Waller is a sleeper pick, but don’t you sleep on him by Justin Brandrick

Waller is a sleeper pick, but don’t you sleep on him by Justin Brandrick

Each draft season you’re guaranteed at least one physical anomaly that breaks all sorts of height/weight/speed thresholds, but tends to be as raw as they come. Darren Waller was no different coming out of Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense.

You would be forgiven for not knowing that Darren Waller is actually an NFL veteran, and not a rookie.

This will be Waller’s fifth season in the NFL, and second with the Oakland Raiders. He initially entered the league as an oversized wide receiver, and the Ravens drafted him in the sixth round of the 2015 draft. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong after that. Early into his rookie season, he was placed on IR, ending his season. He was then suspended on two separate occasions for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. During that time, he transitioned to the tight end position.

The Ravens ultimately waived Waller in 2018, before the Raiders added him to their roster.

For the 2018 season, he was used very sparingly as he adjusted to his new position. He didn’t do much last year, but flashed his potential towards the end of the year. He caught 6 balls for 75 yards over the final three weeks in December. Recently departed Jared Cook led the Raiders in receiving yards over the past two years. If he truly is on the field during Raiders passing situations, he certainly could have a lot of space on the field. Antonio Brown, Josh Jacobs, and Tyrell Williams will undoubtedly be the focus of most defences, which could leave Waller in acres of space.

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden wasn’t happy about losing Jared Cook to the Saints.

The veteran tight end was Derek Carr’s top target a season ago. Cook was someone Gruden moved freely across the formation to great effect. Gruden may not have liked him signing elsewhere, but knew full well it was coming. The Raiders weren’t going to pay competitive market value for a soon to be 32-year old, even coming off a career year.

They have several tight ends under contract, including block-first starter Lee Smith, versatile backup Derek Carrier, first-year player Paul Butler, and a potential Cook clone in Darren Waller.

I do like the Raiders’ addition of Foster Moreau but he’s certainly raw. It’s likely he takes a few seasons to adjust.  That would certainly not be the case even if Cook were still there with the team this year, given the offensive additions Jon Gruden has made, but the Raiders will have to find a replacement. That has led the hierarchy in Oakland to lean on Waller as their potential starting tight end, at least in the short term. Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said that the team will give Waller:

“A chance of a lifetime. So, if you’re listening out there Darren, let’s go brother. I really think he’s intriguing. It will be an interesting training camp for him.”

Also, general manager Mike Mayock stated that he:

“hopes Waller can become the Raiders’ top receiving threat at tight end”.

It seems to be everyone in Oakland is in Waller’s corner and backing him. Ultimately it’s down to the player to produce when the chances come his way.

Coach speak is the last thing you want to use as your authority when projecting opportunity. By all accounts, however, Waller has all but locked up that TE1 role. He may be hanging out on your waiver wire. You could do a lot worse than taking a shot on the athletic tight end for the Raiders, even if it’s only for 2019. Waller has sleeper potential from the tight end position.

Following his series of the off-field issues, many owners dropped Waller to waivers in dynasty leagues. Despite Waller’s late college breakout age, and missed seasons in the NFL, he is technically only entering his fourth season overall and third full season on an active roster.

As you know, or maybe don’t know, that’s the pinnacle breakout point for many tight end prospects.

Waller’s breakout certainly isn’t guaranteed considering his past issues and unrefined playing style. However, as an end of bench stash, he could provide some value to flip in this new look 2019 Raiders offense. Would I be starting him this week? No! I would watch very closely this week though to see what happens with his role. To me, he’s an extremely intriguing part of this hugely improving offense. If you are willing to gamble on Waller first game out of the blocks, then it’s not the worst game to chance it on. Raiders have a favourable match up with the Broncos. Their defence gave up the sixth most points to tight ends in 2018.

Feature Image Credit: https://www.nbcsports.com

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