Raiders: Darren Waller’s breakout season gives hope for future

Raiders (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Raiders (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

After nearly sabotaging his NFL career early on, Oakland Raiders tight end Darren Waller has found peace and stability in the Silver and Black.

Darren Waller’s success this past season has made him look more like a sure bet rather than a gamble as the Oakland Raiders head to their new home in Las Vegas.

When Jared Cook left the Raiders for the New Orleans Saints in free agency, some draft experts felt the team may turn to the draft to replace the Pro Bowl tight end.

More from Golden Gate Sports

Head coach Jon Gruden, however, stated there was no need as they already had an intriguing prospect on their roster in four-year veteran Darren Waller.

No one knew for sure if Gruden was being coy about his draft strategy given that the Raiders had multiple first round picks and stud Iowa tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson were available, but they passed on both and decided to give Waller the “chance of a lifetime” as Gruden put it.

That was quite a roll of the dice on a player who had a total of 18 receptions heading into this season, coupled with a history of chemical dependency that cost him a full season of his young career.

As OTAs and training camp went on, the former Baltimore Ravens tight end turned heads amongst both players and coaches with his speed and reliable hands.

He became a fan favorite during camp after telling the story of his struggles with addiction on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” and quickly built a rapport with quarterback Derek Carr.

This came in handy after Carr was in search of a go-to guy in the aftermath of the Antonio Brown debacle. The question remained, however, if Waller’s potential would turn into production.

While the season may have ended with the Raiders yet again missing the playoffs at 7-9, Waller rewarded Gruden’s faith with monster numbers — 90 catches, 1,145 yards, and three touchdowns.

The Raiders, in turn, rewarded Waller with a three-year, $27 million extension.

While his career numbers came partly out of necessity — since Brown’s untimely departure coupled with Tyrell Williams‘ injury struggles throughout the season left the team with no established threat in the receiving corps — there’s no denying that Waller finally got a chance to showcase the talent that he had coming out of Georgia Tech.

With Gruden vowing to make some upgrades at the receiver position in the offseason, things could be looking up for the Raiders offense. The addition of a true number one receiver could open things up for Waller, Williams, and Hunter Renfrow.

Next. Oakland Raiders: All-Decade Team for the 2010s. dark

Coupled with bell-cow running back Josh Jacobs and Carr now in his third year under Gruden, Las Vegas could be in for quite a party just off the strip at Allegiant Stadium.