In spite of a successful playoff campaign in New York, Giants fans constantly bemoaned the team’s lack of reliable pass-catchers. A middling, injury-prone group around quarterback Daniel Jones often performed admirably, but a dismal postseason defeat in Philadelphia was a reminder that elite talent wins out in the NFL.
The Giants wasted little time in making a trade this offseason to improve the weapons around Jones … even if it wasn’t in the way fans expected.
New York dealt a third-round pick in this year’s draft in order to secure the services of Darren Waller, a Pro Bowl tight end with the Las Vegas Raiders. While shocking, the move is a high-upside play dependent on Waller finding success for the first time in two seasons. There is risk, but also opportunity for a major talent that got lost in the shuffle last season in Vegas.
It’s important to note that while Waller is listed as a tight end, his role on any offense will revolve around his receiving skills rather than his subpar blocking. That’s not a major concern; New York drafted Daniel Bellinger last year and should keep both involved in the offense. With little to do on the line of scrimmage, there should be plenty of chances for Waller to run wild in the open field; in 2019 to 2020, his 2.42 and 2,28 yards per route run ranked fourth and second at his position. It’s safe to say that the 6’6″, 255 lb Waller is not built like most other tight ends.
While he had a solid, payday-earning season, Daniel Jones was not inclined to throw the ball deep; his yards per attempt ranked 25th in the league last season. Although Waller will create opportunities for himself and others down the field, his biggest impact will be as a safety blanket. Unlike last season, where Saquon Barkley and small, shifty receivers were Jones’ only short-yardage options, the big-bodied Waller will be able to operate out of the slot in 2023.
The Giants didn’t really utilize their tight ends last season, especially after Bellinger suffered an eye injury in Week 7. Still, Jones does have a track record of leaning on the position throughout his career. Despite his struggles in the Big Apple, Evan Engram averaged over six targets per game from 2019 to 2021. A superior player like Waller should flirt with over 100 targets, even with defenses making him a priority.
During his final season with the Raiders, head coach Josh McDaniels phased Waller out of the offense with a reduction in snaps. However, that was partially a result of Las Vegas employing Davante Adams, who could steal targets and slot snaps from anyone. There won’t be much competition in New York for the tight end, and it’s clear the Giants intend to make him a centerpiece of their offense. Expect plenty of real-world and fantasy production next season … assuming Waller can stay on the field.
The “negative” to Darren Waller is obvious: injuries. A spectacular start to his time with the Raiders had Waller in the fantasy TE1 conversation along with names like Travis Kelce and George Kittle. However, a litany of health issues has brought the 30-year-old’s career to a halt. Knee and ankle issues have forced Waller to miss 40% of his games over the past two seasons, a worrying trend for a player that relies on his large frame and superior athleticism to gain an edge over the competition.
However, it appears Waller is taking a more cautious approach to injury management this offseason. In an interview with Giants.com, he stated a desire to “make sure I’m peaking at the right time.”
“Something that helped me to elevate my game at such a high level was working myself so hard in those 2018, 2019, 2020 offseasons, to where it was almost too hard, and that became my norm,” said Waller. “Now it’s about how do I become more efficient with it…not showing up to training camp having worked so hard that I’m almost exhausted. That doesn’t set me up for success or the team up for success. So far, just being here today, I really feel like it’s going to set me up to get back on the trajectory that I was on.”
Offseason optimism should be taken with a grain of salt, but there is some hope with Waller. A lighter workload this summer, and the security of knowing New York won’t bring in All-Pro competition to steal his role, should do wonders. His biggest priorities should be gaining chemistry with Jones and understanding coordinator Mike Kafka’s offense.
Although his medical track record is impossible to ignore, the pieces are in place for Waller to enjoy a comeback campaign. An innovative offense, a quarterback that prioritizes quick passes, and a fresh start have the potential to bring out the best in an elite talent. The risk is there, but it may not take long for Waller to dominate in New York and on fantasy lineups.