Draft or Pass: Will Darren Waller Match ADP Value in Retooled Raiders Offense?

Everybody knows Darren Waller's name now after a breakout season with the Las Vegas Raiders. SI Fantasy expert Ben Heisler wonders whether he can match that production and the lofty expectations.
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It's never too early to start your fantasy football research, and we at SI Fantasy want to provide you with the best information possible heading into your drafts. Our "Draft or Pass" video series takes a closer look at a fantasy player that will be debated often leading up to fantasy drafts. Are our hosts targeting this player specifically? Are they avoiding him entirely?

Today's video focuses on Las Vegas Raiders TE Darren Waller.

Draft or Pass at current ADP (average draft position): 55 (TE5)

The sun may have set on the Raiders unceremonious farewell season in Oakland, but breakout tight end Darren Waller shined in his first full year.

There were whispers during the NFL Combine and offseason about his athletic skill set, improved focus, and recovery from substance abuse issues that plagued him early in his career, but he was still going off the board as either an end-of-the-draft flier or undrafted free agent. Even when Hard Knocks on HBO returned, and Waller’s story became one of the feel-goods heading into 2019, he still wasn’t shooting up draft boards.

Waller had to prove his worth on the field and did so from day one. He caught 33 passes through the first four games of the season for 320 yards, becoming the top receiving option for the Raiders with Antonio Brown out of the picture. He'd finish as the TE3 in PPR leagues, averaging just under 14 fantasy points per game. He finished second to only Travis Kelce in receptions, targets, yards, and was tied for first in yards per reception. Remarkable considering his quarterback Derek Carr has averaged 6.9 yards per pass attempt throughout his career. In 2019, Carr went on to have the highest Y/A of his career by a wide margin.

Waller’s skills play within the confines of Jon Gruden’s offense, notably with Carr under center. But it’s important to note that no Raiders receivers truly stepped up after Antonio Brown was let go. The Raiders top three receivers of Hunter Renfrow, Tyrell Williams, and Zay Jones (acquired from Buffalo) combined for just 111 catches on 162 targets for the season. For context, Waller had 90 receptions on 117 targets on his own!

RaiderMaven’s Darin Alexander Baydoun recently discussed the Raiders’ need to address the passing game so that Carr would not remain completely reliant on Waller to move the chains.

"The Raiders have moved to Las Vegas, and general manager Mike Mayock and Gruden used three of their first four picks in the NFL Draft on wideouts.

Now there is Henry Ruggs III, a rookie who may not yet have the all-around skill set of (Antonio) Brown but does have game-changing speed and a prime opportunity to make his mark...

With Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, and Nelson Agholor likely being the other main starters at the position (none of them finishing with any more than 651 yards last year), Ruggs could quickly become the other main target for Derek Carr along with tight end Darren Waller.”

In a 12-team PPR league, Waller's ADP comes in at 55 (TE5), which puts him as a middle-to-late 5th round pick. While Waller is not in the top tier of tight ends with the likes of George Kittle Travis Kelce and even Zach Ertz, his placement as a late-round pick in the fifth provides fair positional value similar to that of Mark Andrews and Evan Engram.

However, with the crazy amount of depth at tight end this season, along with a serious likelihood of decreased targets in the passing game, I’ll pass on Waller even at a reasonable price point. 

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