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Darren Waller (TE, OAK) - 2019 Fantasy Football Sleeper


The Oakland Raiders enter 2019 hoping to compete for the AFC West Division crown. They are a team that finished 23rd in total offense in 2018 with 5,739 yards. The passing attack accounted for 3,751 of these yards, which was good for 18th in the league. The offense has gone through some major changes in the offseason, and Oakland thinks this will ultimately help them compete in 2019. The biggest of these changes is the addition of wide receiver, Antonio Brown. The addition of Brown gives Derek Carr a sure-fire number one wide receiver he should be able to rely on for weekly production.

Aside from the addition of Brown, the passing game has undergone several other changes. Five of Derek Carr's top six targeted players are gone in 2019. Jared Cook, Jordy Nelson, Seth Roberts, Amari Cooper, and Martavis Bryant have all left for new teams or remain unsigned. To replace these players, the Raiders traded for Antonio Brown, signed former Los Angeles Charger Tyrell Williams and former Arizona Cardinal J.J. Nelson, and drafted Clemson wide receiver, Hunter Renfrow.

All of these additions have gained notoriety over the past several months, and for good reason. Each of them is an intriguing option for Carr and could have a profound impact on the passing game. One player that has been in Oakland since last season, yet does not get talked about much, is Darren Waller. Waller will likely enter 2019 as the starting tight end and needs to be viewed as a possible deep sleeper at the position.

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Oakland to Become a Tight End Factory?

Darren Waller has been getting rave reviews from his teammates in Raider camp. In the third episode of HBO's Hard Knocks, Madden Ratings Adjusters asked teammates which player that no one knew about was going to "blow up" in 2019. Wide receiver, Keon Hatcher did not hesitate to say, "Darren Waller". He also added that Waller had "been going crazy" in camp.

Waller is mostly unknown as he has only played 16 games at the tight end position. He also missed the entire 2017 season due to violating the league's substance-abuse policy, and only appeared in four games for the Raiders last season after being claimed from the Ravens' practice squad. Despite these drawbacks, there are still reasons to believe he will succeed in the Raider offense in 2019.

The first reason to like Waller as a deep sleeper in 2019 is his advanced metrics. Understand these are a small sample size, but if extrapolated, they could mean big things for the tight end moving forward. Waller averaged 9.7 yards after the catch, which ranked him in the top five percent of tight ends league-wide. He was also targeted six times in 2019 and caught each target. This means he had a 100% catch rate and a zero percent drop rate. This ranked him in the top one percent and 24%, respectively. One other thing to keep in mind is the fact that Waller only played a total of 42 offensive snaps, yet was still targeted six times. This means he was targeted on 14% of snaps, which is significant for a guy that was recently claimed off another team's practice squad.

This leads to the second-biggest reason Waller will succeed in 2019; Derek Carr. In 2018, Derek Carr targeted his tight ends a whopping 130 times out of 553 attempts, which equates to a rate of 23.5%. Specifically, he targeted his number one tight end, Jared Cook, 101 times resulting in 68 receptions for 896 yards and 6 touchdowns. The 68 receptions accounted for 17.8% of Carr's 381 total completions. Cook had some monster games last season as well. He had four one-hundred yard receiving games and had five games with five or more catches. Cook also racked up an eye-popping 15 catches of 20 yards or more. Carr has a history of targeting the tight end beyond 2018 also. In 2017, Carr targeted his tight ends at a rate of 18.8%, and 19% of his total completions went to the tight end position. Waller should be the beneficiary of this target share heading into 2019.

Waller has a ton of upside heading into 2019. He currently stands to serve as the number one tight end on the Raiders' depth chart, which means he will firmly be in Derek Carr's crosshairs. Waller is an incredible athlete with solid hands as his catch rate and drop rate has shown, albeit with a small sample size. He is currently being drafted with an ADP in round 15, which is close to being off the board in some leagues. If you miss out on tight end in the early and middle rounds, look to snag Waller at the end of drafts. He should outperform his ADP with no problem as long as he is on the field regularly in 2019.

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