The Oakland Raiders are feeling pretty good about themselves, but even this praise of tight end Darren Waller might be a little too far.
Following the Raiders’ 24-21 victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 5, the Raiders moved to 3-2. They’re within one game of the Kansas City Chiefs for the lead in the AFC West division and have managed to muster a winning record despite having played the past three games on the road — one in Minnesota, the other in Indianapolis and the last in London.
They’ve managed to do this despite a gluttony of injuries and a revolving door at wide receiver. Over recent weeks, the team has cut Antonio Brown, Ryan Grant and J.J. Nelson — all former starting receivers for the Raiders.
In spite of all of this, Waller has emerged as the team’s leading receiving option, catching 37 passes for 359 yards.
Needless to say, head coach Jon Gruden couldn’t help but contain his excitement regarding his breakout tight end, calling him the best player at his position in the game today, as The Athletic’s Vic Tafur revealed.
“He leads the league in receiving right now at that position. If you watched him block, I don’t know if there’s a better tight end in football really.”
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Waller Needs to Catch Touchdown Passes
Look, there’s no doubt that Waller has emerged as the Raiders’ most reliable option. Furthermore, he provides Derek Carr a security blanket. And while it’s not true that he completely leads the league in receiving — the New York Giants‘ Evan Engram (373 yards) and the Atlanta Falcons‘ Austin Hooper (363 yards) have more yards than Waller — he does rank near the very top in both receptions and receiving yards.
One thing that Waller needs to clearly work on his separation in the end zone. The 6-foot-6 Waller is a large target, but he has yet to haul in a single touchdown catch this season. In fact, the 27-year-old has just two career touchdown catches in his five-year career.
Considering Oakland has one of the top franchise quarterbacks in Carr and due to their lack of viable threats in the red zone, there is no reason why Waller shouldn’t be leading the NFL in touchdown catches for tight ends.
Raiders Cut Starting Wide Receiver, Re-Sign Another
The Raiders’ revolving door at wide receiver continues.
Oakland made a surprising decision on Thursday, electing to cut J.J. Nelson while deciding to re-sign Marcell Ateman. Nelson was supposed to start opposite Tyrell Williams at receiver, but he failed to make an impact, catching just four passes for 36 yards and a touchdown. Furthermore, he missed the team’s most recent game due to injury.
Ateman had recently been cut earlier in the week following the Raiders’ trade acquisition of former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Zay Jones. Ateman has appeared in just one game this season after starting six games last season and recording 15 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown.
Oakland’s current receiving core features Williams and Jones as the starters with Hunter Renfrow, Keelan Doss, Ateman, Trevor Davis and Dwayne Harris as the backups.