Buffalo Bills rookie receiver Jalen Wayne wore Nos. 4 and 0 during his career at the University of South Florida.
No. 87 was waiting for him in his locker when he showed up for Bills rookie minicamp.
“I knew they were going to do me like that,” Wayne said laughing after his first practice in a Bills jersey.
The No. 87 was made famous by Wayne’s second cousin, a man he considers his uncle – Reggie Wayne, the retired Indianapolis Colts great. All Reggie Wayne did in 14 seasons wearing that number was catch 1,070 passes, 10th most in NFL history, while making six Pro Bowls and winning a Super Bowl with the Colts.
Jalen Wayne embraces the association with his famous relative, who now is a receivers coach for the Colts. Reggie Wayne appeared destined for stardom from the time he entered the NFL in 2001, as a first-round pick.
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Jalen Wayne enters the NFL with a much lower profile. He was one of seven undrafted rookies signed by the Bills the week after the draft. No undrafted rookie made the Bills’ roster in 2022, although a UDFA made it every other year of the Sean McDermott era. Wayne faces long odds, but that’s life for all undrafted players. Last year, 24% of the players on the opening-day rosters entered the league as undrafted rookies.
Jalen built a good relationship with his “uncle” throughout his college career at South Alabama.
“We connected over social media and Instagram,” Jalen said. “I let him know we were related. After that, he gave me his number. From my sophomore year until now, he’s been in my ear helping me out.”
“From the first time he started talking to me, he gave me a bunch of drills to do,” Jalen said. “I mastered all that stuff, mastered my craft. After that is when the mental aspect came in. He told me stuff to think about on game day, stuff not to think about. Think about what the quarterback is doing, think about your job and being open. If it’s a Cover 3 team, he’ll tell me how to run routes that day. It was a lot. It was day-to-day actually. My senior year he’d scout me.”
Wayne came late to football. Basketball was his No. 1 sport, and he played on his high school varsity team from eighth to 12th grades. He had nine scholarship offers in basketball, mostly Division II programs.
“But I was short for a point guard,” he said.
Wayne never played organized football until his senior year of high school.
“My friends kind of cornered me in the classroom and got me to try out,” he said.
It’s a credit to his athleticism that he earned a scholarship offer from South Alabama. It took him a few college seasons to get up to speed at the college level, and he spent six years with the Jaguars.
In his senior year, he caught 58 passes for 815 yards and nine touchdowns.
Wayne was an outside receiver at South Alabama and plays big for his size. His basketball background shows. He’s a smooth runner and can play above the helmet.
Asked about his best traits, he says, “Definitely down the field, attacking the ball in the air, kind of like rebounding. Just competing on 50-50 balls is something I like.”
Does he have any traits that stand out as exceptional at the NFL level? That’s a question that caused him to go undrafted.
“He brings a noticeable level of maturity and football intelligence with him,” said NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein. “He doesn’t have the boosters to rocket past pro coverage, but he runs routes with an excellent feel for leverage to open opportunities inside the route. He has outside receiver size but might offer enough footwork and manipulation to run routes as a big slot.”
Wayne is thrilled with the chance to play with Stefon Diggs.
“I watch his film like a hawk,” Wayne said. “He’s great at what he does. Josh Allen as well is a low-major type of guy and came here and stepped on the scene and became great. It’s like a blue-collar team. They have no high agendas on nobody; you get what you earn. I’m excited about that.”