunch of games, but that’s just keeping up with your body and how important the pounds are to continue to take those type of hits throughout the season from safeties and linebackers and all different type of players.”