Can Raiders TE Darren Waller Leapfrog George Kittle And Travis Kelce In 2021?

Besides quarterback Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller is the team’s most valuable offensive player. As far as other top players who play the same position, can Waller leapfrog them this season?

A common debate among folks is whether the Raiders need a traditional number one wide receiver. The organization was linked to All-Pro Julio Jones this offseason but after much speculation, he’ll be landing elsewhere. It would appear the Raiders are all in on their current batch of wide receivers. While they might lack someone of Jones’ pedigree, each receiver brings something to the table. Regardless of which end of the debate you land on, Waller, for all intents and purposes, is the team’s top receiver. Not only that, but Waller’s recognized in the top echelon of tight ends, recently, he was ranked as number three overall.

Pro Football Focus ranked Waller third behind George Kittle, with Travis Kelce taking the top spot once again. Despite being 31 years old, Kelce hasn’t shown signs of slowing down playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2020, he hauled in 105 receptions and 11 touchdowns, both of them career-highs for ’87.’ PFF pointed out that Kelce’s 2,639 receiving yards after the catch is over 400 more yards than any other tight end or wide receiver in the NFL. Waller eclipsing Kelce next year will be a tall task if it’s possible at all. Waller does have the advantage of being Carr’s top target but is it enough? When comparing YAC and broken tackles, Waller is not that far behind Kelce. Waller’s 572 YAC and seven broken tackles sit behind Kelce’s 587 YAC and ten broken tackles.

How close is the gap between the top three?

In all honesty, the gap between Waller, Kelce, and Kittle is a lot closer than you might think. PFF believes as far as Kelce and Kittle, you have a 1a/1b situation, but with Waller’s advantage being his speed.

“Waller is fully capable of lining up out wide and beating cornerbacks as a receiver. His 2.3 yards per route run, when lined up outside in 2020, were more than any other tight end with at least 75 such routes, including Kelce.”  

The issue for Kittle was his health, as he only played in eight games, but yet still managed a higher ranking than Waller. One conundrum that might help Waller as far as these rankings go, will be the quarterback issue with the San Francisco 49ers. If Trey Lance unseats Jimmy Garoppolo, will the rookie heavily rely on Kittle? Maybe a slight dip in production could help Waller leapfrog Kittle this season. Regardless, the Raiders have one of the top offensive weapons in the NFL with a Pro Bowl nod now under his belt. Will he inch closer to overtaking Kelce in 2021?


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*Top Photo: Jeff Bottari/Associated Press

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