Two years ago Darren Waller was battling drug addiction, now he’s battling for the title as the top tight end in football. Waller has an incredible comeback story that highlights the ideas of persistence, mental toughness, and focus which, along with his God-given physical tools, makes him the definition of a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Waller just came off a career year where he posted personal records for targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns and that train isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Waller was the go-to guy for Derek Carr because of the smooth way he operates in his routes and the fact that he’s too big to be covered by safeties and too fast to be covered by linebackers. Waller gives defensive coordinators around the league headaches and should remain one of the top tight ends in the game for the 2021 season.
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Waller had a breakout year for the Raiders in 2020. Waller played all 16 games and had 11 games where he scored 10+ fantasy points. He also had 4 games where he scored 20+ fantasy points including a 38.5 points game against the Jets. Waller did have some uncharacteristic games against the Falcons and Patriots where he only recorded 6 catches, 32 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 6.2 fantasy points combined in these two games. As mentioned above, Waller had career highs in targets, catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns and those records have the potential of being broken in this upcoming 17 game season.
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Waller should have very similar numbers to his previous season, even in a 17 game year. This isn’t a knock on Waller, as I think he is a monster and star in the league, it’s more on the offense around him and the schedule the Raiders play. To summarize, Derek Carr is an average-at-best quarterback and the Raiders play a difficult schedule. I think that Waller will be the focal point of the opposing defense and will be double-teamed for the majority of the season. Therefore, Waller’s number might take a slight dip in 2021, but he should still be uber-productive and I would be surprised if he fell to the fourth round in any standard or PPR scoring leagues.
ADP & Auction Value
ADP: 22, Rounds 2-3, TE3
Auction Price: $26
Waller is projected to be selected in the lower end of the second round or the early part of the third round for a 12 person league. He is currently competing with George Kittle for the right as the second TE selected after Travis Kelce. Waller and Kittle are in very similar situations because they are both hyper-talented TEs playing with average quarterbacks on teams without many other good receivers on the roster. So it makes sense that both are top 2 in target percentage, with the slight edge given to Waller. Waller is a dynamic playmaking, must-start TE who can outscore your RB2 and WR2 on any given week, and his auction price and draft position reflect that.
Waller will be under the microscope and spotlight of any defense he plays against. He is just that important and game-opening for the Raider’s offense. So he will most likely be double-teamed for much of the season. And with the loss of Nelson Agholor in the offseason, along with Derek Carr’s average play and an already bottom 10 wide receiving core, to begin with, Waller will really be focused on and bottled up. Waller might have some trouble generating the same production he did last year because of those factors and the Raider’s very difficult schedule. However, with Waller’s talent and the Raider’s habit of feeding him the ball, Waller should never fall out of the top 12 TE rankings.
Waller is a top-three TE in the NFL and last year he proved it. He was able to turn 5 yards out routes into 15-yard gains and could outrun a linebacker on a seam route for a 30-yard completion. He can beat you short, he can beat you long, and it doesn’t really matter who you put on him. Your only hope is that you double cover him and let his teammates beat you because if you cover him one-on-one you are toast. While overall the Raiders have a hard schedule, Waller can still be the star TE thanks to some of the weak TE defenses he is playing this year, like the Bears and Bengals who both ranked bottom 5 in TE defense last season.
Las Vegas Raiders Offense
Last year the Raiders ranked 8th in total offense. With weapons like Josh Jacobs, Darren Waller, and Nelson Agholor the Raiders had no trouble putting up points and yards against the teams they played. The Raiders had the 6th most passing yards and 14th most rushing yards last season. They even scored 447 points which ranked 10th in the league, so this was a complete offense. Their two workhorses, Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller, certainly produced for them as Jacobs had 1,000+ rushing yards and Waller had 1,000+ receiving yards. Their offense was the strong suit of the team as their defense completely fell apart by the end of the season. Agholor and 3rd down back Devontae Booker are now gone, but that shouldn’t slow down the Raiders from their offensive dominance. The Raiders like to run the ball downhill and get the ball quickly to their playmakers, so they are going to need the same production from Jacobs and Waller as well as elevated play from Derek Carr if they want to make a deep postseason run.
Strength of Schedule
The Raiders have the 8th toughest schedule. Not only do they have to play the Kansas City Chiefs twice, but they also have to play teams that went to the playoffs last season in the Bears, Colts, Browns, Steelers, Ravens, and the Washington Football Team. The Raiders also have to face off against up-and-coming scrappy teams like the Bengals, Chargers, Dolphins, and Cowboys who have the quarterbacks and offensive firepower to keep up with the Raiders. Their easiest games are against the Broncos and Eagles, which are not circle the calendar and mark them as guaranteed wins by any stretch of the imagination. Overall, the Raiders are playing a schedule where their opponent’s expected win percentage is 52.6% and that does not bode well for a team that finished 8-8 last season.