It’s been a long, hard, dark, four years since the Baltimore Ravens drafted Darren Waller in 2015. The former Georgia Tech product has battled addiction and the ensuing suspensions, for most of his NFL career. Now, however, he is the bright light in the black hole for the Oakland Raiders.
Waller opened up about his addiction issues during Hard Knocks. While with the Ravens, he was using Xanax, opiates, and cocaine. Two years clean at the time of filming, he looked ahead to what he could contribute to the Raiders in 2019:
“I just want to be someone that’s consistent and can be there for 16 games. I feel like it’s definitely possible right now”
With three games in the bag, Waller not only looks consistent, but consistently brilliant. His contribution to the Raiders so far this season can not be understated.
Waller is the key contributor for the Raiders
He has more yards from scrimmage than anyone else on the Raiders roster. When you consider the fanfare that first-round rookie Josh Jacobs has received, Waller has flown somewhat under the radar. Of course, last week’s monster performance in Minnesota, albeit in a loss, has helped bolster his yardage. Waller accounted for 134 yards against the Vikings while snagging 13 of 14 targets. It was a performance that practically doubled his receptions and yards for the season.
When the Antonio Brown saga finally came to an end, attention turned to who would replace his expected production. Tyrell Williams was the guy, and although he has shown promise, it is Waller who is stepping up and leading the team on the field.
He isn’t just leading the team either. He figures prominently in several statistical leader boards. Only Keenan Allen of the Los Angeles Chargers has more receptions than Waller. His 267 yards are enough for 12th in the league, and he’s just 44 yards short of Sammy Watkins in third.
Battling for every yard
The most impressive aspect of Waller’s performance is how much of it he is creating himself. While he is 12th in the league for receiving yards, he is seventh in yards after the catch (YAC). This is in stark contrast to his positioning for yards before the catch where he ranks just 51st. Waller is making the plays himself. He averages 4.5 yards per reception before the catch, compared to 5.8 yards per reception after the catch.
Waller’s contribution is supported when we consider Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric. Waller grades out at an average 46.33 through three weeks. When you compare that grade to the receiving group, and Derek Carr himself, it shows Waller’s level of contribution. Carr grades out at just 25.68, and Williams is the closest receiver (with three games contribution) with a 37.50 grading.
As well as battling for every yard, Waller has made the most of the receptions coming his way. His catch percentage is 89.7%, with just one failure to turn a target into a reception, per game. This was something he reflected on to raiders.com during the week.
“However often it comes my way, be reliable”
Waller will get the chance to be a significant contributor in Sunday’s clash with the Indianapolis Colts. In their three games so far, the Colts have struggled containing tight ends and Sunday should be no different.
Against the tight end position, the Colts currently allow the fifth-most targets in the league. They’ve allowed the eighth-most receptions. Finally, they’ve allowed the 12th most receiving yards to the tight end position in the league.
In their loss against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Colts gave up 60 yards to Hunter Henry on just four targets. They fared a little better against the Tennessee Titans in a close win, limiting Delanie Walker to 39 yards. Despite that, Walker was the leading receiver for the Titans. Last week, however, was their worst performance against the tight end position. Austin Hooper accounted for 66 yards and two touchdowns as the Colts defeated the Atlanta Falcons.
Combine their struggles against the position, with a middle of the road pass rush, and Carr should have plenty of opportunities to find Waller and the tight end will continue to do the rest.
Some weeks after first talking about consistency during Hard Knocks, Waller returned to the theme in the week while talking to raiders.com.
“It’s been cool to be consistent. that’s what I wanted to do. Just be consistent week in, week out, just see if I can continue to do that going forward. That’s my goal”
That isn’t the overall goal for Waller, or the Raiders, however.
“Hopefully it translates in to wins, because I’ll take wins over numbers any day”
Oliver Hodgkinson is a writer for PFN covering the AGC West. You can follow Oliver @ojhodgkinson.