Rookie fever is as real as the flu. And they both hit hard every year, right on schedule. If the fall is flu season, then spring is rookie flu season. The 2023 NFL Draft is right around the corner so there’s no better time to take advantage of that. And the closer we get to the NFL Draft, the more valuable those dynasty rookie picks become. As NFL free agency winds down, the dynasty rankings don’t really change, the startup ADP doesn’t change, yet the picks slowly creep up that board. Now is the time to swap out those high-risk coin flips for locked-in assets. And we’ve got just the target for you: Jaylen Waddle.


We all saw the transformation of the Miami Dolphins offense under Mike McDaniel. But there’s some confusion about the transformation that Jaylen Waddle underwent individually as part of that. Many folks simply saw the addition of Tyreek Hill and Waddle’s corresponding drop in targets from 138 to 114. But the more important transition was Waddle’s switch from primarily playing slot to primarily playing flanker. And, over the remainder of his career, that switch is going to prove far more valuable than any target totals in his first couple of seasons, and here’s why.

Let’s take a look at some rookie year numbers for Jaylen Waddle and Amon-Ra St. Brown. For those unaware, aDot is the average depth of his targets (so how far he is down the field when the ball is thrown to him) and Slot % is the percentage of snaps he plays in the slot. The stats in this article are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

It’s pretty clear what we see here. Both guys as rookies primarily played slot, running lower aDot routes. These seasons are comparable to 2019-2020 Tyler Boyd when he was playing at his peak and was a fairly reliable WR2 in fantasy football. 

In 2022, however, the Dolphins brought in a new coach with a new philosophy (and new personnel). Here’s how Jaylen Waddle and Amon-Ra St. Brown looked in 2022 in the same metrics.

The offense that Mike McDaniel runs is the same offense that his former team in San Francisco runs. Rather than using three wide receiver sets for the majority of snaps, they run a lot of two tight end and fullback sets (fullback Alec Ingold is the Dolphins' version of Kyle Juszczyk and he played ~40% of the Dolphins' offensive snaps in 2022). With this setup, Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill were used like Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk so Waddle was immediately converted into an outside WR running high aDot routes. Even on fewer targets than ARSB, Waddle had almost 200 more yards.

With this change in usage, Jaylen Waddle now has a clear higher ceiling than a guy like ARSB, even if he did get fewer targets this year. At 139 targets, you can only add so many so there needs to be a change in usage to raise the upside for St. Brown (and I’m not entirely sure ARSB has the speed or skillset to do that). It also protects Waddle from the fate of our other example, Tyler Boyd, a player whose production actually decreased as he entered the WR age apex of 26-29 years old. Despite his low aDot, Boyd was reliable in fantasy in 2018-2019 because he was playing slot in three WR sets but moving to flanker for two WR sets. But, once the Bengals retooled with split end Tee Higgins and flanker Ja’Marr Chase, Boyd was now the odd man out for two WR sets. He would play in three wide, then come off the field for two wide. Here’s how the three years since have looked for Boyd.

Waddle as the flanker is safe from this fate to a certain degree. The Lions, on the other hand, are one split end away from a battle between ARSB and Jameson Williams to see who plays a full-time snap share and who doesn’t. The Lions in the 2023 draft have two first round picks, two second round picks, and pick 81 overall in the third. And rumors about clearing space for a potential DeAndre Hopkins trade are even scarier.

This isn’t meant to bash Amon-Ra St. Brown who is a good player. Tyler Boyd is a good player too. But ARSB is just one example of a young player with a similar career start, similar start-up ADP, and a similar spot in rankings meant to capture industry sentiments like PeakedInHighSkool’s charts or KeepTradeCut’s values. There are rookies like Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave that we HOPE take that step to become the next Jaylen Waddle. There are 29-year-old guys like Stefon Diggs and Tyreek Hill going in the same range where I truly believe Waddle, with this role change, is capable of that same production while being five years younger. Additionally, just one year of Waddle with a healthy Tua could put Jaylen Waddle out of reach in your dynasty leagues. Now is the time to go get him before it’s too late. All you need is the Waddle owner in your league to catch that rookie fever and he’s yours.

Follow Andrew Cooper on Twitter @CoopAFiasco for more NFL and fantasy football insights and stay tuned for more content as we near the 2023 NFL Draft!


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