A tandem of talents with unlimited performance ceilings, year two has presented newfound obstacles for Miami’s Jaylen Waddle and Philadelphia’s DeVonta Smith. After impressive rookie seasons saw each receiver progress into featured weapons within their respective offenses, with Tyreek Hill (Miami) and A.J. Brown (Philadelphia) now in place, expectations have altered as Week 1 rapidly approaches.
104 receptions may not be replicated in 2022, but it’s not rocket science to project another massive target share for the former top-10 pick. With Hill in town, Waddle will work over teams’ second corners—matchups he rarely saw during his historic rookie campaign. Additionally, with Mike McDaniel in town, the list of ways in which he’ll be targeted will remain an ever-growing list with a skill set and burst unmatched by any in football.
While a ton of his success in year one came in Miami’s horizontal offense, a diversified route tree will only improve his ability to truly progress into an uncoverable weapon on the perimeter. Hill is a household name for a reason—we all know what type of headaches he will present defenses each and every week—and his addition is great for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and could be even better for Waddle.
After breaking DeSean Jackson’s single-season Eagles rookie receiving record, Smith and Brown look to present a 1a and 1b duo for secondaries to counter this year. A wiry wideout whose skill set was laughingly slandered during last year’s draft cycle, Smith has quickly asserted himself as one of football’s elite young wideouts and will only get better with Brown’s arrival.
While the former Titan will immediately open up the intermediate areas of the offense due to his rocked-up frame and outstanding YAC ability, Smith’s elongated, fluid strides to sneak through the roof of the defense will evolve the Eagles into a three-level threat led by Jalen Hurts. An impressive talent with sure hands, explosive footwork in and out of his stems, and an “alpha” at the catch point, a Heisman Trophy placed the ceiling high in year one, but with a full season now under his belt, year two could see him explode.
In summary, it’s really a case of picking your poison for defenses this fall. The annual narrative surrounding second-year players often involves the phrase “sophomore slump,” but it’s much to the contrary for the two former Alabama standouts. While WR1 duties were holstered by each last fall, the insertion of not just depth players to fill out a room in Cedrick Wilson Jr. and Erik Ezukanma (Dolphins) and the improvement of Quez Watkins alongside Zach Pascal (Eagles), but a superstar-caliber athlete to pair with youth-infused legs only increases their potential outlook for me in 2022.
Two teams with lofty expectations centered around their young signal-callers, it’ll be all hands on deck for both Miami and Philadelphia to reach their performance ceilings. While both Hill and Brown will continue to draw headlines, the continued progression of both Smith and Waddle will hold the key to each team’s success this season.