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Raiders in Review: Darren Waller

Darren Waller emerged as a formidable weapon last season, and with the Raiders heading to Las Vegas, the tight end position looks solid.

One of the units the newly minted Las Vegas Raiders won’t have to worry about is tight end. Waller, who overcame his personal demons, had a career year in 2019, so much so that the team locked him up long-term. He emerged as one of the primary weapons in head coach Jon Gruden’s offense alongside rookie running back Josh Jacobs and will look to build on that next year.

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Let’s look back at Waller’s last season and how the former practice squad player had a borderline Pro Bowl season.

A Gridiron Revelation

The former Ravens tight end saw little action early on his career. In his first two seasons, he only started four games, catching a mere 12 passes while being relegated to the practice squad. In 2017, he missed the entire season for violating the NFL’s drug policy. However, that wasn’t all of it as Waller himself shared his memories of that time in his life:

“I was in Baltimore, I was just like a vegetable,” Waller said. “I was getting high, literally, every day. Whatever I could get my hands on. Like opiates first, like oxy pills, stuff like that. Xanax, cocaine. Not caring about anything, any kind of consequences, or anything like that.”

After arriving in Oakland, it was a different story for Waller. He rebounded and had a comeback for the ages when he became quarterback Derek Carr’s favorite weapon. He totaled 1,145 receiving yards, 90 receptions, and 53 first down catches. His best games were against the Vikings, Packers, and Jaguars. The Green Bay game in particular was very telling of his emergence, as he had seven catches for 126 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Fading Down The Stretch?

As great as he was in 2019 as a whole, Waller did have quite a rough stretch. From Weeks 4 thru 13, he was able to cross the century mark for yards only twice. Obviously, opposing defenses had zeroed in on Waller by this time as the Raiders lacked any real threat at wide receiver. He did finish the season strong despite not hauling any touchdowns the final three weeks, when he totaled 266 yards off 18 receptions.

Looking Ahead

Waller’s not going anywhere and if Carr is indeed the starter next season, plays like the one above will be the norm. Improving the Raiders wide receiver corps would also help Waller’s individual numbers in 2020, and having more targets in the red zone would mean more opportunities for touchdowns as well.

It will be fun to watch Waller continue growing as a player these next few years as the Raiders finally have their own potential star at tight end.

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