Tim Brown is known as Mr. Raider for a reason. He’s widely seen as the greatest receiver in Raiders history. He set a franchise record with 104 catches in a season back in 1997. A record that fell last season at the hands of tight end Darren Waller.
Putting up 107 catches in a season is a big deal for any receiver. For a tight end, it is truly special. So, where does he go from here?
“He’s just got to keep being Darren Waller,” head coach Jon Gruden said of his Pro Bowl tight end. “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’s that unselfish, that talented, and that versatile and that complete.”
You expect Gruden to gush about Waller. He is the best player on this team by a wide margin and is Gruden’s dream of a player. An elite target in his offense AND a tight end? I mean, come on.
Waller himself doesn’t quite agree, however, with Gruden’s assessment that he is a complete player. At least not yet. He and new tight ends coach Austin King have been working a great deal on the one area of Waller’s game that is not elite — blocking. Specifically, run blocking.
“I feel like it all comes back to the simple things,” Waller told RaidersWire this week. “It comes back to fundamentals and the consistency at which those are applied. Things like in the run game with my hands, getting a little tighter with them instead of having them out wide and allowing to finish the shed a little bit easier, getting tight in there. It’s all small things, taking small choppy steps whereas me I’m a long strider and I want to take big steps, but that doesn’t serve me well in the running game as far as me having a great foundation. It’s just all simple things that can be improved upon as long as I’m playing the game.”
This offseason Pro Football Focus didn’t even have Waller in the conversation as one of the top two tight ends, going with George Kittle, citing his blocking abilities. If Waller can up his blocking game, he can truly become a complete tight end.
Waller barely came off the field last year. And even with his already considerable role in the offense, his responsibilities figure to go up.
“We gotta continue to build around him now,” Gruden continued.
“We’re going to be a lot more demanding of Waller going forward. We’ve got to continue to try to probe some matchups and get him in some places where we can get him the ball.”
Hard to imagine him being even *more* a part of this offense, but that sounds like the aim.