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Darren Waller No. 5 NFL tight end in ESPN ranking

Waller’s impact on Giants’ offense should come down to his availability

New York Giants Offseason Workout
Darren Waller
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The New York Giants got a top five tight end in the NFL when they acquired Darren Waller from the Las Vegas Raiders for a third-round pick, according to ESPN’s positional rankings.

Polling of more than 80 executives, scouts, coaches and players led to ESPN placing Waller No. 5 in its tight end rankings. He is behind only Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Mark Andrews, and Dallas Goedert.

ESPN says:

Waller’s on-field presence is undisputed. He’s elite when he’s out there. But missing 14 games over the past two years has hurt his ranking.

Yet he still ranks third in receptions (280) and receiving yards (3,394) among tight ends since 2019.

Waller can take over a game at any point. His 12 games with 100 receiving yards since 2019 trails only Kelce among tight ends. The Giants acquired him from Las Vegas in March.

“It’s hard to knock him for a bad situation with the QB transition in Las Vegas and injuries,” an NFC exec said. “He’s still behind just Kelce as pass-catcher.”

One AFC executive said Waller can be a high-level player for the Giants because “he can still run,” but pointed out that his two best seasons (2019 and 2020) came when Las Vegas had minimal targets around him and losing records. He still has something to prove in the eyes of some.

The 31-year-old Waller had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2019 and 2020, but injuries have plagued him the past two seasons. The Giants are hoping he is still the same player, or at least close to the same player, he was before those injuries.

BBV’s Rivka Boord looked at that question recently. This was her somewhat mixed conclusion:

“While acquiring Waller was a low-risk, high-reward move, he should not be the clear No. 1 pass-catching target. Until proven otherwise, Giants fans should assume that they are not getting the star Waller from 2019-20. That does not mean he will be useless, but the numbers indicate that it is possible his skills have declined.

“Could Waller still be a star? Yes. Will he be? Time will tell. My guess is that if he can stay reasonably healthy, he will be an above-average but not star-level tight end. It’s not about his specific statistics but more the threat that he poses to a defense. Will he tax them both horizontally and vertically?”

From a handful of reps in the spring, Giants’ cornerback Adoree’ Jackson has seen the possibilities with Waller.

“You can jump a route and D.J. [Daniel Jones] can throw it somewhere else, and he can still be able to do get to it,” Jackson said. “The speed he has, it’s not like — it’s a different type of speed in a sense where he builds up his speed, just running strong. He’s trying to run through you, run around you, whatever.”

Waller knows he needs to be available on game days.

“That’s something I haven’t been able to do the last couple years, and I’m fully aware of that,” he said in the spring. “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.”