By Brendan Taffe
Every year there are a handful of players who lose a significant amount of value as soon as the NFL Draft happens. A new, younger, rookie is drafted to the same position by the same team as your RB2 or WR3 and his value immediately tanks. I am here this week to defend some of those players.
Darren Waller – TE, Las Vegas Raiders
Why his value dropped: Henry Ruggs, Lynn Bowden, Bryan Edwards
It is not often that a seemingly unheard of 27-year-old tight end breaks out. Waller entered his fifth year in the league after compiling 18 receptions for 178 yards, and 2 scores total during his first four seasons. He accrued those stats over four years, but only three NFL seasons. After two unproductive professional seasons, Waller missed the 2017 season due to a suspension. It wasn’t Waller’s first suspension; in 2016, he missed four games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Tight ends typically take longer than other positions to become fantasy relevant. They have to learn how to be an NFL lineman and receiver. The second and third years of a tight end’s career are when they begin to master the position and produce. Because of this reason, Waller losing his third NFL season was a huge setback. With news of the suspension, the team that drafted him in the sixth round, the Ravens, cut ties. Signing a suspended player is nothing new to Jon Gruden, so Waller found a home in Oakland. After his first year in Oakland totaling only 75 receiving yards, he couldn’t have been more off fantasy players’ draft lists.
Waller exploded for 90 catches for 1145 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2019, finishing the season as TE3. He scored more fantasy points than Mark Andrews, Zach Ertz, and Austin Hooper. Many doubters have been saying that Waller could only produce those numbers because of the lack of other capable receiving options for Derek Carr. That argument is underselling what Waller was able to accomplish last year. At 6’6″, weighing 255 pounds, Waller has ideal size for today’s NFL position. Other than those god-given traits, he also had great workout metrics. A 100th percentile 40-yard dash, 99th percentile speed score, 90th percentile burst score, and 96th percentile catch radius are better than the vast majority of other tight ends. As long as he doesn’t have bricks for hands, which he doesn’t, just about every tight end in the league would kill for those measurables.
Without an Antonio Brown to look for, Derek Carr did not have many reliable options last year. Hunter Renfrow, Tyrell Williams, Jalen Richard, and DeAndre Washington were the players who finished after Waller in targets on the 2019 Raiders. None of those guys are very threatening to opposing defenses. Carr threw for over 4000 yards with 21 touchdowns, so without a go-to option, it is not difficult to see why Waller ate up so many of those points.
This year, Gruden added a trio of offensive weapons through the draft. Henry Ruggs III was their first-round pick, hearing his name called before any other receiver. Although labeled as a field stretcher, his speed and separation abilities allow him to win at every level. Their next offensive selection was Lynn Bowden. Bowden played both quarterback and running back at Kentucky, and also returned punts and kicks. Ride or Dynasty’s own Kyle Allen predicted that Bowden would take more snaps at QB than Marcus Mariota this year. One pick after Bowden was Bryan Edwards. Edwards could have come out after his junior year but stayed to put up another unspectacular season in South Carolina.
Ruggs is the only rookie who will demand targets right away, and even he does not profile as a prototypical X receiver. I am not expecting Ruggs or Edwards to come out like Terry McLaurin, AJ Brown, or D.K. Metcalf did last year, but hey, anything can happen. Even if those guys have great rookie years, they will be stealing targets from the Renfrows and Tyrells on the team, not Waller. Essentially, Darren Waller is still the top dog until proven otherwise. Fade him at your own risk.
Brendan Taffe – Dynasty/Podcast
Ride or Dynasty