by Alex Kurpeski (@3COAK)
Darren Waller was everything you could have wanted him to be and more during the 2019 season, during which he was the only tight end to score at least 7 fantasy points in all 16 games he played. A converted wide receiver who had bounced between various practice squads until carving out a role with the Raiders, Waller saw 117 targets in what was essentially his first full season in the league, reeling in 90 passes for 1,145 yards. Finishing the season as the TE3 in PPR formats, Waller’s breakout was quite possibly the most unexpected we have seen from a tight end since the days of Gary Barnidge. Unfortunately for Waller and those who have invested in him on the heels of his breakout campaign, the honeymoon period is set to end this season as an influx of new receivers should create a significant dent in Waller’s target share, greatly limiting his upside for fantasy.
Much of Waller’s production from last season can be attributed to the fact that the Raiders featured very few players with any sort of longevity in their system as pass-catchers. Following the release of Antonio Brown the team was left with the likes of Tyrell Williams, rookie slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, and Cardinals castoff J.J Nelson to round out their receiving core alongside Waller, all three of whom were brought in during the offseason. While Waller had just one more year of familiarity with the team’s system, that extra season of experience ultimately made him the most equipped to take on the targets that had been allocated for Brown, who was supposed to anchor the team’s passing attack. The Raiders offense ultimately became dependent on Waller as the season marched on due to the injuries suffered by Williams, Renfrow, and rookie running back Josh Jacobs. Essentially, Waller’s gargantuan 22.3% target share was a result of some bad luck at the rest of the team’s expense.
“We’re trying to win championships, so I’ll let my stats take a hit gladly”
-Darren Waller on the Raiders new weapons pic.twitter.com/Q0ct78Lfau
— Raider Nation Boston (@RaiderNationBOS) April 28, 2020
The issues that plagued the 2019 Raiders should not be as present with the current iteration of the team, as both Williams and Renfrow appear to be healthy and will have another offseason (albeit a shortened one) to develop a rapport with QB Derek Carr. The additions of rookie wideouts Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards should allow the team to open up the field a bit more, as both players have the upside to become very solid NFL starters due to their tremendous athletic profiles and experience playing against some of the toughest defenses in the SEC. Edwards and Ruggs weren’t the only notable additions made to the Raiders roster this season, as the team also signed veteran tight end Jason Witten to a one-year deal, presumably to be paired with Waller in two-tight end sets while 2019 fourth-round pick Foster Moreau recovers from the season-ending injury he suffered at the conclusion of last season. Even at his advanced age, Witten managed to produce a top-12 fantasy campaign in 2019 thanks to a 14% target share. The addition of Witten and the young receivers should almost certainly cut into Waller’s share and thus his overall production.
- 68 receptions (-22 from last season)
- 95 targets (-22 from last season)
- 856 receiving yards (-289 from last season)
- 5 receiving TDs (+2 from last season)
- 183.6 fantasy points ~TE8 (-5 spots from last season)
Essentially I am expecting Waller to regress to a more typical TE statline, with fewer yards, catches, and targets but a higher rate of usage and success in the red zone.