With a new opportunity, tight end Darren Waller can use his pass-catching skills to elevate the Oakland Raiders offense to impressive heights in 2019.
In terms of new opportunity, Darren Waller emerged as the biggest winner on the roster this offseason. The Oakland Raiders didn’t re-sign Jared Cook and waited until the fourth round to draft a tight end, Foster Moreau.
In November, the Raiders signed Waller off the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad. Apparently, coaches saw enough potential to put him in the pole position to start at tight end for the upcoming season. Last year, he played four games with the club, converting six targets into six receptions for 75 yards.
Waller transitioned from wide receiver to tight end going into the 2016 campaign with the Ravens and showed flashes that year, logging 10 catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns. He served a yearlong suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
The Ravens selected two tight ends in the 2018 draft, Hayden Hurst (first round) and Mark Andrews (third round), which essentially closed the door on Waller’s opportunities in Baltimore. The Ravens waived him with their final cuts last year.
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Even with Cook putting together his best season as a pass-catcher, the Raiders signed Waller, who’s in line for a career-altering season in a starting role. During organized team activities, offensive coordinator Greg Olson talked about the importance of the 26-year old’s development, per Scott Bair of NBC Bay Area:
“Would it stunt his growth if Jared was here? Possibly,” 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’s pass-catching skills and comparisons to Cook, who led the team in receiving yards (896) last year, have become central talking points connected to the Raiders’ new lead tight end. Nonetheless, he’s still a raw talent at his new position. The 6-6, 255-pounder doesn’t want his attributes to begin and end with a niche role in the aerial attack, per Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle:
“I definitely want to be a complete player. I don’t want to be a one-trick pony out there. I want to do anything the offense asks of me and not just trot out there be like ‘oh they’re passing it every time…Frank’s done a good job with helping me with blocking and hand placement, how I’m working my feet.”
Waller will need time to pick up and refine his blocking techniques. Moreau and Luke Willson could take the field for inline responsibilities in pass protection or seal the edge for outside runs. The third-year veteran has an entire summer to sharpen weaker areas in his game, but he could transform the Raiders offense into a juggernaut.
Wideouts Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams should draw enough attention on the perimeter to open the field for Waller in the passing game. If he builds a solid rapport with quarterback Derek Carr over the summer, the Raiders have a contributor capable of keeping defensive coordinators in the office working overtime to stop this unit.
Cook caught the ball like a wide receiver; Waller actually has experience playing the position. He knows how to create separation and free himself downfield. The Georgia Tech product can show off that skill set to move the chains.
Waller follows behind one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league, but he’s equipped to bring down 50-60 catches as well. Of course, the inexperienced tight end will work on becoming a complete contributor at the position, but head coach Jon Gruden can plug him into the offense for immediate results in the passing game.