Last season, Darren Waller emerged as one of the best tight ends in all of the NFL. In his fourth season, he appeared in all 16 games and set career-highs across the board. He caught 90 passes for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns.
Although Waller is entering his age-28 season and has one good year under his belt, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden thinks that his team has something special.
“We think he’s a superstar,” Gruden said to reporters on Friday. “We think he’s a great tight end. I know two tight ends got paid a lot of money [Thursday]. We’re happy to have our guy. He can do it all. He can block. He can run any route. He’s got great stamina.”
It was quite the journey to get to this point for Waller. He was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the 204th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He appeared in only 18 games through his first two seasons, and missed all of 2017 after a second failed drug test.
Recently, Waller achieved three years of sobriety.
“He had a dark portion of his life there for a while that not a lot of people come back from,” Gruden said. “I hope a lot of young people get the real story behind Waller. You can beat addiction. If you just listen to Darren Waller and how he did it, he is a great source of, I think, leadership and proof that you can be great even though you’ve had some dark, dark times.”
Waller knows he has had to overcome a lot, and he’s fought and battled to get to the position he’s in now.
“It means I’m not the same person that I was, because before I wasn’t somebody who was worth looking up to or that was inspirational in any way,” Waller said. “Now I’m kind of free from that. I can really step into my calling and write my own story and be of service to other people in the process and inspire people. It means a lot to me now that a lot of people are looking to me for inspiration.”