Darren Waller burst onto the scene during the 2019 season after years of bouts with substance abuse. Waller is a true American comeback story. After being suspended for the entire 2017 by the NFL, he overcame his addictions and found his way back onto the Ravens practice squad in 2018. From there, he was plucked by the Raiders and further developed behind aging starter Jared Cook. After Cook’s departure in free agency, Waller earned the starting job at TE for the Raiders.
Waller vaulted up the TE rankings and became his team’s number one option, logging 90 catches for 1146 yards and three TDs. He led his team in targets, receptions, and yards by wide margins. Waller is capable of moving swiftly and gracefully like a WR at 6’6” and 255 lbs.
Darren Waller too smooth 🔥
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) August 19, 2021
He also possesses some of the best hands in the NFL, as he was credited with just two drops in all of 2020. He is one of your author’s “My Guys” for both the 2021 redraft season and in dynasty leagues alike.
Last year, in his age-27 season, Darren Waller caught 107 passes on 146 targets. He turned those 107 receptions into 1195 yards and nine TDs while confined by arguably the leagues’ least-dynamic passing offense. Among ALL pass-catchers in 2020, Waller finished fourth in target share (28%) and fifth in first-down receptions (69). He is the unquestioned alpha receiver in Las Vegas and the player that defenses scheme to take away each week. He even showed during Week 15 last season that he would elevate his game and consistently produce, even with a different QB, as Derek Carr went down in the first drive with a groin injury.
Marcus Mariota enters the game for the @Raiders..
Marcus Mariota drops a dime to Darren Waller 🙌
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) December 18, 2020
While the Raiders’ 2021 receiver corps could be better than past seasons given the addition of John Brown and projected second-year leaps from Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards, Waller is still the focal point of this passing offense. We know what the Raiders have in Hunter Renfrow out of the slot. For fantasy purposes, Darren Waller is literally a cheat code you can play at the TE position. Barring injury, he will finish as one of the top-two TEs in fantasy this season.
John Brown’s arrival to the team should only benefit Waller’s opportunities, as the Raiders will have two field-stretchers in Brown and Ruggs. Derek Carr, while a competent NFL passer, does not throw deep frequently so Waller’s immense target-share certainly appears safe. The organization extended Waller’s contract through the 2023 season toward the end of his breakout 2019 campaign. Expect more of the same from Waller in 2021 and beyond, as Waller should finally eclipse the 1200-yard mark this season.
While Chiefs’ TE Travis Kelce carries a first-round ADP across nearly every league scoring format, Waller can most often be nabbed in the second–and sometimes even the third round. Rostering Kelce or Waller gives an owner a unique advantage over the rest of the playing field, regardless of league type or scoring settings. There is no denying that Kelce plays in a better offense and with a better QB. However, those are truly the only areas where Kelce has an edge over Waller. Waller is three years younger than Kelce and, believe it or not, has room to improve, as he is still developing and becoming more accomplished as a route runner.
Waller provides a safe and consistent TE1 floor week-in and week-out for your lineup. He is a WR1 you can slot in your TE spot. In TE premium leagues he is a slam dunk dynasty selection, even if you have to take him in the first round. Expect to get elite TE production from him for the next three or four seasons.
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