One of the few silver linings since head coach Jon Gruden’s arrival has been the emergence of Darren Waller as one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
Waller is coming off a historic year after hauling in 107 receptions for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns. He managed to not only set the mark for the third-most receptions by a tight end in a single season, but he also broke the record set by Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown for the most receptions in a season in franchise history.
While he is primed to return to his role as the top option in the passing game for quarterback Derek Carr in the 2021 NFL season, it will undoubtedly be a difficult act to follow.
Although Gruden expects his young pieces to start helping carry the load, Waller will still be tasked with taking on a central role in the offense.
“He’s just got to keep being Darren Waller,” Gruden said. “He has done an incredible job of playing wide receiver, tight end, in the slot. He’s come out of the backfield. He’s smart, he’s versatile. He’s a complete player. He can block, pass protect. I’ve never been around a guy that is that unselfish, that talented and that versatile and that complete. We got to continue to build around him. We got to get some of our young receivers to take pressure off of him and we’ve put some more things in our playbook. We are going to be a lot more demanding of Waller going forward. We got to continue to try to probe some matchups and get him places where we can get him the ball.”
The fact that Waller will continue to be heavily relied on should come as no surprise. His versatility has clearly paid some major dividends for the Raiders offense aside from serving as a go-to option for Carr.
Despite the team’s struggles last season, Waller’s production helped the offense finish 10th in the league in scoring with 27.1 points per game. He is now hopeful that this group will kick things up a notch with their new additions and emergence of young players.
Even if Waller has proven capable of shouldering the load on offense, the Raiders will need the likes wide receivers Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards to make significant strides in their development leading up to the 2021 campaign. Make it come to fruition.