Cluster Buster: Wide Receiver (Chase, Bateman, Waddle)
If you are a fan of the NFL Draft then you are probably familiar with the NFL.com podcast ‘Move The Sticks’. Analysts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks often use the term ‘cluster buster’ to describe how to split a group of players you have similarly graded.
In this series, we will take players at the same position, sometimes with similar play styles and try to split them. We will look at four seperate areas key to their position and see who comes out on top.
Next up the wide receiver group of: Ja’Marr Chase, Rashod Bateman and Jaylen Waddle.
Height / Weight: 6’1 / 200lbs
Receptions / Yards (per game avg.) / TDs: 107 / 2093 (87) / 23
Height / Weight: 6’2 / 210lbs
Receptions / Yards (per game avg.) / TDs: 111 / 1923 (74) / 17
Height / Weight: 5’10 / 182lbs
Receptions / Yards (per game avg.) / TDs: 78 / 1408 (50) / 13
Athleticism (Jump Ball, Spec. Catch, Body Control, Speed)
In a stacked wide receiver group it was difficult to select only three for this piece. Jaylen Waddle just trumped teammate DeVonta Smith as well as Purdue speedster Rondale Moore. The primary reason for this being his defining trait of pure speed. The NFL continues to be obsessed with receiver speed, highlighted this year in Henry Ruggs of Alabama leapfrogging the more polished Jerry Jeudy on draft day.
Waddle is another Crimson Tide prospect that enters with legitimate track speed. Even though he has had limited playing time so far, he consistently flashes elite level speed, on both offense and special teams.
Both Bateman and Chase are a step behind in terms of speed and explosion in comparison to Waddle. However, Chase is still likely to run in the 4.4’s and has shown excellent body control and leap during his LSU career. In particular his grab v Texas highlights his speed to beat the defender, he then works back on the underthrown ball and leaps above the defender to highpoint the catch. A great example of his athleticism.
While Bateman comes out third for me in this area, he is still a super smooth runner. His film has plenty of athletic grabs but I don’t view him as a dynamic athlete. Bateman will win with technique and smarts rather than his physical traits alone.
Winner: Jaylen Waddle
Catching (Hands, Catch Point, Extension)
As expected with a technical trait like catching, I have Chase head of the pack. Most grabs are made to look easy by the nation’s leading receiver. Chase gets his head around and tracks the ball well, taking catches in stride rarely having to readjust, allowing him to maintain speed after the catch.
Interestingly, PFF attributed both Chase and Bateman with 5 drops on the season. However, Chase was targeted 121 times compared to Bateman’s 95. It will certainly be an area that gets scrutinised heavily when NFL teams come to evaluate Bateman. One area he does excel in is his ability to extend his frame to make the more difficult grabs.
Waddle got even less of a chance to flash with only 40 targets. He will be looking to show that there is more to his game than simply blowing past defenders and trick plays. This grab against Auburn shows that Waddle is multi-faceted and could be on the cusp of a breakout season with the departure of big names from the position group at Bama.
Winner: Ja’Marr Chase
Physicality (vs Press, Blocking, Boxing Out)
Once again I have Chase ahead of the other two when it comes to physicality. As you would expect from an SEC wide receiver, Chase is happy mixing it at the line of scrimmage. While he doesn’t always get miles of separation he is physical enough to break tackles in order to gain yards after the catch. Contact doesn’t force him out of his route, while he has no fear in making a grab knowing a big hit is on the way.
Both Bateman and Waddle have shown less of this. Bateman tends to get most of his separation from his initial step, often negating him having to get roughed up. For Waddle, his physique will naturally bring some reservations. While being smaller at 5’10 he is also a slender 182lbs.
He may seek to bulk up before going pro or at least prove this year that his size doesn’t hinder him. At the moment, it could lead him to being pigeon-holed as a gadgety speedster, even though he has shown flashes of being a complete receiving threat.
Winner: Ja’Marr Chase
Route Running (Variation, Separation, Change of Direction)
As alluded to earlier, Bateman doesn’t strike me as a burner but his smooth running style means his routes are clean. He shows good ability changing direction without deceleration and uses body and head fakes to throw defenders off.
Where he excels is at the line of scrimmage, he has an energetic get off that allows him to beat the defender early. This is most pronounced on slant routes. Bateman attacks the real estate in front of him whereas Chase can sometimes be a tad sluggish.
The catch below shows how Bateman makes the most of the cushion before a sharp cut to find the soft spot in the coverage. He has enough speed to finish the play off by taking it to the house.
Chase may not be as sudden out of the blocks but he has a well rounded route tree. He is sharp on comebacks while his long speed makes him a difficult cover on crossing routes and a mismatch in deep man coverage.
As with all aspects of Waddle’s game there simply isn’t enough tape to define him as a polished route runner. His four TD showing vs Auburn flashed the potential that has everyone so excited. A full year as one of the main targets will give us a better idea of how polished Waddle is as a route runner.
Winner: Rashod Bateman
Each player will face their own challenges in the lead up to the 2021 NFL Draft. Rashod Bateman was one of the early opt-outs in college football. That means that bar the testing and combine aspect, his hay is in the barn. Although he likely would have benefitted from another year in college football, if he can hit the athletic expectations needed, his tape is first round caliber.
Waddle and Chase will go into this year at least with the opportunity to play football (as of now). However, they will both need to adjust to a new Quarterback. Ultimately, it would be shocking if both didn’t see a down turn in QB talent as Mac Jones and Myles Brennan assume the starting roles respectively.
As of now Chase is the most complete receiver of the three. However, I’m not sold on the top five buzz. For me, both he and Bateman should be in the conversation between picks 10-25 of the first round. Waddle is the wild card, a strong season and some ‘wow’ testing could see him leapfrog both, similar to this year with Henry Ruggs being first receiver off the board.
Winner: Ja’Marr Chase
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com.