Earlier this off-season, the Ravens announced that Darren Waller would be making the switch to tight end in 2016, putting him squarely on my dynasty watch-list. Here are three reasons why dynasty owners should pay close attention to Waller and how the Ravens’ TE situation shakes out.
Waller has been on the RotoViz radar since before he was drafted by Baltimore in the sixth-round in the 2015 NFL draft, but due to injury and lack of playing time he recorded just two receptions in his rookie season.1 He does have a few things going for him though.
SIZE AND SPEED IN SPADES
Still listed as a wide receiver on the Ravens’ official roster, Waller measures in at 6 feet 6 inches, 245 pounds, much larger than the size of the average NFL WR. His switch to TE makes sense based on his size, but what sets him apart from other TEs is his insane athleticism.
Using this Mock Draftable spider chart comparing Waller to others at the TE position, he lands in the 70th percentile or above in every speed and explosion measure. In terms of having the attributes of a modern-day “move-TE,” Waller clearly fits the bill.
It’s fair to wonder about a learning curve for Waller as he switches from WR to TE, but as a Georgia Tech alum, his role in college should acclimate him nicely. During his senior season, Georgia Tech averaged 56.4 rushing attempts per game compared to just 14.5 passing attempts.
While this split severely limited Waller’s raw statistical output compared to other prospects playing in more traditional offenses, it made him a more practiced run blocker, if only out of necessity.
If you’re taking a swing on a long-shot prospect changing positions, it’s wise to invest in a player who should have no trouble acclimating himself physically if and when he does see the field.
VALUE, VALUE, VALUE
I could go on and on about Waller’s physical traits and what he could theoretically do given the chance at meaningful snaps but for fantasy purposes what it really boils down to is cost of acquisition.
It’s still early in the dynasty draft season, but using the Rotoviz Dynasty ADP App, the case for investing in Waller becomes even more compelling.
Looking at TEs currently being drafted around the same area of dynasty drafts (i.e., Vance McDonald, MyCole Pruitt and Jerell Adams), it’s not as if you’re bypassing a bankable asset in favor of siding with Waller’s potential ceiling.
Playing in a shallow league with fewer roster spots makes it tough to hold on to guys that need multiple things to go right in order to reap rewards, possibly placing Waller below the cut line. But in deeper leagues where you have the luxury of investing in “slow-burn” type guys, Waller should be in the conversation.
THE POSSIBILITY OF PLAYING TIME
The elephant in the room surrounding Waller’s positional shift is that the Ravens’ depth chart at TE currently looks like a hideously crowded mess.
Maxx Williams cost the Ravens a second-round draft pick, so he’s obviously still a part of their plan. Although the sample size is admittedly small, Williams ranked 37th in terms of reFPOE (Receiving Fantasy Points Over Expectation) among 41 TEs with 30 or more targets last season.2 Forty-four percent of his total targets came from quarterbacks not named Joe Flacco which probably helps to explain his inefficiency, but is still something worth monitoring.
The newest addition, Benjamin Watson, set career-highs in catches and receiving yards last year in New Orleans, but is facing historically long odds at a repeat season at age 35.
Crockett Gillmore is dealing with shoulder surgery, and it’s fair to question the likelihood of Dennis Pitta making a healthy return.
Depth charts naturally thin out over the course of an NFL season but as of right now, the lack of a clear path to immediate playing time is what relegates Waller to wait-and-see status rather than a priority add.
In all likelihood, the chances that Waller ascends to fantasy relevance in 2016 are small. With almost no collegiate production and very little in the way of draft-position pedigree, history would indicate that the odds are stacked against him. And depending on the quantity of bench spots available on your roster, other more pressing positional needs may trump stashing a TE who is likely to start training camp as the 4th string option in Baltimore.
But given his athletic profile – Matt Jones (combine legend) and Tyler Eifert being his two TE closest comps – and the constant threat of injuries in today’s NFL, Waller is at the very least a player to closely monitor for dynasty purposes.