Darren Waller was one of football’s most prominent breakout players in 2019. In fact, very few players improved as much as Waller did last season. After a challenging start to his NFL career, Waller went from a practice squad hopeful to a Hard Knocks phenom before becoming an emerging Las Vegas Raiders star. There is still a lot of time before next season, and if Waller can continue his hard work and diligence, he will solidify himself as the NFL’s next stud tight end.
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Last year, Darren Waller increased his career receiving yardage by more than sixfold. In 2019, Waller hauled in 90 receptions on 117 targets for 1,145 receiving yards, and three touchdowns. In PPR leagues, he averaged 13.8 fantasy points per game for a total of 221 fantasy points. Consequently, Waller finished as the third-best fantasy tight end and became a fan favorite in Las Vegas. Even though Darren only has one year of solid production under his belt, there are a lot of factors in his favor.
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Two factors that work in Darren Waller’s favor are his 90.4% snap-rate and 22.4% target share. According to playerprofiler.com, Waller’s snap-rate was the third-highest amongst tight ends, and his target share was the second-highest, according to lineups.com. This signals that Waller is one of the most utilized TEs in the NFL, especially in the receiving game.
Looking into next season, Waller is projected to be the third-best tight end in PPR leagues. Lineups.com predicts him to record 84.6 receptions, 992.4 receiving yards, 4.7 TDs, and 212.0 fantasy points. The slight decrease in his reception and yardage numbers are probably accounting for Waller’s limited history as a fantasy star. Nevertheless, this reduction should not discourage fantasy managers from drafting Waller.
Percentage of games held to less than 30 yards receiving for 5 highest paid receivers:
Amari Cooper 31%
Tyreek Hill 19%
Julio Jones 8%
Odell Beckham Jr. 7%
Michael Thomas 3%
— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) April 3, 2020
Most yards on receptions 20+ yards downfield among TEs
1. Travis Kelce – 272
2. Mark Andrews – 224
3. Darren Waller – 160
3. Dawson Knox – 160 pic.twitter.com/6u6n82UFQj
— PFF (@PFF) March 9, 2020
Auction Value: $10
Similar to Waller’s 2020 projection, his ADP and auction price are both low because he only has one year of solid production. Therefore some cautious fantasy owners will hesitate from choosing him. However, these risk-averse fantasy managers won’t reap the benefits of Waller’s potential because his ADP is a bargain compared to other tight ends.
Heading into the 2020 fantasy season, Darren Waller will most likely be drafted around the same time as most tier two TEs. Therefore, fantasy managers will debate between choosing Waller, Austin Hooper, Evan Engram, and Hunter Henry. All of these tight ends have ADPs and auction prices that are earlier and more expensive than Waller. However, Waller is a better bargain because those TEs play in more crowded receiving corps than him. Furthermore, they are all riskier tight ends than Waller due to their lengthy injury histories.
Waller’s floor is lower than most tier-one and two TEs because of his aforementioned possibility of being a one-hit-wonder. Eric Ebron, Tyler Eifert, and Gary Barnidge are all one-hit-wonder tight ends, who have disappointed fantasy owners since 2015. Another troubling aspect of drafting Waller is that he only recorded three touchdowns on 117 targets. This means that he is less of an explosive asset than players such as Travis Kelce and George Kittle. As a result, his floor will be penciled as an average, tier-four TE until he sustains long-term consistency in 2020.
Due to his high snap rate and target share, Waller is in an excellent position to repeat his fantasy success. These statistics assert that Waller is almost always in a place to generate fantasy points because he is on the field for more than 90% of the Raiders’ total snaps. Barring an unforeseen draft selection, Waller will remain the best receiving weapon for Las Vegas and continue to maximize his fantasy value.
Contrary to popular belief, QB Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders were a productive passing attack. Despite having a lackluster receiving corps, Carr ranked in the top ten for passing yardage. Nearly 30 percent of Carr’s passing yards went to Darren Waller because he excels as a safety valve who can move the chains after the catch. Due to their chemistry, Waller’s ceiling will be slated as a reliable tier-one TE.
Las Vegas Raiders Offense
It’s challenging to guesstimate how Jon Gruden will orient his offense next season because he consistently changes it every week. This means that there will always be some unpredictability concerning any Raiders players’ fantasy outlook. However, there are some pillars of Gruden’s offense that have remained constant for much of his coaching career.
One staple of Jon Gruden’s West Coast offense has been his heavy emphasis on short passes. This meshes well with Derek Carr’s skill-set as a distributor, because he mainly targets the short-level of the field, especially on third down. This is fantastic for Waller because he is a quality safety valve who excels at picking up yards after the catch. In fact, Waller ranked second amongst all tight ends for generating YAC, so this aspect of Gruden’s offense should solidify Waller’s fantasy success.
However, Gruden also loves to incorporate a smash-mouth, power-rushing scheme that did wonders with Josh Jacobs. Unfortunately for Waller, it prompted the Raiders to run the ball 44.49% of their plays, which ranked eighth-highest in the NFL. This was a sharp uptick from their 2018 run percentage. If Las Vegas continues to increase their run percentage, this could hinder Waller’s fantasy output, especially if they regress in 2020. However, this will only be problematic if Waller fails to assert himself in the Raiders receiving corps. As a result, Waller’s fantasy managers should pay attention to the Raiders’ passing stats and Waller’s target share next season.
Strength of Schedule
The AFC East might be troublesome when Waller competes against the Bills and Patriots because they each ranked in the top four at defending against the pass. The Pats will be especially tough since Bill Belichick is a defensive mastermind who regularly takes away an offense’s best player. Conversely, Waller will probably excel against the Dolphins because they lack playmakers, and were weak against passing offenses last year. Although this projection could change completely if the Dolphins make splashes in the draft to bolster their defense, especially with Brian Flores as head coach.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many easy matchups for Darren Waller in 2020. Tampa Bay looks to be a possible cakewalk because they were one of the NFL’s worst defenses at limiting TE fantasy points. Plus, they are a team whose defense is more tailored to stop the run than the pass. Cleveland is another potential cakewalk because they surrendered the most TDs, and second-most fantasy points against tight ends last season. Yet they are toss-up since they also defend the pass well.
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