American Football

Jaylen Waddle is the first Dolphins player to lead the league in yards per reception in over 20 years


NFL: Green Bay Packers at Miami Dolphins
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Waddle gashed opposing defenses with 21 big plays in 2022.

The Miami Dolphins spent more than a decade trying to find a receiver that could fill the shoes of Chris Chambers. Ironically enough, years after trading away Chambers in 2007, the franchise finally struck gold with two top-tier pass catchers.

The team traded for Tyreek Hill before the 2022 season and he continued his journey toward the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He closed the year with 1,710 yards on 170 targets and while both numbers ranked second in the league behind Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson, Hill still earned a First-Team All-Pro nod from the Associated Press.

There is plenty to love about Hill’s first season with the Dolphins, but keep in mind that Hard Rock Stadium is the only environment where if there is a cheetah, a penguin isn’t too far behind.

Second-year receiver Jaylen Waddle closed the year with 1,356 receiving yards, an improvement of 341 yards over his rookie season. That bump in production becomes more impressive when considering he did it on 29 fewer receptions.

The former Alabama standout saw his yards per reception nearly double with first-year coach Mike McDaniel calling the plays. After averaging 9.8 yards per reception as a rookie, he led the league with an average of 18.1 in 2022. That hasn’t been accomplished by a Dolphins player since Chris Chambers led the league with 18.4 yards per reception while catching passes from Jay Fiedler in 2001.

“First and foremost, one of my favorite players that I’ve been around and coached,” McDaniel said when talking about Waddle on Dec. 23. “It’s like a salt of the earth throwback super athlete, is the way I look at Jaylen. So to his credit, he has not been satisfied with really anything that has come his way thus far in his young career. In the offseason, as I said before, he had the biggest jump from the time away from OTAs to training camp. He really came through and stepped his game up. And then what’s been the best part of the entire process is how he’s developed within the season.

“He’s learning from things, he’s being accountable. He is leading by example in a different way where he’s the young guy but he’s showing the responsibility that needs to be taken when the team counts on you to produce each and every week. So I’m really, really fortunate to coach him.”

Chambers was a rookie when he led the league in yards per catch and later earned a trip to the 2005 Pro Bowl with 11 touchdowns and 1,118 yards on 82 receptions. Waddle eviscerated opposing defenses with 21 receptions of at least 20 yards and scored eight touchdowns throughout the 17-game season.

While Waddle failed to reach 53 receiving yards in four of the regular season’s final six games, he’ll be the first to tell you that he expects a better conclusion for the 2023 season.

“I feel like it was okay. It was okay for me, personally,” Waddle said on Jan. 16 while reflecting on his season. “I definitely didn’t end the season how I wanted to. I can take steps forward in so many aspects of my game, for sure.”

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