ALAMEDA – The Raiders would prefer Darren Waller stay out of the spotlight. Teammates and coaches were hesitant to discuss the athletic tight end at this point in the calendar, lest early word travel that this guy can really play.
Head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr addressed Waller Tuesday as if he’s someone who shall not be named.
“Oh my, Waller? He’s super slow,” Carr said after the team’s first OTA session. “I don’t know if we’re going to use him much.”
Carr’s deadpan didn’t last long. His smile cracked and evoked laughter from those around him, who all saw Waller’s 2018 cameo in silver and black. He flashed largely unrealized potential against Cincinnati two weeks after the Raiders signed him off Baltimore’s practice squad, slicing through the defense for a 44-yard gain. The converted receiver has all the speed and skill and athleticism required to step in for departed receiving tight end Jared Cook.
Waller has set himself back with an injury and then multiple NFL suspensions for substance abuse, but has a golden opportunity to properly launch his career in Oakland.
“Darren has the skillset, he has the want-to, he has the aggression to do it, now he just has to go do it. I’m really excited about him,” Carr said. “Darren Waller is super, super fast, if I’m being real, and he works his tail off. He’s very smart and I can check a play within two seconds of the play clock being out and he’ll be on and run the right thing. He’s super fun to be around, he’s a great guy.”
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That opinion’s common among Waller’s teammates, who might have a tough time keeping quiet about him as we near the regular season. His stats sheet won’t wow you. He has 18 catches for 178 yards and two scores since 2015. His play might, if he earns targets in a pattern full of quality receivers.
“Since the time he’s walked in here, he’s been one of the most impressive guys on our team,” Gruden said. “He learns fast. He is fast. He’s extremely talented. I think he’s going to be one of the best-kept secrets in the league. I really believe he’s got a future if he keeps working like he is.”