The presence of Darren Waller could be the catalyst for the New York Giants toward a necessary evolution to a more aggressive passing attack.
The Giants went 9-7-1, made the playoffs and won a playoff game in 2022. It was a surprising season for GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll, each in their spots for the first time in their careers.
The surprising success was accomplished in a way that runs counter to how offenses generally succeed in today’s NFL.
The Giants were last in the league in explosive passing plays of 20 or more yards. Only five teams had fewer than the five passing plays of 40 or more yards the Giants had. The Giants were 29th in the league with 56.13% of their offensive yardage coming via the pass. The Giants were 28th in the league in first downs via the pass (49.11%) and yards per completion (9.2).
Daniel Jones was efficient was efficient, tying Jalen Hurts with a league-low 1.1% interception rate, and compiling career-bests in passer rating (92.5) and QBR (60.8). He also came through when needed, leading five game-winning drive and four fourth-quarter comebacks.
The Giants know, though, that largely risk-averse offense is only going to carry them so far. They averaged 21.2 points per game in 2022, 18th in the NFL. Two of the teams in their own division were among the top four scoring teams. The Philadelphia Eagles (29.1 points per game) were No. 2 and the Dallas Cowboys (26.8 ppg.) were No. 4.
Enter the Giants’ aggression in the offseason in trying to add more playmakers. They added wide receiver Parris Campbell in free agency and the speedy Jalin Hyatt in the draft.
The biggest swing, though, was trading a third-round pick for Waller, a tight end with two thousand-yard receiving seasons to his credit.
“He’s a tremendous athlete. He makes you defend really all the depth of the field and the width of the field,” Giants’ offensive coordinator Mike Kafka recently told the Giants Huddle podcast. He can get over the second level and work second-level defenders. He can get into the third level because he has tremendous athletic ability and speed.
“He adds an element that gives the offense a little bit of an edge to move him around and mix and match him with different matchups.”
Head coach Brian Daboll said recently that his aim is always to make sure “the playbook is predicated on what the players do well.”
Clearly, the Giants have been using the early OTAs to begin getting a handle on what Waller can add to their offense.
“Right now, we are just trying to — again, you can watch him on tape, and he’s been a productive player. But trying to do a variety of things,” Daboll said. “It’s a work-in-progress.”
In the OTA last week that media had access to, Waller caught two deep throws from Jones — one on the first play of 7-on-7 work. In the limited snaps they had, the Giants split Waller wide, they played him in the slot, they motioned him across the formation. In reports about the first couple of OTAs from the team’s website, it seemed Waller was targeted often in the red zone.
As Daboll indicated, the Giants are looking at what might work with their new tight end. They also appear to be consciously working to build the chemistry between Waller and Jones.
Giants’ safety Xavier McKinney said the presence of a tight end like Waller places “a lot of pressure” on a defense.
“He’s one of the best tight ends in the league that we have,” McKinney said. “Obviously, it’s a lot of pressure just him being out there on the field. You can feel his presence. Like I said, you’ve got to be aware of where he’s at. He’s able to make plays inside, outside, against the corner, against the safety, it doesn’t matter.”
Jones understands how Waller can open up the passing attack.
“He can do a lot,” Jones said. “He’s obviously a tough matchup for people, for defenses, with a guy who can run like that with that kind of size, and how you play him in man and how you account for him in zone coverages. He definitely gives something for a defense to worry about or to game plan for, and we can move him around and put him in different spots. Just a super versatile player.”
One thing that was interesting during last week’s OTA was that Waller did not join the tight end group during a blocking drill. He will at times line up inline as a tight end and be required to block, but at this stage the Giants appear to prefer having him work route combinations and catch balls from Jones.
So, is a receiver masquerading as a tight end?
“I would say just a football player,” Waller said. “Whatever’s required of me, I’m willing to do, whether it’s more blocking on a certain day, more dirty work on a certain day, catching more passes on a certain day. I don’t try to put myself in a box any way.”
The big question for Waller, who will turn 31 in September, is not talent. It’s apparent the ability that allowed him to gain more than 1,000 yards receiving in 2019 and 2020 is still there. The big question is availability, as he has missed 13 games with injuries over the past two regular seasons.
“I view this season as an opportunity to get back to having fun and just being available for my teammates every and each week. That’s something I haven’t been able to do the last couple years, and I’m fully aware of that,” Waller said. “I’m doing everything in my control to be able to be out there and be accountable, be reliable, by just being out there every day. I’m excited about that challenge. I’ve done it before, and I’m ready to do it again.”
Waller said last week that in building a playbook predicated on players, Giants coaches are seeking player input.
“They value our opinions here. As a player, I feel like a lot of places I’ve gone, you’re told to do things a certain way, and you do those things. But here, they ask a lot of questions,” Waller said. “They want to know what you’re thinking, what do you like to do more. So, to offer input is a really cool thing because coach and players have got to be in partnership. We’re all together. We shouldn’t be clashing with each other. We’re all going the same direction.”
The Giants, obviously, hope the direction Waller can help their offense go is up.