Jaylen Waddle remains one of the biggest question marks — if not the biggest — heading into the College Football Playoff championship.
The Alabama star receiver’s status remains uncertain ahead of the top-ranked Tide’s meeting with No. 3 Ohio State, and Alabama has neither confirmed nor denied whether he will be able to take the field against the Buckeyes come Monday.
Why does that matter when Alabama already has Heisman and Biletnikoff winner DeVonta Smith ready to go? Waddle actually outproduced the Sporting News’ Player of the Year prior to his Week 5 injury against Tennessee, producing 557 receiving yards and four touchdowns to Smith’s marks of 483 and four, respectively.
If Waddle were to return 100 percent healthy, he would immediately upgrade what is already one of the most potent offenses in college football. Of course, there’s also the question of whether this is merely gamesmanship by Tide coach Nick Saban, forcing Ryan Day and Ohio State to gameplan for someone who might not play.
Whether that’s the case remains to be seen. Until then, here’s everything you need to know about Waddle’s injury, how it happened, his timeline for recovery, rumors and status for the game:
How long is Jaylen Waddle out?
When Waddle suffered a broken ankle on the opening kickoff against Tennessee on Oct. 24, Saban minced no words about the severity of his injury:
“He’s out. He’s out,” Saban said. “He’s out for the year. And it’s a shame, because the guy’s a great player. It’s exciting for college football to see a guy play like that. I hate it.”
Monday following the game, Saban told reporters Waddle had undergone successful ankle surgery Saturday night, and that he had remained in the hospital since that time.
Saban on Dec. 16 provided an update on Waddle’s status (via 247Sports’ Alabama reporter Charlie Potter), saying the receiver was out of his boot, running on a treadmill and “making good progress day to day” — but not practicing. Twelve days later, on Dec. 28, Saban provided a further update on Waddle’s injury:
Saban on Jaylen Waddle: “Jaylen’s rehab is coming along. He’s doing dry-land running, still working to try to get back. But he is making progress. We’re happy to see him be able to at least go out there and do some running and do some things, but he’s not back in practice yet.”
— Charlie Potter (@Charlie_Potter) December 28, 2020
Three days after Alabama’s Rose Bowl victory over Notre Dame on Jan. 1, however, Matt Zenitz of AL.com reported Waddle would return to practice on Jan. 5, six days before the national title game. That day marked 10 weeks and three days after he suffered the injury, which typically has a recovery timeline of 6-10 weeks.
According to a Jan. 5 report from The Athletic’s Aaron Suttles, Waddle has been cleared to practice but will make the ultimate decision on whether to play. Part of that decision is whether he’s comfortable enough to take the field and risk reinjuring himself: The star receiver is considered a consensus first-round talent, with Sporting News projecting him as the 15th overall selection by the New England Patriots.
What is Jaylen Waddle’s injury?
Waddle’s exact injury, per Saban, was a combination of a high-ankle sprain and fracture to his right ankle.
The injury occurred on the opening kickoff against Tennessee on Oct. 25; Volunteers defender Kenneth George Jr. was on the tackle, forcing Waddle’s right foot to get caught between his body and the field and causing the damage to his ankle.
The risk of reinjuring a broken ankle once it has been fully healed can be minimized by strengthening the local muscles around the initial break. Assuming Waddle has done enough to strengthen his ankle muscles — to the point he can play at game speed — he likely wouldn’t need to worry about breaking it again as a result of his prior injury.
Will Jaylen Waddle play in CFP championship?
Waddle’s teammates who have seen him practice say he has looked relatively unhindered.
“I think he’s getting back into it,” said Smith (via BamaInsider). “Of course, he’s going to take some time just for him to get back comfortable with everything, but he looks good to me.”
Said quarterback Mac Jones: “I feel like in watching him, he looks really good out there. So we’ll see what happens.”
Still, Saban said whether Waddle will play is likely to be a game day decision.
“The issue with injuries is when a guy does practice, how does he respond to the workload?” Saban said (via BamaOnLine). “Sometimes if a guy practices one day and gets sore the next, you can’t practice him the next day, so you just keep trying to build up his workload to where he might be able to play. So, that’s a work in progress right now, and you really can’t predict where he might be, and then other guys seem to get stronger, every day they practice, they get a little bit better.
“This is something we’re trying to evaluate but not anything that we can make any kind of prediction on at this point.”
Saban provided one last update on Waddle’s status Sunday, saying he was able to practice “to some degree” ahead of the game. That said, Saban said the team likely won’t know whether he can play until after pregame warmups.
Jaylen Waddle injury updates
Oct. 24: Jaylen Waddle initially breaks ankle in what Saban calls a season-ending injury.
Oct. 24: Waddle undergoes successful ankle surgery.
Dec. 16: Saban says Waddle is out of his cast and running on a treadmill — but not practicing.
Dec. 28: Saban says Waddle is dry-land running but still unable to practice.
Jan. 1: Waddle is seen catching balls pregame before the Rose Bowl.
Jan. 4: Matt Zenitz reports Waddle will return to practice the following day.
Jan. 5: Aaron Suttles reports Waddle cleared to practice, but has final decision on whether he’ll play.
Jan. 6: Alabama teammates DeVonta Smith and Mac Jones say Waddle looks good in his return to practice.
Jan. 7: Saban says Waddle’s status to play will be a game day decision.
Jan. 10: Saban says Waddle’s status will be determined after Monday’s pregame warmups.