Waller Has Been a Bright Spot in Raiders’ Shaky Start

Oakland tight end already has 29 catches in 2019, equaling his career total before this season

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Throughout the offseason, the Raiders believed they had discovered a secret weapon.

Oakland lost its top receiver of 2018, tight end Jared Cook (who departed in free agency), but the coaching staff and players saw Darren Waller as a potential star at the position.

Though the Raiders have stumbled at the start of this 2019 season, falling to 1-2 after a loss Sunday to the Vikings, Waller exploded in that game for a career-best 13 catches (on 14 targets) for 134 yards. That came after he caught seven passes for 70 yards in the season-opening win over Denver and had six receptions for 63 yards in a loss to the Chiefs in Week 2.

Waller has caught 26 of 29 balls thrown his way (an 89 percent catch rate) and is averaging 10.3 yards per catch.

In the loss to the Vikings, Waller was the highest-graded Raider (among players with at least 25 snaps) by the analytic website Pro Football Focus.

Waller has developed a great rapport with quarterback Derek Carr, and Carr can’t say enough good things about his new starting tight end. After Sunday’s game, Carr spent as much time talking about Waller’s prowess as a blocker as he did praising his receiving ability.

In three games this season, Waller’s 29 catches equal the number of catches he had in the NFL from 2015-2018 (two with Baltimore, one with Oakland). The one play Waller most wanted to speak about after the Vikings game, however, was the one catch he couldn't make, which could have set up a scoring opportunity just before halftime.

Yet, Waller says he’s just trying to make the best of his opportunity this season.

“It’s just playing football,” he told reporters. “I’m not trying to make it too much more complex than that. I do have fun. The scoreboard’s there, but at the end of the day, it’s just football. … Once you kind of get in a groove, it is fun, it’s all about executing and doing your job to the best of your ability, because there are a lot of things that you can’t control, and I’m just trying to control what I can.”

The Raiders and Waller will try to get back on the winning track this Sunday when they travel to Indianapolis to take on the 2-1 Colts. Kickoff is set for 10 a.m. (PDT).

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