Late bloom may hurt tight end’s cause
Last week, we saw two more Raiders legends, Charles Woodson and Tom Flores, enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
There are more all-time great players who donned the Silver and Black who should be next for induction, starting with the late wide receiver Cliff Branch and two-time Super Bowl winning-quarterback Jim Plunkett.
However, looking much further down the road at the chances of current Raiders potentially making the Canton, Ohio museum, there is no more interesting case than tight end Darren Waller, the best player on the 2021 Las Vegas Raiders’ roster.
If you look at the past two seasons, it is easy to think Waller could be on the path of the HOF.
He had a combined 197 catches in 2019-2020. It is the second most catches in the past two seasons by a tight end behind only Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, who could be a future Hall of Famer himself. There is no doubt, Waller is an elite player at his position. Along with Kelce and George Kittle, Waller is widely considered as one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
Of course, Waller’s biggest hurdle to becoming a true Hall of Fame candidate is his late start. A sixth-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, Waller’s story is unusual. He fought substance abuse issues and missed the 2017 season due to a league suspension.
The Raiders signed him off of the Baltimore practice squad late in the 2018 season and he finished with six catches. He had a total of 18 receptions from 2015-18.
Then, he exploded in 2019.
Now, Waller, who will turn 29 September 13 when the Raiders open the season against his former team on ‘Monday Night Football’, has a bright future. But to make the Hall of Fame, Waller has a lot of work to do.
He has 215 career catches for 2,519 yards and 14 touchdown catches. According to Pro Football Reference, the average tight end (there are nine) in the Hall of Fame has 588 catches for 7,656 yards and 52 touchdowns. But let’s face it; the game has changed.
For example, Raiders’ Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper had 378 catches for 5,216 yards and 52 touchdowns in 11 NFL seasons spanning 1974-84. Former Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who should go in go into Canton in 2024, had 955 catches for 11,841 yards and 116 touchdowns.
The numbers for tight ends to get into the Hall of Fame in the future will be much higher.
So, Waller will likely have to average 80-100 catches a season for the next 8-10 years to get real HOF consideration. That may be a challenge, but with his ability, it’s not out of the question.