Darren Waller Will Be Just Fine
One player I feel is getting a little too devalued this offseason is Raiders tight end Darren Waller. I've seen a few analysts *cough* Fantasy Couch / Fantasy Analyst with some pretty harsh rankings of the TE3 from 2019. They have him at TE7 and TE9 in their respective rankings. Don't think I don't look at your rankings fellas 😜. He sits behind the likes of Mike Gesicki, Evan Engram, Hunter Henry and Hayden Friggin Hurst. 🤬
Now, I get it, it looks bad on the surface. The Raiders go out and draft Henry Ruggs with the 12th pick and Bryan Edwards with the 81st pick. These are players who could theoretically eat into Waller's 24% ELITE target share, which could impact his overall scoring. However, I would argue that the impact is being a bit overstated.
Let's start with quarterback Derek Carr. It's no secret that Derek doesn't like to chuck the ball downfield, which has been evident by his near the bottom of the league finish in Intended Air Yards over the past two seasons. This is the reason that Waller was able to have such a large target share last season.
As for Ruggs and Edwards, their skill set doesn't really mesh well with Carr's tendency to look to the short and intermediate area of the field. Is it possible Carr changes his ways and starts pushing the ball downfield? Sure, but there's currently no evidence of it. He failed to do so with Amari Cooper. What makes Ruggs and Edwards any different? We are also talking about two rookies playing a position that generally takes a few years to get up to speed. It's rare to end up with an A.J. Brown type player that takes off right away. And that's just talking about a normal season, not one impacted by COVID-19.
In 2009, Jason Witten finished as the TE5. The next season the Dallas Cowboys drafted Dez Bryant. Witten finished as the TE1 during Dez's rookie season.
In 2010, Tony Gonzalez finished as the TE6. The next season the Atlanta Falcons drafted Julio Jones. Tony finished as the TE4 during Julio's rookie season.
Now, I get that Waller is not Witten or Gonzalez. They are Hall of Fame tight ends. The point is that the case against Waller isn't because he was bad, it's because he has new target competition. That target competition didn't seem to effect Witten or Gonzalez, and I would argue the same will likely be true for Waller. Even if it does get impacted slightly, he should be able to make up for it in touchdown regression. He had the fewest number of touchdowns of tight ends with at least 90 targets. His three touchdowns should have been closer to six.
I have Waller as my TE5 in the same tier as Mark Andrews and Zach Ertz.