Tight End Darren Waller was one of the breakout stars for the Oakland Raiders and looks to be a franchise player for the Silver and Black
The world was introduced to Raiders star tight end Darren Waller in an early episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks this year that chronicled his comeback from addiction and fell in love. Raiders fans that were still tuning in to the team in the 2018 season were already quite familiar with Waller and had circled him as a breakout candidate and that is precisely what he did.
The Raiders scooped him up off the Ravens practice squad in November 2018 and he made his first impact a few weeks later in losing effort against the Bengals with this catch and run that nearly resulted in a touchdown.
It wasn’t the most spectacular play we’ve seen from a tight end but it showed a flash of Waller’s ability to break tackles and outrun much smaller defensive backs. In the same game Waller took a jet sweep for 21 yards that flashed his game-breaking speed yet again. Gruden had unearthed a diamond in the rough and he was ready to unleash him on the NFL in 2019.
In a season that saw Derek Carr’s receiving targets pop in and out of the lineup like whack-a-mole, Waller was the only constant. Waller racked up 90 catches, 1145 yards, and 3 touchdowns though that spoke more to the Raiders overall struggles in the red zone than to any of his shortcomings.
Waller’s totals in 2019 were good enough to etch his name in the team’s record books as he had the 7th most receptions and 14th highest yardage total in a single season. He had the third best statistical season from a Raiders tight end, behind only the incomparable Todd Christensen.
In what might be a golden age of tight ends in the NFL, Waller is already among the league’s best in his first season as a starter. He finished second among tight ends in yards and receptions, fifth in yards per reception, and second in receptions resulting in a first down. Waller was not only Derek Carr’s safety valve but also his big play threat and the numbers back it up.
Despite these overwhelming numbers Darren Waller was snubbed for the Pro Bowl and was only named an alternate behind Kansas City’s Travis Kelce and Baltimore’s Mark Andrews. While it is a disappointment that he wasn’t named to the full roster it is still an incredible achievement for a former practice squad player and a sign of things to come.
The Raiders rewarded Waller’s performance with a 3-year, $27 million contract that will be an absolute bargain if he continues to perform at the standard he set in 2019. At just 27-years-old Waller could become a fixture for the Silver and Black and the sky is the limit for him in Las Vegas.
Player Grade: A+
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference