Can tight end Darren Waller — the biggest beneficiary of the Oakland Raiders allowing Jared Cook to walk in free agency — seize a silver opportunity this offseason?
That’s one of the most intriguing questions as the team embarks in crucial prep work for head coach Jon Gruden year 2.
At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Waller — without question — looks the part. And in brief instances last season, the former Georgia Tech wide receiver opened eyes — how often do you see a team running an end around with a tight end? He gained a slick 21 yards on that play against Cincinnati on Dec. 16. He also caught a short strike from quarterback Derek Carr in that game and nearly housed it going 44 yards before being tripped up at the last second.
Can the soon-to-be 27-year old (on Sept. 13) turn the spark into a full-on inferno?
In a nutshell, Waller is a younger, just-as-athletic, albeit less productive version of Cook. Regardless of reason — perhaps primarily monetary — The absence of an established veteran on the roster leaves a gaping hole at a position the offense heavily relied upon in 2018. The DC/JC connection was so strong last season, the now Saints tight end set career highs in yards (896), catches (68) and touchdowns (6).
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Can Waller alone make up for that?
Highly unlikely. Waller’s career statline reads: 18 catches, 178 yards, two TDs. But the Raiders coaching staff wants to give him a chance to try.
“Would it stunt his growth if Jared were on the roster? Possibly,”
Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said, “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.”
Waller lives up to the scouting billing he had coming out in 2015. Dubbed a late-bloomer type, Waller couldn’t put it all together in Baltimore. The Ravens plucked him from the draft pool in the sixth round. It’s the perfect round to take a flier on a massively built wide receiver who smoked the 40-yard dash with a 4.46.
That same athletic profile that caught the eye of Gruden resulted in the Raiders nabbing him from the Ravens practice squad. An afterthought addition, he is truly being given a “chance of a lifetime” (this was uttered by double-talk Gruden back in late March).
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Organized team activities (OTAs) proved the Raiders head coach wasn’t just talking out the side of his mouth regarding Waller. He’s the lead dude in at a position grouping that saw Oakland take Foster Moreau in the fourth round while adding Luke Wilson and Erik Swoope into the mix to go along with incumbent Derek Carrier.
It’s likely going to be a combined effort at tight end this coming season. Waller has the receiving chops to be the move tight end, no doubt. But he’s lacking in the blocking department and, as was the case in 2018, the Raiders are going to deploy specific TEs for that task.
Moreau is the best blend of blocker/receiver. However, tight end is arguably the hardest transition to make from college to pros. Wilson is a goon blocker while Swoope and Carrier are receivers by trade and blockers by slight practice.
Whatever course the Autumn Wind takes in 2019, it’s imperative Waller spread his sails and take off with the gust. He’s been given a chance many don’t get in the NFL.
It’s time to ingrain Big Waller Brand into Raider Nation.
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