Arrival of Davante Adams lowers Waller’s ceiling

Darren Waller, a pass catcher with great talent in the NFL, is a speciality. He’s proven capable of being an elite TE1 in the past. However, his circumstances have changed with the Las Vegas Raiders’ recent transactions, and he hasn’t been as good as some think. How should he? dynasty fantasy footballWaller is valued by managers in 2022, and beyond.

Darren Waller’s dynasty profile for 2022

It is always more difficult than evaluating tight ends. When it comes to tight ends, it’s not enough for a player to be one of the best at his position — he also has to be a difference-maker.

For the past half-decade, Travis Kelce has been the Dynasty TE1. But being the best doesn’t mean the same thing every season. Kelce was the overall fantasy points per-game TE1 from 2018-2020 (minimum 8 games). In 2018, he averaged 18.4 ppg, 15.9 in 2019, 20.9 in 2020. These are all very different seasons. You can’t just say Kelce was the best tight end in fantasy and convey how well he performed.

Waller’s path to stardom is as unconventional as it gets. The Baltimore Ravens selected Waller as a wide receiver during the sixth round of 2015 NFL Draft. After he did nothing in his rookie season, the Ravens changed him to tight end. That didn’t seem to work, and Waller dealt with off-the-field issues, resulting in a full-season suspension in 2017. The Raiders poached Waller from the Ravens’ practice squad in 2018, but, again, he barely played.

Waller then burst onto the scene in 2019, catching 90 balls for 1,145 yard and 3 touchdowns. He was ranked as the TE5 after he played at least eight games. He averaged 13.8 fantasy PPR points per game. Waller has been a top-six tightend for three consecutive seasons. He’s firmly established himself as one of the best tight ends in fantasy football. Waller is a valuable asset for dynasty manager going forward.

Waller Fantasy projection

At 6’6”, Waller is a mammoth human. He’s one of the best athletes in all of sports. The man ran a 4.46-40 and had a 96th-percentile catch radius. His path to relevancy is unlikely any we’ve ever seen, but Waller is not going anywhere.

So that’s the good. Then, let’s look at the less-so-good. Waller rose to the top of the elite Dynasty ranks after his 2020 season. He averaged 17.4 points per game, which was second only to Kelce in TE scoring. Waller is a great fantasy tight end. However, I felt he was too expensive in 2021.

Waller’s 17.4 ppg in 2020 is a bit misleading. Waller only exceeded his average five more times this season. Waller was a star in 2020 scoring at least 10 fantasy point in every game except four. However, he wasn’t as good overall as his final numbers suggest.

Waller scored 46% of all his fantasy points in four games. Waller averaged 13.1 points per game from Weeks 1-10. It’s a very respectable number but not difference-making. Waller’s average ppg was 22.9 between Weeks 11-17.

Waller was a league winner in every sense of that word. He scored 45 fantasy points in week seven of the fantasy regular season, and 30 fantasy points during week eight of the playoffs, which were the semifinals.

In 2021 Waller had an average of just 12.1ppg. A Thanksgiving injury derailed his season, but Waller wasn’t exactly making a difference before then. After scoring 26.5 fantasy points in Week 1, Waller wouldn’t even sniff 20 points the rest of the season.

Waller is not likely to bounce back in 2022

Waller’s struggles are pretty easily explained. His huge 2020 was largely based on touchdowns. He was able to score 9 touchdowns in that season. His catch rate in 2019 was 71.6% and 2020 was 74.8%. That fell to 59.1% in 2021 (partly due to Waller’s 8.6% drop rate). That wasn’t all his fault, though, as his catchable target rate dropped from 87% in 2019 to 80.5% in 2020 to 75% in 2019.

Even with improved quarterback play, there’s a much more pressing issue going forward: Davante Adams. Waller has been the Raiders’ undisputed top pass catcher the past three seasons. Adams now holds that role.

Derek Carr’s play would be a big help. Adams can help. It’s also possible, if not likely, that Waller’s efficiency increases. Waller is losing volume, despite being a TE1 (and a good one at that), He’s still a TE1 (and a good one at that), but it seems likely that we already saw Waller’s best season in 2020.

Fantasy managers should consider Waller as a top five tight end, but they shouldn’t expect his production levels to surpass those of 2020 Mark Andrews, Kelce, or what I believe will be 2022 Kyle Pitts.

What is Waller’s future beyond 2022?

Waller’s long-term situation is far from concrete at the moment. He’s entering his age-30 season and is only under contract through 2023. Tight ends typically aren’t done at age 32, but there’s nothing typical about Waller’s career. The Raiders committed to Carr as their QB of the future, so we can feel confident that he’ll be under center if Waller stays in Las Vegas. It remains to be seen if he does.

Wherever Waller ends up, I’m cautiously optimistic he can remain a highly productive tight end into his mid-30s. His size and reliance upon athletic abilities would make it more likely that he will fall off than other tight ends. Dynasty managers should not bank on Waller’s production for more than 3-4 more years.

What can fantasy managers take from Waller

In the short term, I view Waller as a high-end — but not elite — TE1. Last season, Dalton Schultz ranked as the TE5 at 12.2 ppg. To be a top five tight end, the bar is not too high. Waller should be able to do better than that and I expect him even better than he was 2021.

Waller should have a similar season to 2019, but with more volume and a few more touchdowns. Around 80-85 receptions for 1,000-1,100 yards with 5-6 touchdowns is the right amount. This puts him at 13 ppg.

I would be open for trades if Waller is yours. You should only trade Waller if he is still valued at 15-16 ppg. Waller, at 13 ppg is still a good value, especially for contending teams in dynasty. He just isn’t as substantial of an upgrade on a replacement TE1 as he’s perceived to be.

On the other side, if you’re looking to acquire Waller, it needs to be at below market value. He can definitely help a team in its championship window, but only pursue him if his manager isn’t overvaluing him.

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