For the Ravens 2015 sixth round pick Darren Waller, the journey to relevance in the NFL has not come easy.
After participating in six games as a rookie, Waller was placed on the injured reserve with a hamstring injury in late October. Then, after changing positions from wide receiver to tight end in the offseason, Waller was suspended through the first four games of this season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The Prince George’s county native started the Week 9 grudge match and finally made his mark in Week 10.
In the third quarter, coordinator Marty Mornhinweg put Joe Flacco in shotgun on 3rd and goal from the 4-yard line, with Dennis Pitta, Steve Smith Sr. and Waller in a bunch formation off the shoulder of right tackle Ricky Wagner. When the ball was snapped, Waller ran a quick, precise corner route across the formation, and Flacco found him in the back of the end zone. Browns’ slot cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun was no match for Waller on the go ahead touchdown.
At 6’6” 255, with sub-4.5 second speed, Waller is the prototypical “move” or “joker” tight end. Coming from Georgia Tech’s “Flexbone” offense, while also changing positions, his learning curve has been steep. Waller is more of a hybrid receiver than the traditional powerful run blocking tight end.
Waller provides versatility and depth to the Ravens. In Week 9 against Pittsburgh, Waller played in 33 percent of offensive snaps, including several plays lined up outside as a wideout. He has also entrenched himself on the team’s special teams units, using his athleticism to become a key member of the coverage units.
His presence on the field allows the Ravens to be more multiple on offense. When lined up as a receiver, Waller has the size to outmuscle most corners. As a tight end, he has the speed to stretch the middle of the field. Most corners, safeties and linebackers are playing at a physical disadvantage when matched up against Waller.
With only eleven professional games, and six total receptions on his resume, it may take some time for Waller to grow into a consistent impact performer. Still, his growing contributions have been very welcome, as the Ravens have dealt with injuries to multiple pass catchers this season.
If Waller can be a capable end zone target down the stretch this season, it would be a huge boost to the Ravens inefficient red zone offense. And a slight uptick from the offense may be all the Ravens need to supplement their defense in route to an AFC North division crown.