When Darren Waller was scooped away from the Baltimore Ravens practice squad in November of 2018, nobody knew what was going to ensue the following season besides the Raiders. Now we are only left to wonder what could be with Waller and Mark Andrews together. I am here to breakdown Darren Waller and determine if he can continue this production to secure his top-3 dynasty value.
In the 2019 pre-season there was much anticipated hype coming from the Oakland Raiders, with a bit of it from their veteran tight end. A 27-year-old no name tight end being hyped up in training camp is nothing short of a no-name tight end being hyped up in training camp. He wasn’t sexy and there was nothing amazing about him, but he was big bodied and looked like he can gallup if needed. As a fantasy manager you had no idea what you were getting into but for those who decided to invest, Darren Waller was a force to be reckoned with. He exploded onto the scene as a top fantasy tight end en route to one of the best unexpected seasons in recent memory. His 1,145 yards were the 20th most in a season for the position, which sounds low but almost all of the players higher on that list are hall of famers (his 1,196 yards in 2020 are now 13th most). For any Waller doubters coming into 2020 he silenced them to show he wasn’t just a one year wonder. He finished as the number 2 tight end jumping from three touchdowns to nine, 90 catches to 107, and 117 targets to 145. A fantastic leap for a player who had already out-produced expectations. Though, it was more than just Waller being very talented that helped play a role in such a leap.
Derek Carr just had his best statistical season since his 2016 MVP run, in doing so with only 4 more pass attempts than 2019. The Tyrell Williams experiment failed, Nelson Agholor was a new face, Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards were rookies, and the offensive line was decimated with injuries. I’m not so sure that next season they will need him to see 145 targets as it was tied for the league lead at the position. Virtually the only thing that was consistent for Derek Carr was Darren Waller and it showed. The last 5 games really helped elevate his stats to end the season. Here is a look….
As you can see Waller took it to another level to end the season. If that 5 game pace were stretched throughout 16 games it would look something like…….137/2092/13. Obviously this potential best season in NFL history will not be happening but we have seen that Waller can be among the elite. Though, that 5-game production left the team with a 2-3 record and if the Raiders are not winning games something needs to change. Those statistical bombshells also accounted for 33% of his seasons production, with his top game coming against the league’s worst tight end defense in the Jets. Almost everything statistically improved in 2020 for him but I am still skeptical.
Derek Carr was throwing a lot more his last 6 games (really 5, injured 1st qtr wk 15). In those 5 healthy games he had more than 34 pass attempts in each of them. The previous 10 games he had surpassed 34 PA just 3 times. If you’re wondering how Waller did in those 3 games…..they were his 3 best performances in that span. We can also wonder if Derek Carr will even be a raider come opening day. We have also been hearing trade rumors, Mariota hypers crawling out of the dark, and they could cut him for virtually no dead money. They have seemingly committed to him for 2021 and there has also been recent rumors of a contract extension since he will be a free agent after 2022, but something will need to be done sooner than later. Derek Carr coming back will help that offense continuing to grow together and the younger pieces will start to come into fruition. Due to this Waller may perhaps come down closer to his 107 target season in 2019.
The Raiders targeted the TE position more than any team in 2020, over 33%. He accounted for 26.3% of the team’s targets, which was most at the position and 2nd in the league overall behind DeAndre Hopkins. The last two seasons Carr has just barely surpassed 500 passes. As stated before when Waller was the only piece in the offense it’s very easy to get almost 10 targets per game, regardless of how little you are throwing. So unless you expect him to be among the league leaders in target share, or Carr will start throwing the ball more, they must decrease.
Waller is in the elite tier when it comes to yards after catch. He finished 2nd at the TE position each of the last two seasons behind George Kittle and Travis Kelce. Kittle is great while also in a fantastic yards after catch system and Kelce needs no explanation. The point is that it is very tough to be consistent and consistently good at YAC. His yards per reception dropped from 12.7 to 11.2, so you were relying on his YAC even more than what we saw 2019. His ADOT, or average depth of target, actually increased from 7.3 to 7.8. This means that he was being target farther down the field, but not gaining as much after the catch in comparison to 2019 (still a lot though). Yet, this will not help if his targets and Y/R decrease.
Touchdowns for the most part are an unpredictable stat. You can use previous years and systems as a guideline or likelihood of a player scoring, but still never for sure. As previously stated Waller jumped from three touchdowns to nine in 2020. Derek Carr’s already had his best season to date and we need to rely on him doing that again for Waller to see near double-digit touchdowns. Waller was 2nd in the league in redzone targets (22) and had 6 touchdowns inside the 10. It was a big jump from 2019 when he had 11 and 2, respectively. With only 2 games with touchdowns in 2019 and then 8 in 2020, you hope the latter continues. Knowing it came from a great Derek Carr season, a young and injury plagued offense, I am moving my Waller shares while the roller coaster is still at the top.
The raiders also need to improve their defense most. A lot of mocks are proving that to be the case (taken with a grain of salt) but a lot can happen between now and April. With a better defense you would presume Vegas will throw a little less and use their workhorse running back in Josh Jacobs. Overall since 2019, in games that the Raiders have had Jacobs getting 20-plus carries they are 8-4. In that same span, they are 5-5 when Waller scored and only 3-9 when he had 75 or more receiving yards. Last season 753 of his 1196 yards (63%) came when the Raiders were behind. These recipes don’t add to a higher passing attack, or one that can continue to be centralized around their tight end.
Overall, I believe Darren Waller to be a good tight end that most likely has reached his peak season. I cannot justify him as the TE3, or even in the top 5 for dynasty. He scored the fourth most fantasy PPR points for a tight end ever. He cleared the next closest player to him by over 102 points. He also still trailed Travis Kelce by 34 points, which is insane. With Kittle and Zach Ertz battling injuries this year and Mark Andrews not playing a full 16 games, Waller had the expectation to finish near the top if he was who we thought. None of this would have changed how Waller played this year, but it does hurt his chances to finish top 3 moving forward. There are Younger tight ends I would rather have like Mark Andrews, T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant and you also have a rookie like Kyle Pitts who could be drafted in the top 10 in April. Today Darren Waller is the best player in that offense, but I’m not so sure that the Raiders plan for the impending 29 year old to be the focal point moving forward.