Back in 2018, the La Vegas Raiders signed a little known tight end, Darren Waller, off the Ravens practice squad. He sat on the bench and bided his time until 2019 where he blossomed into, arguably, the Raiders’ best player and one of the burgeoning stars in the entire NFL.
Making plays from start to finish
Waller had a breakout season in 2018, hauling 90 receptions for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns. He started the 2020 season strong, catching six passes for 45 yards against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1. He then took advantage of the national spotlight the next week on Monday Night Football when he gouged the New Orleans Saints defense for 12 catches, 105 yards, and a touchdown.
This performance really got national media to start talking about Waller. He only got better from there, racking up 383 receiving yards and four touchdowns in the next eight games. Little did we know this was all setting up for Waller’s production to explode in a huge way.
Over the last five games of the season, Waller put on a clinic of elite tight end play. He posted 654 yards and four touchdowns with his lowest yardage one-game output in this timeframe being 75 yards against the Indianapolis Colts. These big games included his best one of his career against the New York Jets. In that matchup, he posted thirteen catches for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Also, Waller managed to put a bow on the Raiders season by breaking Raider legend Tim Brown’s record for receptions in a season with 107. In the season finale, he caught a two-point conversion Raiders’ last offensive play of the year, which give them a win and season sweep of the rival Denver Broncos. This playmaking prowess helped ‘D-Wall’ earn his first-ever Pro Bowl berth, something he was immensely proud of.
— Raiders ITALIA (@RaidersITALIA) December 28, 2020
Darren Waller has become the Raiders top target
Quarterback Derek Carr and Waller have developed incredible chemistry. The tight end has become his most trusted receiver as well as his security blanket. Routinely, Carr will simply throw it in Waller’s direction and allow him to make a play, which he almost always does.
Waller’s play has not only benefited ‘4’. Back in Week 15, Mariota played in Carr’s relief and looked the tight end’s way to the tune of nine catches for 150 yards and a touchdown. The score, a long ball down the left sideline, showed just how great the connection Waller has with his quarterbacks. Mariota was able to place it perfectly despite playing in his first game in a long while.
#Raiders are glad to have a solid back-up QB.
Mariota with a thing a beauty to Darren Waller.
— Lawrence Owen (@Colts_Law) December 18, 2020
At 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds with 4.4 speed and the ability to run routes with ease, there aren’t many players in the entire NFL who can match up with Waller. This was evident the most in games against the Dolphins and Saints, routinely beating defensive backs Eric Rowe and Malcolm Jenkins. Travis Kelce and George Kittle are two of the best tight ends in the NFL. However, there is no argument that Waller is a different mold at the tight end position.
Darren Waller will be a staple of the Raiders offense for years to come
Waller is one of the biggest bargains in the NFL. Even though he’s a top ten, in the NFL he ranks tenth in salary. Gruden, Carr, and the entire Raiders offense is lucky to have a player such as Waller on the team and in the community, as his story of recovery from drug addiction is an inspiration to all.
Look for him to continue to build upon his consecutive great seasons and cause even more damage to the Raiders’ record books as he cements himself as a true superstar in the league.
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*Top Photo: Alex Gallardo/Associated Press