Fans of the New York Giants can breathe a sigh of relief because tight Darren Waller’s hamstring problem “is not believed to be serious.” In fact, the 2020 Pro Bowler still has a chance to face NFC East rivals the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
He told SportsCenter how the “Giants are hopeful he (Waller) can play Sunday night vs. Dallas, per source. No firm determination yet. Team will likely monitor through the weekend.”
Waller’s availability would be a huge boost for the Giants, who are counting on the 30-year-old to be the go-to playmaker in a revamped receiving corps. The plan is in danger of being scuppered after Waller was listed as “questionable” for the game on Sunday, September 10, due to a “hamstring injury,” per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News.
Fowler’s colleague Jordan Raanan called it “a positive sign” Waller was “moving relatively well at the open portion of Friday’s practice.”
If Waller can’t go at full speed, the onus will be on second-year tight end Daniel Bellinger to pick up the slack between the numbers.
Pro Bowler’s Injury History Still a Concern
Those previous hamstring problems should concern the Giants, according to the New York Post’s Ryan Dunleavy: “What’s most concerning is that Waller was sidelined by injuries to both hamstrings last season and what started out as a training-camp injury to his right leg turned into a left-leg issue that nagged the star tight end into November.”
This latest setback looks like more of the same. It’s hardly what the Giants need from the player they traded a third-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft to acquire this offseason.
The deal is supposed to yield the type of production Waller delivered during his best years with the Raiders. He caught 90 passes in 2019 then 107 a year later, while topping the 1100-yard mark in each of those seasons.
Expectations have been high Waller can reach those levels again with the Giants. His rapport with quarterback Daniel Jones will be key, so it was promising to hear Waller tell Leonard on the “Talkin’ Ball” podcast how the Giants’ QB 1 is “throwing darts.”
The Jones to Waller connection is supposed to underpin a passing attack needing more juice this season. Big Blue’s offense mustered a league-low 28 completions of 20-plus yards in 2022, but a roving , 6-foot-6, 255-pound target like Waller will surely expand the ways the Giants can attack coverage.
Having to wait a week or two before putting that theory into practice would be frustrating, but Waller’s absence would give Bellinger the chance to ensure he’s not overlooked this season.
Giants’ Other Tight End Can Still Beat Cowboys
Whether it’s Waller or Bellinger, the Giants can use their tight ends to create a physical mismatch on certain downs against the Cowboys. As Paul Dottino of GiantsWFAN detailed, “dallas is an early zone team on early downs vs TE and then more man later in the downs…will use a CB on the TE sometimes.”
There isn’t a cornerback on the Cowboys’ roster capable of muscling 6-foot-6, 255-pounder Bellinger. Splitting out wide and playing in space wasn’t a feature of Bellinger’s game after he was drafted in the fourth round a year ago, but he did show off some receiving chops by tallying 30 receptions for 268 yards, two touchdowns and 14 first downs.
The Giants can use Bellinger in similar ways to Waller, although the latter is a more dynamic field-stretcher.
Trading for a player with Waller’s shaky durability record was always going to be a risk. Ideally, the Giants would have preferred the risks had shown themselves before the games that matter.