It is certainly within the range of outcomes for Darren Waller to finish as the overall TE1 in fantasy football this year. While Travis Kelce has rightfully earned the top positional ADP spot, his historic production with Patrick Mahomes has overshadowed Waller’s incredible two-year run. As redraft season approaches, here is why the Las Vegas Raiders‘ leading pass catcher could produce his best season ever in 2021.
Projecting the 2021 Season for Las Vegas Raiders Tight End Darren Waller
Waller finished the 2019 season ranked fifth among all tight ends with 13.8 fantasy points per game. In 2020, he improved in every major offensive statistic.
|Targets||Target Share||Receptions||Receiving Yards||TDs||FPPG|
His production was an afterthought in the wake of Kelce’s greatest tight end season of all time. Despite Kelce’s record-breaking 1416 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, Waller actually tallied more receptions, finishing third all-time in a season behind Zach Ertz (116) and Jason Witten (110).
At 6-foot-6, 255 lbs, Waller is one of the best overall athletes at any position. His workout metrics are superior across the board.
Public Service Announcement: #Raiders Darren Waller improved his 2019 production in every major offensive category:
-Team Target Share
And is one of the best damn athletes at any position in the NFL
As you were… pic.twitter.com/F6Lbsei8lO
— Mike Randle (@RandleRant) July 25, 2021
Still only 28 years old, Waller is still in the prime of his career and is three years younger than Kelce.
The Raiders have struggled to maintain team consistency, finishing with just one winning season since 2003. That’s less than the Jaguars (five), Lions (four), and Browns (two) during that same time span.
Per SharpFootball, Las Vegas has the third-hardest schedule based on opposing win totals, increasing the likelihood of negative game script. Leading wide receiver Nelson Agholor is now with New England, contributing to the Raiders 121 vacated targets. The Raiders added veteran John Brownand pass-catching back Kenyan Drake, but Waller’s place as the dominant receiving option is secure.
Waller’s elite production is even more impressive when you consider the Raiders ranked just 23rd in the league in team passing play percentage. Head coach Jon Gruden prefers to run the ball, yet the Raiders are only projected to be favored in six of their 17 games in 2021. They face a particularly difficult start to the season, projecting as underdogs in three of their first four games, including road battles at Pittsburgh and the division-rival Chargers.
Underrated Derek Carr
Derek Carr receives a ton of criticism for not being an “elite” quarterback, but the 30-year old signal-caller set career-highs in passing yards and yards per completion last season. Carr has improved his yards per attempt in four straight years, reaching a career-best (8.2 YPA) mark in 2021. Per PlayerProfiler, Carr’s 86 red zone passing attempts were fifth-most of any quarterback. Waller ranked first among all tight ends with 24 red-zone targets. Translation? When Carr throws near the goal line, Waller is the likely target. That connection is unlikely to change with the arrival of Brown and Drake.
There is also hope for some positive regression in team red-zone efficiency. The Raiders only finished 23rd in red zone scoring percentage, finding the end zone only 54 percent of the time. Per FootballOutsiders, Las Vegas ranked 14th in overall offensive efficiency, leaving room for even more scoring opportunities for Waller.
Darren Waller Projection
Using the RotoViz Projection Machine, and factoring in a 17-game schedule, I have the Raiders attempting 598 passes with a 68% completion percentage for Derek Carr. Keeping Waller’s catch percentage and touchdown percentage the same as last season, he projects for another fantastic season.
|2021 Projections||Targets||Receptions||Receiving Yards||TDs|
Those numbers would put Waller at 286 fantasy points, which would have finished as the overall TE1 in each of the past seven seasons excluding Kelce in 2018 and 2020. Betting on another historic season from the 32-year old Kelce, on a Chiefs team projected to win 12 games, while competing withTyreek Hill for targets, is certainly risky. Waller has minimal competition for targets, established rapport with Carr, and there’s room for improvement with an increase in team red-zone efficiency.
With Kelce going as an automatic first-round pick, there is no debate that Darren Waller is a better ADP value at the second/third round turn in all fantasy football formats. Savvy drafters will get a competitive positional advantage at a fantastic discount while acquiring the possible overall TE1.
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