Now that free agency, the NFL Draft, and the schedule release have all passed, we have our initial layout in place in team depth charts and strength of schedule. With that, we want to take a look at some players across the fantasy landscape that are either polarizing, over or undervalued, or just interesting topics of discussion and walk through some pros and cons of where those players are regarded in fantasy circles.
So far we have explored players such as Kenyan Drake, Austin Ekeler, Marquise Brown, Tyler Higbee, Mecole Hardman, Nick Chubb, the trio of DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki , D.J. Chark, Odell Beckham, Aaron Jones, Leonard Fournette, Amari Cooper, Cooper Kupp, Derrick Henry, Evan Engram, and Joe Mixon. For this installment, we are looking into the 2019 breakout of Darren Waller.
Week 1 Age: 28.0
Contract: Signed through 2023
Using the Dynasty ADP app available at RotoViz, Waller’s breakout season has elevated him into the top-80 picks and the TE6 at his position.
Waller took a unique path to his breakout a year ago. After a career at Georgia Tech, Waller worked out at the NFL combine as a wide receiver and destroyed the athletic testing at 6’6” and 255 pounds. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 draft by the Ravens and played wide receiver as a rookie, catching 2-of-6 targets for 18 yards. Despite his late-round draft capital, dynasty players had an inkling that Waller would inevitably transition to tight end at some point in the NFL and his athletic testing had him on a number of radars. The move came after his rookie season, but then Waller was suspended for the opening four games of his second season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He returned to catch 10 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns, buried behind Dennis Pitta, who led Baltimore with 121 targets in 2016. The next offseason, Waller was suspended for a full year for violating the substance abuse policy once again, and his life and career were off the rails.
Overcoming his struggles off the field, Waller was reinstated by the league for the 2018 season but was waived and placed on the Baltimore practice squad. Oakland then signed Waller off of the Baltimore practice squad in late November of the 2018 season, with Waller then appearing in the final four games for the team, catching six passes for 75 yards. With Jared Cook leaving the Raiders via free agency last offseason, Waller was finally going to get another shot in the league.
If you watched Hard Knocks at all last summer, the organization was fully looking to elevate him into the offense and Waller did not waste his opportunity.
Darren Waller’s 2019 Output and Ranks Among Tight Ends
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Waller was a top-end tight end in nearly every major statistical opportunity and production-based category a year ago. The only exception was in the scoring department. Waller only scored three times all season (and in just two different games). He did not even really run poorly in that area, either, as his expected touchdown total based on where his targets came from on the field and by depth of target was just 3.9. Waller had just six end zone targets on the season with just four total targets coming from inside of the 10-yard line on the season.
2019 Game Log
As mentioned, Waller dominated passing game opportunities in the Oakland offense in 2019. Waller was one of just five tight ends in the league to lead his team in targets on the season while his 46 more targets than the next closest Raider (Hunter Renfrow) ranked 11th in the league in terms of target advantage over the next highest team target in the league.
Renfrow’s involvement in the offense did develop into a bit of a thorn for Waller over the course of the season, however. Waller did his best work early and late in the season when Renfrow was either inactive or yet to still find a role in the offense early.
Waller was the average weekly TE14 with only two games of double-digit PPR points over his final six games with Renfrow active. His opportunities still held steady as Waller did still have 18% of the team targets in those games, but he accounted for 25% of the team targets when Renfrow missed Weeks 13-15 and averaged 16.1 fantasy points per game those weeks as opposed to 9.7 points per game over his final six games played with Renfrow active. After posting six or more receptions in five of the opening six games of the season, Waller hit that number just four times for the rest of the season, with three of those games coming with Renfrow off the field. With not only Renfrow to deal with moving forward, but the Raiders adding Henry Ruggs (12th overall), Lynn Bowden (80th), and Bryan Edwards (81st) in the draft as passing game competition.
While none of those players and Renfrow are exactly high-caliber names and Waller is still the favorite to pace this team in target opportunity, it is quite easy to see the margin of Waller’s target advantage over his teammates decrease this upcoming this season. That said, it is still hard to ignore an athletic mismatch of a tight end that is playing this many snaps and running this many pass routes at a position that is starved for production. Even if Waller does fall closer to that 18% target share area he held over the back half of the season with Renfrow on the field, that is a team target rate that still would have ranked sixth at his position a year ago.
For opportunity and athletic reasons, I am still high on Waller for the 2020 season as a top-six option at his position. And if you get an uptick in actual scoring opportunities, then some of that volume loss can be smoothed out. But in Dynasty I am a touch lower than the market. Because of Waller’s road less traveled, he enters the season he will be turning 28-years-old this September. That is not in the danger zone by any means, but we are likely looking at a short-term burst for Waller from a fantasy stance and we still have potential for the Raiders to start multiple quarterbacks as early as this season and potentially have another name in play behind center in 2021.
Waller is already multiple years older than tight ends such as Noah Fant (22.8), T.J. Hockenson (23.2), Hunter Henry (25.7), Dallas Goedert (25.7), and Austin Hooper (25.8) to name a few, tight ends who are currently being selected after him in Dynasty startups. If I could use Waller’s breakout to make a play for Fant or Hockenson, I would explore that opportunity while I would even use him as leverage to take a look at getting a package that involves tight ends such as Mike Gesicki (24.9), and Irv Smith (22.9).
As usual in closing here, in dynasty, every player has potential to be both a buy and sell at the same time. You just have to find the proper context in your league on which he is valued per owner. Startup ADP and cost is not going to be an exact market for you with team context a driving force in established leagues, but here are the buy and sell point suggestions using that as guideline pending which side you fall on.
2020 Rookie Pick Value: Low First/High Second (1.11-2.02)
RB Value Targets: Derrius Guice, David Johnson
WR Value Targets: Christian Kirk, Diontae Johnson, T.Y. Hilton, N’Keal Harry
TE Value Targets: Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson