Darren Waller is well on his way to becoming the greatest pass receiving tight end in the history of the Oakland-Los Angeles-Las Vegas Raiders.
That’s saying a lot, considering Hall of Famer Dave Casper and other greats such as Raymond Chester, Todd Christensen, Zach Miller, and Billy Cannon, who helped change the position in the NFL in the 1960s, played tight end for the Silver and Black.
Waller has made 203 catches in three years with the Raiders, including the last two years as a starter, for 2,416 yards, an 11.9-yard average, and 14 touchdowns, with a long of 75 yards.
However, he isn’t overly concerned with his numbers, just staying connected.
“I feel like it’s hard not to coast, you know what I’m saying? That’s just human nature,” said the 6-6, 255-pound Waller, who has overcome substance abuse problems after being selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round (No. 204 overall) out of Georgia Tech in 2015 and signing with the Raiders in 2018. “We do things for a while and naturally, we want to be like, ‘OK, I got this, I got this figured out.’
“Realizing this game isn’t going to give me anything, I’m not entitled to anything just because I’ve put a couple of good years together. Like people say, rent is due every day. I still have to show up and work just as hard just to put myself in positions because I still can’t control the results at the end of the day … but I can always control my effort, my preparation, my attitude. Those are the things I try to control.
“Me being somebody the team wants to look to as a leader with this franchise, I want to display qualities that are admirable and that young players can look at and see like, ‘OK, he’s really doing it. He’s really walking the walk. He’s not just talking it or resting on his laurels.’”
Waller caught six passes for 75 yards in his first year with the Raiders, but when tight end Jared Cook left in 2019 as a free agent to sign with the New Orleans Saints, Waller stepped in as the starter and caught 90 passes for 1,145 yards, a 12.7-yard average, and three touchdowns.
Last season he was even better, breaking Tim Brown’s franchise record of 104 catches set in 1997 with 107 receptions for 1,196 yards, an 11.2-yard average, and nine scores.
Waller has become quarterback Derek Carr’s favorite receiver.
“Whenever you know you have a guy who in man-to-man coverage and you know he can win, you can confidently, against any blitz, take your drop, step up and throw him the ball,” Carr told AP Sports. “The knowledge that before you take that snap, you know you have a guy who can win like that, it makes all the difference in the world. You can play more confidently at the position.
“The dude is unbelievable. He gets the credit because the fantasy stat people love him, but especially on stuff like that, he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what he can do in the run and pass game protection-wise. He’s the complete package. I think he’s the best in the league.”
That would mean better than Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs and George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers, who are considered the best tight ends in the NFL. Pro Football Focus has rated Waller as the third-best behind Kelce and Kittle heading into this season.
Waller made the Pro Bowl for the first time last season and many believe there is more to come.
Said Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus, which also rated Waller as the third-best tight end in the NFL: “Waller’s unique circumstances—struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction in the early years of his career—lend context to this contract signed just four games into the 2019 season. Waller’s incredible turnaround both off the field and on are extremely commendable, and his contract—less than half the per-year amount of position leader tight end George Kittle with three years still remaining—is easily one of the best values across the league.”
Christensen leads Raiders tight ends with 461 receptions for 5,872 yards and 41 touchdowns in his career, and Casper is second with 255 for 3,294 yards and 35 TDs.
The way Waller is going, numbers will be passed within a few seasons.
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