Darren Waller came out of nowhere this season to vault into the elite stratosphere of offensive weapons in the NFL. As the season has progressed and the Raiders receiving corps has struggled with injuries and inconsistency, it seems that we’ve begun to take Waller’s meteoric rise for granted.
But where would the Raiders offense be without Waller? It’s hard to imagine, especially with how poorly the the team has performed over the last three weeks despite the star tight end notching 16 catches for 213 yards on 22 targets.
Waller’s 93 targets dwarfs the rest of the Raiders weapons this season, with Tyrell Williams’ 57 sitting as the second-highest mark on the team. He’s been Derek Carr’s safety blanket, go-to-target, and Oakland’s top weapon after the catch all wrapped in one package. Per Sports Info Solutions tracking data, Waller’s average depth of target is only 7.1 yards down the field, quite a low number that is indicative of an offense favoring short passes.
But when the ball is in his hands, Waller is averaging 5.85 yards after catch, fifth most among all receivers and tight ends with a minimum of 50 catches this season.
Most yards after the catch per reception this season (min: 50 catches)— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 14, 2019
1. Robert Woods: 7.14
2. George Kittle: 6.97
3. Cooper Kupp: 6.19
4. Chris Godwin: 6.09
5. Darren Waller: 5.85
After fighting through well-chronicled problems with addiction, Waller is finally starting to realize his athletic potential under the tutelage of head coach Jon Gruden and tight ends coach Frank Smith.
He’s on pace to finish with 89 receptions for 1,082 yards and 4 touchdown and was rewarded with a 4-year, $28.9 million contract extension midseason that already looks like a steal.
With Williams dealing with plantar fasciitis and Hunter Renfrow out with a rib injury, midseason acquisition Zay Jones is the Raiders best fully healthy receiver available. Rookie tight end Foster Moreau — the Raiders top redzone option — is out for the season as well, making Waller’s presence even more imperative.
Who would Carr even be throwing to if Waller wasn’t around?
As the Raiders get set to step onto the Coliseum grass one last time to face the Jaguars on Sunday, Jacksonville will be doing everything they can to bracket Waller force the other weapons donning silver and black to beat them.
They’ll have a tough time with their motley crew of linebackers, however.
Jacksonville's LB group:— JaguarMaven (@JaguarMaven) December 11, 2019
-Rookie UDFA Joe Giles-Harris
-Third-year LB Donald Payne, who signed with the team after Week 8
- Preston Brown, who was just waived by the Oakland Raiders
- Second-year player Leon Jacobs, who has only ever played SLB
- Career STer Austin Calitro
It’s hard to imagine any one of Joe Giles-Harris, Donald Payne, Preston Brown (yikes), or Leon Jacobs keeping Waller in check.
The Raiders currently sit at No. 13 in the NFL in passing DVOA and No. 15 in passing yards per game. But without Waller, they’d be doomed to rely almost exclusively on Josh Jacobs and the running game to put points on the board.
The 27-year-old should be a fixture in the Raiders offense for years to come and is a good bet to win the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award while notching the first Pro Bowl appearance of his career.
As Gruden said earlier this week: “Get a Waller jersey, young people. He’s worth it.”