The Raiders struck gold when they added tight end Darren Waller from the Ravens’ practice squad three years ago. And quarterback Derek Carr says he remembers his initial impression of Waller on the first route he ran.
There’s no question the relationship between the Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and tight end Darren Waller resembles a close bond. Waller is coming off a mind-blowing 13 catch, 200-yard performance in the team’s win over the Jets and looks to continue the momentum against the 8-4 Colts next Sunday. But when did Carr realize just how special his teammate was?
“It was the first route that he ran,” Carr said when asked when was the moment he realized Waller could be a special player in the league. “I really just couldn’t believe how fast he was. I couldn’t believe that a man that big could run that fast. I just remember throwing him his first route in practice. I threw it like 10 feet behind him and I was like oh this guy can run.”
The Carr to Waller connection shined bright in the Raiders’ victory over the Jets last week as the two found the end zone twice at MetLife Stadium. But it stems from the 2019 campaign when the Raiders placed Waller in his first full season at tight end, where he totaled 90 receptions for 1,145 yards and seven touchdowns.
Waller is yet again, proving he can single-handedly take over games. Waller showed the fits he causes opposing defenses against the Saints in Week 2 and doubled down most recently in Week 13. Waller set personal highs in yards and touchdowns in a single game last week, while tying his career-best 13 receptions.
“He caught 13 balls for 200 yards as a tight end,” Carr said. “And then on the last play of the game we ask him to pass protect for like four seconds so we can launch a go ball. He doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what he can do in the run and pass game, protections-wise. I think he’s the best in the league.”
The Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the 49ers’ George Kittle have fans around the world enamored with their ability as some of the league’s best tight ends. But the Raiders themselves have a good one in Waller, who can be included in the discussion of being the game’s best.
Just to show how talented the 28-year-old Waller truly is — he joined elite company, being just the sixth tight end in NFL history to reach 200 yards in a game. Waller joins Kittle, Shannon Sharpe, Jackie Smith, Rich Caster and Pete Retzlaff among others.
“We’re looking to get Waller the ball as many times as possible because he’s a great player,” Jon Gruden said when reflecting back on the Week 13 game. “The opportunity presented itself. A lot of those blitz coverages involve man-to-man coverage so you try to go to your top dog.”
Waller is the focal point of the passing offense of the Raiders, and the numbers even back that up. Gruden’s offense has tallied the least amount of passes to wide receivers this season, and Waller’s pass-catching ability has a lot of reasoning for it.
“Before you take that snap, you know you have a guy who can win like that, it makes all the difference in the world,” Carr said. “And you can play more confidently at the position.”
It’s evident that Carr and Waller have built chemistry where they trust one another in crucial situations. Carr’s growth this season hasn’t exactly come from the rookie wideouts taken in this year’s draft, but rather his involvement in targeting Waller has actually seen an uptick.
Waller is on track to exceed the reception numbers he hauled in last season, raising the bar for himself once more.