The 2021 season was a rough one for Darren Waller. Injuries caused him to have his worst season in several years. Thus, it might be time for the Las Vegas Raiders to get his replacement on the depth chart.
Darren Waller’s statistics plummeted last season
After breaking 1,000 yards in 2019 and 2020, Waller struggled in 2021. He totaled 665 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. For the average tight end, those would still be excellent numbers. But when compared to the lofty standard Waller has set since his breakout 2019 season, they are a clear drop-off.
Of course, injuries played a significant role in Waller’s decline. He missed six games with knee and ankle injuries, and it’s possible that he would have earned better statistics if he played more games.
The advanced metrics show similar problems
Unfortunately, the advanced metrics don’t suggest that Waller was performing particularly well even when he took the field for the Raiders. As evidence, let’s turn to the Offensive Value Metric (OVM).
The OVM is a grading system created by the (Bx) Movement to evaluate players based on how much of their statistical production they were actually responsible for.
Waller has earned an OVM grade in each of the last three seasons, and 2021’s performance is the lowest of the bunch (28.02). That’s down seven points from the season before at 35.25, which itself was down five points from 2019 at 40.05.
That is obviously a concerning trend. To be fair, Waller’s injuries last season almost certainly had lingering effects on his level of play. But injuries are an unfortunate reality of the NFL. There’s no guarantee that Waller won’t get hurt again in 2022.
The weekly grades show how injuries impacted Waller’s season
To help us better evaluate the impact of injuries on Waller’s performance, let’s look at his weekly grades. You can see them in the chart below, marked by the black dots. For comparison, the yellow line represents the average grade for tight ends during the regular season.
Waller was on a solid pace before his first injury of the season. However, things started to get shaky after that. Then, he was injured again and earned his worst grade of the year after his return (8.83). Yet, he did bounce back with a more average performance in the Raiders’ lone playoff game.
Looking at the data, it does imply that Waller’s injuries contributed to his OVM struggles. However, as we’ve already noted, they dropped in 2020 as well. It’s possible that the injuries only exacerbated an already existing problem.
Waller’s advanced metrics have fallen in each of his last few seasons
Whatever the cause, Waller’s level of play has been falling for the last few seasons. To understand why, we need to look at the following metrics, all of which are taken into account by the OVM:
- The average amount of cushion he was given at the snap.
- The average amount of separation between him and the nearest defender when the ball reached them.
- His catch percentages.
- His average yards after the catch per reception.
- The yards after the catch he was expected to average according to the NFL’s advanced statistics.
|Cushion||Separation||Catch %||YAC||YAC +/-|
Waller’s numbers have worsened in every category. The amount of cushion Waller has been given has gone up, presumably due to opposing defenses respecting his skill, but the amount of separation he’s created has decreased.
His YAC numbers have also fallen, dropping by two yards. Perhaps worst of all, Waller’s catch percentage has fallen by almost 18%.
If Waller was performing at his peak before his injuries this season, it would be more reasonable to anticipate a direct return to form in 2022. But looking at these numbers, there seems to be a risk of continued decline.
Darren Waller’s replacement doesn’t seem to be on the Las Vegas Raiders’ depth chart
If Waller does struggle next season, for whatever reason, the Raiders will need to turn to their depth chart for a replacement. The player currently slated to fill that role is Foster Moreau, who filled in during the weeks Waller missed in 2021.
Moreau’s performance wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t anything spectacular either. He totaled 373 yards and 5 touchdowns, and his OVM grades were a mixed bag. He qualified four times, with performances ranging from a low of 8.1 to a high of 39.22.
Las Vegas sees Moreau in practice every day, so they have more information than I do. As a result, maybe they have more confidence in him. But the on-field performances don’t give much reason to believe that he will develop into a player who can substitute for Waller.
It might be prudent for the Raiders to get a backup plan
It’s important to remember that the question isn’t, “Will Darren Waller be good next season?” Rather, it’s “What will the Raiders do if he isn’t?”
It’s entirely possible that Waller will be back to his old self in 2022. However, if Waller gets hurt again, or if his injuries from last season continue to affect him, the Raiders could be in trouble.
The addition of Davante Adams will help, but Las Vegas still might want to look for a backup plan in the draft. Such a player wouldn’t fully replace Waller any time soon, but he could step up if the worst happens again.