When thinking of Josh McDaniel’s offense, many people instantly think of the tight ends. After the dominant career Rob Gronkowski enjoyed in New England, along with quality seasons from Aaron Hernandez, Martellus Bennett, and Hunter Henry, how could you not? While this legend of McDaniel’s and two tight end sets still exists, he dialed it back a bit in 2022. Despite having both Henry and Jonnu Smith, the Patriots ranked 27th among all teams in terms of two-tight end set usage. So, even though McDaniels has said that he plans to use both Darren Waller and Foster Moreau, Waller is likely to get the most targets.
After two dominant seasons, Waller is well established in the NFL. One of Derek Carr’s favorite targets, he will not lack targets in McDaniel’s new system. However, he can take Waller’s game to a new level.
How McDaniels can add to Darren Waller’s game
With the Patriots in 2021, McDaniels utilized Hunter Henry on 68 percent of the offensive snaps. Where his impact was most felt, however, was in the red zone. In fact, all nine of his touchdown receptions last season came in the red zone. He was also targeted eighteen times in this area, which led the team.
It is not breaking news that the Raiders’ red zone offense has suffered in recent years. In 2021, they ranked 27th in red zone touchdown scoring percentage. New England, on the other hand, ranked seventh.
Utilizing Waller more in the red zone is a fairly simple exercise. There are few defenders in the league that are capable of matching up with his massive frame and fantastic athletic ability. Due to this, any one-on-one situation that Waller finds himself in is a win for the Raiders. The most commonly run play with these types of players is the goal line fade.
Many fans will remember watching Gronkowski do similar things as a member of the Patriots under McDaniels. Most defenders couldn’t match up with him, so they just threw the ball in his general direction and let him go get it. Waller presents the same match-up difficulties for a defense.
In addition, McDaniels has spent time around some of the most talented tight ends of all time. There is no telling how many little things he has picked up on from players like Gronkowski, Bennett, and Hernandez that he can now relay to Waller and Moreau.
Derek Carr throws an absolute DIME to Darren Waller ðŸŽ¯pic.twitter.com/6CGhc70Zai
— PFF (@PFF) December 27, 2020
How Darren Waller can help McDaniels
Due to his background as a college-wide receiver, Waller presents a different skill set than most tight ends. Capable of supplying value from any alignment, Waller has the ability to create after the catch as well as any player in the league. As such, the Raiders often looked to him on screen plays last season.
In the NFL, it is rare to find a tight end who catches bubble screens, blocks, and makes plays down the field on the same drive, but Waller absolutely does. This ability to do multiple things at a high level can truly unlock McDaniel’s offense. Waller is arguablyÂ the best tight end he has had since Gronkowski in his prime, and they can fulfill a similar role.
Taking another step?
Last season in New England, McDaniels did not have a truly dominant player that he could go to when he needed a big play. In Las Vegas, he will have three with Waller, Davante Adams, and Hunter Renfrow.
With two 1,000-plus receiving yard seasons under his belt, the Raiders’ star tight end has already had his big breakout. However, with some help from McDaniels, it is possible that the NFL has not seen the best of Waller just yet.
*Top Photo: Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun