Darren Waller went from virtually unknown, to top-five tight end within one NFL season. Despite breaking out later than most players, he looks to build on his first 1,000-yard season and continue to improve as a player. As the Las Vegas Raiders’ leading receiver, he helped the team improve their win total, and at least remain in the conversation for a wild card spot until the end of the year. Last year he was a late-round flier in fantasy football redraft leagues, at times even going undrafted. This season, his cost will be a lot higher. However, he is still worth the investment.
Darren Waller Fantasy Football Preview for 2020
Career in Review
For the past few years, there have been some big-time breakout tight ends that came into the season with only hushed whispers of their potential. 2017 was George Kittle. 2019 was Mark Andrews. But should it have been? Andrews certainly had a huge year, finishing as the TE5 in half-point PPR leagues as part of one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. But Waller actually finished ahead of him as the TE3. (Though it is worth noting that Andrews missed one game. Both had the same points-per-game of 13.8.)
Perhaps it is Andrews’ age – Waller is four years older than Andrews. And it is common for tight ends to break out in their second season, which Andrews did. His first year wasn’t even that bad either since he had over 500 receiving yards. Waller, on the other hand, had under 200 yards combined in his first three years. So rather than a breakout, many are looking at Waller’s 2019 and wondering if it might just be a fluke.
After all, many are pointing to another cautionary tale of a false breakout – Gary Barnidge. In 2015 with the Cleveland Browns, Barnidge racked up over 1,000 yards en-route to a TE4 finish, only to total 600 yards and two touchdowns the following year, which would also turn out to be his final NFL season.
Hard Knock Life
Those who watched last season’s NFL Hard Knocks likely had the leg up on Waller, and why he was such a late bloomer in the NFL. He’d always had potential as a draft prospect, with some slight debate on if he’d actually fit better as a wide receiver than a tight end. At 6′-6″, he has the size of a tight end, but his 4.46 40-yard dash time gives him the speed of a wideout. Ultimately, issues with substance abuse almost derailed his career, but he got his life in order, and is now fully focused on and ready to live up to his potential.
He is a perfect fit for the Raiders. This is a team that loves to take chances on guys like Waller. But he also pairs with a quarterback who loves to throw to tight ends. In fact, in each of the last three seasons, Derek Carr’s leading receiver has been a tight end. And Waller has been the best of those tight ends, totaling 1,145 yards and three touchdowns last year. This includes five games with at least 100 yards and only two games with under 40 yards. This gives him about as safe a floor as any tight end, and as high a ceiling as anyone.
Looking Towards 2020
It is important to take some of Waller’s numbers in context. While Waller proved that he could play at a high-level last year, it will be tough for him to duplicate his numbers next season. This is because there projects to be a lot more competition for targets compared to 2019. After the Antonio Brown debacle, the Raiders were left without true number one wide receiver. Tyrell Williams was solid but was hampered by a foot injury that cost him a few games and left him at less than 100 percent the rest of the year. Hunter Renfrow picked up a lot of the slack as a rookie from the slot, but aside from that, Carr had no other choice but to go to Waller many times.
This gave Waller 117 targets, more than most team’s number one wide receiver. The good news is that Waller was extremely efficient with the targets, converting on 76.9 percent of them. The bad news is that the team drafted two new wide receivers in the first three rounds. Henry Ruggs III looks to slide into the team’s number one spot, and Bryan Edwards has a lot of buzz, even outside of the Raiders organization. This could take away some of Waller’s overall ceiling for yards.
But there are still some silver linings. Both of these new faces are rookies, and it is unknown just how much if at all, they will contribute their first year. Secondly, Waller’s touchdown total was eerily low with just three. But the team had a habit of punching it in on the ground, totaling 35 rushing touchdowns to just 22 through the air. In addition, despite being the 11th ranked offense by total yards gained, the Silver and Black were ninth-worst in terms of point-per-game.
Darren Waller ADP and Value
More weapons might mean fewer yards for Waller, but it also means the offense should be more efficient, with more scoring opportunities.
Waller is currently ranked mostly as the fifth-best tight end for redraft leagues. This accounts for the potential to drop a few slots with more competition for targets. Despite a slight risk, he definitely rounds off the “tier one” section of tight ends, with Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Zach Ertz, and Mark Andrews. For players that want one of those high ceiling guys, Waller is likely the last chance to grab him.
Next up are a lot of iffy guys like Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, and Rob Gronkowski. All of them have about the same upside as Waller, with a lot more risk. If they feel the price is too high for Waller, and prefer waiting, the best thing to do would be to forget about the top-ten tight ends altogether and go for some of those up-and-coming, but unproven guys. The best target is Noah Fant, who ESPN currently has ranked as the TE11, with around a ninth or tenth-round grade. Hayden Hurst is another option. He left Andrews’ shadow on the Ravens to be the top dog with the Atlanta Falcons.
Overall, players who gave after Waller will get a guy with a safe floor, and a great ceiling in a young, up-and-coming offense.
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