Trading away good players is hard enough. It’s nearly impossible to trade away a player who returned such value on investment that he was being considered a league-winner.
Enter Darren Waller.
Turn back the clock a year, and Waller was coming off of his fourth straight underwhelming year in the league. Through those four years, he totaled 29 targets, 18 receptions, 178 yards, and two touchdowns. In the fantasy realm, he was an undrafted afterthought.
Fast forward to today, and the 27-year old is being drafted a the TE5 in dynasty startups. Those who rostered him last year likely paid next to nothing for the eventual TE3 overall. That’s a league-winner. However, as Tom Brady showed us this week, all good things must come to an end.
The price is right to sell Waller, but not for the reasons you might think.
Year In Review
Offseason coach-speak started to stir the conversation around Waller before the start of this past season. Also, the projected addition of Antonio Brown was going to give the Oakland Raiders a legit No. 1 receiving option. Still, to have expected Waller’s outcome did not seem feasible last fall.
Everything lined up perfectly for Waller to have a breakout season. Brown and his inevitable negative outcome never made it to Week 1, and the Raiders were left with Tyrell Williams and Zay Jones as their top two wide receivers. Williams and Jones combined for 109 targets, which did not compare favorably to Waller’s 117.
The return of a healthy Hunter Renfrow near the end of last season put a dent in Waller’s production as well. Renfrow was highly efficient with his opportunities and has a chance to surprise fantasy owners this year based on his cheap ADP.
Waller also benefitted from a 24% target share, which tied for second amongst tight ends, and he rarely left the field as noted by his substantial snap percentage.
Waller was drafted as a wide receiver by the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, who immediately transitioned him to the tight end position. Because of his initial wide receiver role, he shows up in the RotoViz Freak Score Calculator. His size/speed combination puts him in elite company.
His athleticism was on full display last season when he finished as the TE2 in yards-after-catch, just coming in behind George Kittle.
Looking at Waller’s closest comps for other tight ends in their fifth year according to the RotoViz Screener, it’s hard to ignore some of the elite players on that list.
In my opinion, the question then comes down to this: do you believe Waller, as a fifth-year breakout, has the ability, opportunity, and upside to be mentioned in the same vein as Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce? For me, I can’t justify those comparisons based on one exceptional year. While I believe Waller will be fantasy relevant, I think we’ve already seen his ceiling.
Waller had a perfect storm of opportunities that he made the most of in 2019. There’s no denying he’s a great story considering he’s gone from a stint on Injured Reserve and two drug suspensions to being a top-five drafted tight end.
The Raiders are likely to address the wide receiver room this offseason either via draft or free agency. As of this writing, they have already added veteran tight end Jason Witten to the fold, which does not make much sense considering how well Waller and younger teammate Foster Moreau performed last season.
As mentioned, Waller is currently being drafted as the TE5. I can’t justify taking him there based on who else is going around him. In startup drafts, I would rather have Odell Beckham Jr., JuJu Smith-Schuster, or A.J. Brown, who are all being taken in the same range. Instead, I would pivot to this middle-round tight end.
Waller could offset a potential dip in target volume in 2020 by scoring more than his three touchdowns from 2019. However, I do not foresee a top-three finish for him at the position. I do believe he will have startable value and will remain a mid-to-backend TE1, but his perfect storm of opportunities will likely not happen again.