Jared Cook was a huge part of the Raider offense last year. With basically zero help in the way of wide receivers, Derek Carr looked to Cook to carry the passing game. Cook did so well, he was signed away by the New Orleans Saints in the offseason. The Raiders signed Luke Willson and drafted Foster Moreau, but neither one are proven pass-catching tight ends.
All this means Darren Waller will get a tremendous chance to become the Raiders’ top tight end target, and offensive coordinator Greg Olson likes his chances at success. He was asked at OTAs on Tuesday if he felt Waller could step up and fill the spot vacated by Cook.
“Oh yeah, there’s no doubt. I think really as good a player as Jared Cook is and was for us, I just think this will really allow him… Would it stunt his growth if Jared was here? Possibly. So now that he has that position, it’s your position, you are the ‘Y’ in certain personnel groupings. We’re going to put you out there on the field and you’re going to play. You’re going to get better from playing. You’re not going to wait and sit behind Jared Cook and have to wait your turn, you have to go now. We’re really pushing him to the limit right now,” said Olson.
This bit of word salad notwithstanding, Jon Gruden had similar things to say about Waller last week, calling him the ‘best kept secret’ in the league.
It’s easy to see why people are getting excited about Waller’s potential. Here are a few Tweets from this morning about Waller’s performance in practice working with Derek Carr.
Darren Waller with a nice catch in stride to beat Isaiah Johnson. Carr identified the favorable matchup right away and threw a nice one right over Waller’s shoulder— Scott Bair (@BairNBCS) May 28, 2019
Nice route by Darren Waller to go up the sideline and make a catch from Derek Carr beyond the coverage of rookie Isaiah Johnson.— Jimmy Durkin (@Jimmy_Durkin) May 28, 2019
Carr connects on a dime with Darren Waller deep on a wheel route.— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) May 28, 2019
If we unpack all this and look at the timestamps, we’ll find that all three Tweets were talking about the same play- one apparently so spectacular that three separate well-known writers had to share their perspective on it. What do these Tweets tell us about Waller?
Firstly, rookie corner Isaiah Johnson runs a 4.4 and Waller toasted him. Secondly, Derek Carr was able to “identify a favorable matchup” involving Waller. Now, with Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow and God knows who else on the field, how often do you imagine Darren Waller is going to have a favorable matchup? My most conservative guess would be 100% of the time.
Thirdly, Waller ran a very good wheel route, which is a great sign because it is my second-favorite play (behind only the naked bootleg, preferably coming as a total surprise when run at the goal line by a stone-footed quarterback) and it almost always works. The wheel route is usually not covered by a corner as talented or as fast as Johnson, rather it ends up with a tight end or a running back running past an outside linebacker in coverage who suddenly looks like he’s running in a pool of cold nacho cheese from 7-11.
Finally, the route went ‘deep’. While Carr doesn’t throw deep as often as he should, when he does so he is extremely accurate. His current crop of receivers are incredibly skilled at catching the deep ball, and if Waller proves able to handle that as well, it could make the Raider offense even more indefensible than it already is.
If you’re looking for a potential breakout player and fantasy sleeper, look no further than Darren Waller.