Jaylen Waddle flourishes as more versatile receiver for Crimson Tide

AP photo by L.G. Patterson / Alabama junior receiver Jaylen Waddle hauls in a catch between Missouri defenders Tyree Gillespie, right, and Ishmael Burdine during the Crimson Tide's 38-19 win last Saturday night.

As the calendar flipped from September to October last football season, receiver Jaylen Waddle was getting left behind a bit when it came to Alabama's scintillating passing attack.

DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs each had more than 350 receiving yards through the Crimson Tide's first five games, while Waddle had yet to amass 200. Fast forward to the same calendar flip this year, with Jeudy and Ruggs now in the NFL as top-15 selections, and Waddle has developed into the team's top offensive weapon.

Which is saying something on an attack with talented running back Najee Harris, steady quarterback Mac Jones and with Smith still around.

Waddle opened his junior season last Saturday night at Missouri by compiling eight receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns. His performance helped stake the Tide to a 35-3 lead early in the third quarter before the benches emptied and Alabama had its eventual 38-19 triumph.

"Obviously I got to see the field a little more than usual," Waddle said this week on a Zoom call, "but my focus and excitement was the same as any other game."

In his past two regular-season games, which includes last November's Iron Bowl loss at Auburn, the 5-foot-10, 182-pounder from Texas has 12 receptions for a whopping 232 yards and five touchdowns. He also had a 98-yard kickoff return for a score at Auburn.

"He's fun to watch, that's for sure, whether he's in punt return, kickoff return or playing on the field," Alabama coach Nick Saban said this week. "I think the big thing is that Jaylen has sort of expanded his role and his game to where he can play all the positions at receiver now. We can move him around, whereas before he was mostly a slot guy.

"Now he can make plays anywhere on the field, and I think that's very helpful. You expect people to double (cover) guys like him, and when you can move him around, it makes it a little more difficult for the defense."

What served as the fearsome foursome last season is now a dynamic duo with Smith and Waddle but also with emerging stars such as John Metchie, who had two catches at Mizzou. Smith had eight receptions to match Waddle, and the two appear to be having just as much fun with Jones at quarterback as they did this time last year with Tua Tagovailoa.

"They have to be accountable for DeVonta, too, so it's always helpful to have another playmaker," Waddle said. "We have so many playmakers, and it's great having them all out there."

photo Crimson Tide photos / Alabama junior receiver Jaylen Waddle has scored six total touchdowns in his past two regular-season games, which includes last November's trip to Auburn.

Four in a row

Saban is about to face four consecutive coaches who were former assistants, with Texas A&M (Jimbo Fisher), Ole Miss (Lane Kiffin), Georgia (Kirby Smart) and Tennessee (Jeremy Pruitt) next on the schedule.

"I'm really happy for the guys who did a great job for us and got opportunities to become head coaches, which is what they probably all really aspired to be and worked hard to be," Saban said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference. "It's very challenging when you play folks who know you well, but we also probably know them a little bit, too.

"It's obviously challenging for me, because you like to see your team play well against people that you know, but I'm sure they all feel the same way about that as well."

Saban is 19-0 against former assistants entering this stretch.

Measuring stick

Fisher, who is in the third year of his 10-year contract totaling $75 million, has lost to Alabama the past two seasons by similar scores of 45-23 and 47-28.

"We know what they've done and who they are, and we have to go play ball," Fisher said Wednesday. "We've had two great, young recruiting classes that I'm very excited about, and our players are developing. It's always a measuring stick when you play Alabama as far as where you stand on the national scene, because they've been at the top of it for so long."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.