I hope you stayed up late on Monday night.
Monday Night Football kicked off its 2021 campaign with an absolute thriller between the Las Vegas Raiders and Baltimore Ravens in front of an exhilarating crowd at the stunning Allegiant Stadium. The Raiders came out on top by a score of 33-27 in overtime. This game produced nearly 900 total yards of offense and although it’s just Week 1, it will definitely go down as one of the wackiest games of the season.
There were several standout performers. Lamar Jackson was his usual electric self and Maxx Crosby and Marlon Humphrey were the best defenders on the field. But one player stood above them all.
Raiders tight end Darren Waller was the man. Waller hauled in 10 of a career-high 19 targets for 105 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t the most efficient performance—you’d like to see Waller catch more than roughly 52% of his targets—but if Raiders quarterback Derek Carr continues to look for Waller as often as he did on Monday (33.9% target share), then Waller is going to repay every single fantasy footballer that used a premium pick on him.
And why wouldn’t he? It’s time we put some respect on Waller’s name. He often drew Ravens All-Pro cornerback Humphrey in coverage on Monday, and it was a heavyweight matchup we won’t soon forget.
When discussing elite tight ends, Travis Kelce and George Kittle are often the first two names out of anybody’s mouth. But scratch that. I don’t want to pigeonhole Waller into one position. As a pure pass-catcher, he is among the league’s elite, and it’s time we universally recognize him as one of the 10-best pass-catchers in the game.
That’s right. I’m putting Waller up there with the DeAndre Hopkins’ and the Stefon Diggs’ of the world. He’s that good. You could argue that few pass-catchers mean as much to their team as Waller means to the Raiders. When Carr needs a completion, he looks for Waller. When it’s 3rd-and-7 or greater, everybody on the field knows which direction the ball is being thrown in. For Waller to come through in those situations despite being the worst-kept secret in football is a statement in its own right. It speaks volumes of the type of player he is.
Are we heaping too much praise on Waller this morning? His head coach doesn’t think so.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever coached,” Gruden said when asked about Waller’s performance after the game.
In Waller’s last six games, he’s caught 53 balls for 759 yards and five touchdowns. That’s an average of more than eight catches and 126.5 yards per contest. That is absolutely insane, and I’ll put that sort of consistent production up against any pass-catcher in the NFL.
The Raiders have invested a fair amount of resources into their pass-catchers as of late. It’s a young unit, but if Week 1 taught us anything, it’s that the likes of Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards will continue to play second-fiddle to Waller’s greatness in 2021.