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Fantasy Football Outlook for Darren Waller with the New York Giants

Darren Waller - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

When the 2022 NFL season finally closed its books, it was no mystery that Daniel Jones had been working with one of the worst and least talented group of pass-catchers in the NFL. The fact he was able to be as productive as he was should be viewed with optimism. His most targeted player was a running back and his second leading receiver was Richie James. The Giants and Jones badly needed an upgrade. Enter Darren Waller, former tight end of the Las Vegas Raiders, whom the Giants traded for earlier this offseason.

Previous Fantasy Football outlook articles based on some of the biggest NFL free agency moves this offseason

Waller had a disappointing 2022 season, largely due to injuries and an inability to stay on the field, which also reared its ugly head during the 2021 campaign, as well. Due to this, the move hasn’t been met with much excitement or fanfare. However, Waller has been one of the best receiving tight ends over the past few years. What does this move mean for Darren Waller and what is his fantasy value?

Be sure to also check our other Week 14 fantasy football waiver wire pickups articles:


What Does Darren Waller Bring?

Due to injuries and our short-term memories, we’ve forgotten just how dominant Waller had been and while we’ve certainly gotten better at looking at fantasy point per game averages instead of the final points, we don’t routinely do these enough with player statistics.

We see that Waller had just 55 catches and 665 yards in 2021 and we write that off a bit. Then we saw his stats drop even further in 2022, down to 28 receptions and 388 yards. Now we think, “Oh, this guy is washed”, but we miss the fact he’s missed 14 games. Now, if you want to ding him for durability or availability, I get it, but when he was on the field, was he washed?

We can all admit that injuries get more concerning the older a player gets, which is a bit of a red flag for Waller’s fantasy value in 2023, but we also need to admit we cannot predict injuries. So, what I propose is to look at Waller’s per game stats so we can determine just how his production has changed, if it has, over the past four years since becoming the starter for the Las Vegas Raiders.

2019 18.9% 7.3 5.6 71.6 76.9% 12.7 53.0 7.2 0.68 2.42 25% 90.3% 11.0
2020 25.5% 9.1 6.7 74.8 73.8% 11.1 70.5 7.7 1.43 2.28 28% 91.5% 14.1
2021 23.4% 8.8 5.3 63.2 60.2% 11.9 84.2 9.6 1.30 1.70 24% 88.5% 10.2
2022 15.0% 5.5 3.5 48.5 65.1% 13.8 72.1 13.1 1.00 1.62 18% 63.5% 7.9

If you look at his 2021 season, he was still very much a force at the tight end position. Over a 17-game season, with those per game averages, he would’ve finished with 90 receptions and 1,075 yards. Pretty good for a tight end. While we may look at his final 2021 stat line and be less than impressed, he was still an extremely effective player when he was on the field.

In 2019 and 2021, despite having 117 and 93 targets respectively, he finished with just three and two touchdowns during those seasons. That’s a touchdown rate of just 2.3%, which is pretty awful. His quarterback, Derek Carr, has struggled throughout his career to throw touchdowns despite having had Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Darren Waller, and Davante Adams as pass-catchers.

Going back to the table above, you can see that his 2020 target share of 25.5% seems to be an outlier, and fantasy managers should be expecting a target share somewhere in the 18-20% range for 2023. Another number that stands out is his catch rate. While he was around 75% in 2019 and 2020, that dropped to 60% in 2021 and 65% in 2022. However, in 2022 his average depth of target (aDot) was 13.1, substantially higher than any of his previous seasons, and typically, with an increase in aDot, you’d expect a lower catch rate. This makes his 2021 season in terms of catch rate look like an outlier, as well.

The last two areas that jump out are his yards per route run and target per route run. His 2022 season sure sticks out like a sore thumb and fantasy managers will need to consider just how much they believe injuries were a part of that equation. It’s no doubt that Waller’s efficiency is waning, considering his age, that’s only natural, but if we were to have been 100%, would the drop-off have been so substantial?


A Review of Darren Waller’s 2022 Season

With regard to his 2022 season, that includes two games with fewer than 50%, a third game with under 60%, and two more with less than 65%. I’m not out here trying to make excuses, but I do believe that’s important information to know. As you can see, his team snap share in 2022 was at just 63.5%, and in the previous three years, he had not been below 88.0%. That’s going to impact your production. The 2022 season also resulted in Waller playing second-fiddle to a guy by the name of Davante Adams, who is making 99% of the pass-catchers in the NFL play second fiddle, so that’s not something to be ashamed of.

With new head coach, Josh McDaniels at the helm, Waller was used slightly differently than he had been in the past. As previously mentioned above, his aDot was significantly higher than in previous seasons, which also resulted in the highest yard per reception average of his career. With downfield threats like Darius Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins already in New York, it would seem like Waller is likely to revert to a role we more typically saw of him in 2019-2021, which for his fantasy prospects, is a good thing. A lower aDot will mean a higher catch rate and it can also mean more targets.


2023 Final Outlook

Last year, the Giants had 520 pass attempts, which ranked 25th in the NFL. With the addition of Waller and the renewed health of former second-round pick, Wan’Dale Robinson, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Giants pass the ball at a slightly higher rate than the previous season. However, we should still be expecting a rate below average. For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll be working off a 550 attempt 2023 season, which would’ve finished 21st last season.

As we’ve been doing with all of our free agency outlook articles in this series, we’re going to be playing a game of what if to see what kind of range of outcomes, we can realistically expect from Waller. For this first scenario, we’re going to be giving him an 18% target share. Over the last two years, Waller has averaged a 19.5% target share, so at 18%, we’re banking on some continued regression. He has a career catch rate of 70%, which is what we’ll give him, and a career YPR of 12, but we’ll give him 11.0.

Player Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns Half-PPR PPG
D, Waller 99 69 759 4 7.9

That 7.9 half-PPR PPG would’ve ranked 10th last year and was tied with his own PPG from last season. He would’ve finished just 0.2 PPG behind David Njoku and 0.1 PPG ahead of Pat Freiermuth. He’s certainly not winning any leagues with that average, but still a quality player to have and I would consider that to be about his floor, assuming he stays healthy.

Now, let’s give him that 19.5% target share he’s averaged over the 2021 and 2022 seasons. We’ll keep his catch rate and 11 YPR average the same. The reason for this is that Jones ranked fifth in completion percentage at 67.2% and 23rd in yards per attempt at 6.8. The Giants’ offense kept their passing offense short and simple. We should expect them to open it up a bit in year two of Brian Daboll’s system, but Waller is likely to become Jones’ primary read in the short and intermediate part of the field.

Player Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns Half-PPR PPG
D, Waller 107 75 824 5 8.8

That 8.8 half-PPR PPG would’ve tied Taysom Hill for TE7 last year. He would’ve been ahead of Evan Engram, who was at 8.3. Now, for our last what-if scenario, let’s say Waller turns back the clock ever so slightly and finishes with a 21.5% target share, what would that look like with the same other parameters?

Player Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns Half-PPR PPG
D, Waller 118 83 913 6 9.9

With a 9.9 half-PPR PPG average, he would’ve finished as the TE5 last year, ahead of Dallas Goedert and just slightly behind TJ Hockenson, which does also include his earlier stint in Detroit. Mark Andrews finished with a 10.3 half-PPR PPG average.

This is about the range of outcomes that are realistic for Waller in 2023. He should be viewed as a backend TE1 at his floor and a mid-to-upper tier TE at his best. He’s currently being drafted as the TE7 this year, just ahead of Engram, Freiermuth, and Njoku.

This is a fair market assessment of Waller’s worth. His current ADP and ranking situate him right in the middle of his realistic range of outcomes. However, because of the lack of target competition in New York, Waller seems to have a higher upside than some of the other tight ends ranked around him. Even Dallas Goedert at TE6 right now, he’s competing with DeVonta Smith and AJ Brown. Waller is likely to be the alpha in New York and that could be something worth betting on, especially if Daniel Jones takes another step forward in his second season with Brian Daboll at the helm.

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