Las Vegas Raiders star tight end Darren Waller was a part of trade rumors leading up to the draft.
The Green Bay Packers reportedly displayed interest in the Pro-Bowl tight end with the Davante Adams trade.
Waller has been one of the most productive tight ends since 2019 for Las Vegas Raiders. He is second in the NFL in yards and receptions for tight ends behind superstar Travis Kelce. He racked up 600 yards last season in just 11 games, putting him well on pace for another campaign of 1,000 yards if healthy.
The addition of Adams keeps Waller from playing X wide receiver outside. It allows him to work inside, where he flourishes with choice routes and speeds up the seam. During his time as a starting tight end under Jon Gruden, his highest number of slot targets was 32 in 2020. According to sports radar, that ranks 32nd among tight ends from 2019-to 2021.
McDaniels loved to use Rob Gronkowski in the slot in certain situations. A Waller's stature player has the same opportunity when playing against certain defenses. In 2014 Gronkowski had 54 targets from the slot with eight red-zone touchdowns. It was one of his only two seasons with 12 or more touchdowns. It is a role perfectly designed to open up Waller.
In 2017 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots ran seam to Brady's left. Gronk will be on the seam route with Brandin Cooks running the 16-yard comeback. With the safety shading towards the backside after the snap, Gronk breaks the route inside, and the QB lays it perfectly to him for the significant gain.
Gronk on a similar route from 2017. McDaniels calls this seam(inside seam, 16-yard comeback outside) pic.twitter.com/xWiILZpTDD— Marcus Johnson (@TheMarcJohnNFL) May 20, 2022
Most of Waller's big plays have appeared when he is lined up inside. The example below is vs. the New York Giants from 2021. We get the same route from Waller but more of a delay to hold the zone coverage. Derek Carr delivers great placement right between the safety and cornerback.
I expect Waller to get used inside more often with McDaniels calling the plays. Waller's highest is 32 slot targets in 2020. Gronk had 54 in 2014, one of his last healthy seasons. pic.twitter.com/2CxLyWwIzD— Marcus Johnson (@TheMarcJohnNFL) May 20, 2022
Option routes are indeed Waller's specialty, and it's a shame they didn't take more opportunities with him inside. Below vs. the Cincinnati Bengals, Waller gets a one-on-one matchup with the linebacker. Based on the linebackers' leverage, he takes them outside, and Carr hits him with perfect timing. It leads to a big chunk play for the Raiders offense.
Waller didn't run enough choice routes last year IMO. Injuries of course but this is easy money. pic.twitter.com/kfUNmFFX7b— Marcus Johnson (@TheMarcJohnNFL) May 20, 2022
Waller spoke to me about his work inside during our interview before the NFL draft.
"The details of the routes on the inside because they are challenging us on routes we haven't really run in the past," he said.
Fantasy football is sleeping on Waller, and his touchdowns could still be on the lower end for his position. However, his usage in this offense could increase with him moving to the slot more often.