Raiders: Darren Waller is a top-five tight end in the NFL

Raiders (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Raiders (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

After a breakout season in 2019, we examine why Oakland Raiders’ star Darren Waller is a top-five tight end in the NFL entering 2020.

As the Oakland Raiders franchise prepares for their offseason move to Las Vegas, the team is confident that it is bringing one of the most dangerous tight ends in the NFL along for the ride — Darren Waller.

When the 2019 season began, Waller was expected to be little more than a temporary placeholder. The former sixth-round pick entered the year with just 18 receptions over three professional seasons and was largely considered an afterthought.

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However, to the surprise of Raider Nation, Waller immediately broke on to the scene in a major way. The former Georgia Tech tight end made his presence felt with two solid games, followed by a mammoth 13 catch, 134-yard performance against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3.

He finished the season with 90 receptions and 1,145 receiving yards (good for the 15th best mark in the league). The following series of events have made it possible for Waller to become a top-five tight end in the NFL.

The Passing of the Torch

There have been a handful of tight ends who have dominated the sport for the past decade. Future Hall-of-Famer Rob Gronkowski reinvented the position, pushing tight ends to heights that were otherwise thought to be unattainable.

Superstars such as Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, and Antonio Gates also joined the top-tier amongst the elite at the position.

A second group of players including Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, and Vernon Davis, were universally considered to be difference-making players.

However, as the calendar shifts into the 2020s, make of these players are either retired or in the twilight of their careers. This leaves a distinct opening for a player like Waller to enter the top five.

The Field

An argument for Waller landing a top-ranking wouldn’t be complete without first examining his current competition. Despite so many phenomenal talents transitioning into different roles, the NFL still boasts several All-Pro level tight ends.

Fellow AFC West alumnus Travis Kelce has firmly established himself as one of the top two at his position. George Kittle, another player from the Bay Area, has also entered Gronk-ian territory as one of the most dangerous pass-catchers in the league.

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When you add in the consistent greatness of Zach Ertz, and the raw talent of players like O.J. Howard, Mark Andrews, Evan Engram, Jared Cook, and Austin Hooper, there is plenty of legitimate players jostling for a spot in the top five.

The Resume

While there are a plethora of good tight ends in the NFL, few have the combination of production, youth, and upside to match Waller. One simply doesn’t finish with the second-most receptions and yards amongst tight ends by accident.

Waller’s career year proved that he is more than capable of being a premier pass catcher at the professional level. At just 27-years-old, he has also entered into his physical prime.

The advanced stats further establish Waller as one of the best at his position. In fact, Football Outsiders ranked him at the top tight end in terms of defensive-adjusted yards above replacement.

The Rankings

Considering all of the aforementioned information, I rank the top five tight ends entering the 2020 season as follows.

  1. George Kittle
  2. Travis Kelce
  3. Zach Ertz
  4. Darren Waller
  5. Mark Andrews

Welcome to the club, Darren Waller. Raiders fans all over the world are rooting for you to remain on the list for many years to come!

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Where do you think Waller should rank headed into next season?