Giants Expected to Unleash Their Own Version of Travis Kelce

Travis Kelce and Darren Waller

Getty The New York Giants are expected to unleash their own version of Travis Kelce and become "Kansas City-lite."

Darren Waller can help the New York Giants become “the poor man’s version of the Kansas City Chiefs,” according to former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky.

Speaking on an edition of ESPN’s NFL Live, Orlovsky explained how Waller can make the Giants “Kansas City-lite” by being their own version of Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce. Specifically, Waller, acquired in an offseason trade with the Las Vegas Raiders, can create matchup problems whenever he’s moved around by Giants’ offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, the way the Chiefs move perennial All-Pro Kelce across formations.


Orlovsky, who spent 12 years with five teams, including the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, anticipates the Giants “putting Darren Waller by himself, like the Kansas City Chiefs do so much.” The approach can get “Waller into matchups that he loves,” while also creating favorable mismatches for other weapons on the Giants’ offense.

Orlovsky identified 2023 third-round draft pick Jalin Hyatt as somebody who could be “on a cornerback three for a defense.” There’s also the chance for Pro-Bowl running back Saquon Barkley to face “a light box, meaning lesser defenders to stop the run ’cause they’re paying attention to Waller.”

Those are just some of the ways Kafka can use Pro-Bowl tight end Waller to make the Giants “not all that different from what Kansas City did with Travis Kelce.” It’s a bold prediction, but there’s every chance Waller can deliver, provided he stays healthy.

Pro Bowler Can Be Kelce-Lite in Giants’ Offense

Waller may not quite match Kelce’s CV, but he’s no slouch among the best tight ends in the NFL. A Pro Bowl berth in 2020, along with two seasons posting 1100-plus receiving yards, prove Waller’s credentials.

At his best, Waller is a size and speed mismatch capable of attacking defenses from multiple positions. No linebacker can be trusted to stay with the veteran over the middle, nor trail him vertically, while few defensive backs can get around the 6-foot-6, 255-pounder in one-on-one situations.

A great example of the latter problem came when the Raiders faced the Giants in 2021, with Bobby Skinner of Talkin’ Giants highlighting how Waller beat cornerback James Bradberry.

Movement is the key to creating these kinds of mismatches, and numbers from a game against the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020 show how productive Waller can be from different alignments, per Next Gen Stats.

This kind of variety is similar to how the Chiefs continue to use eight-time Pro Bowler Kelce. That usage is something Kafka saw firsthand during five seasons as a member of the Chiefs’ staff.

Kafka witnessed some of the early iterations of a strategy that evolved into making Kelce the most productive pass-catcher in the league when in motion last season, according to Next Gen Stats. The same source highlighted how those schemes created a touchdown for No. 87 against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII.

Play like this make Kelce the go-to option for Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes. It means the Chiefs don’t have to rely on standout wide receivers, a formula Waller can help the Giants replicate, even though not everybody is convinced he’ll have that kind of impact.

Doubts Raised About Giants’ Most Important Receiver

On paper, the Giants have what they need to reproduce some of what the Chiefs do with Kelce. That’s the theory, but it all hinges on Waller avoiding injury, something Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine has a hard time believing will happen.

Ballentine cited how “Waller is 30 years old, has only played in 20 games over the last two seasons and averaged just 43.1 yards per game this season, his lowest total in four years.”

Those are legitimate concerns, especially since the Giants lack credible depth behind Waller. Daniel Bellinger missed five games as a rookie due to a fractured eye socket that eventually required surgery, while Lawrence Cager is a converted wide receiver who’s spent most of his career on practice squads for the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns.

It’s easy to see how much Giants’ quarterback Daniel Jones could come to rely on Waller. Jones has a lot to prove after being awarded a four-year, $160 million contract, and building a rapport with a playmaker like Waller will be key to the QB1 taking his game up a level.

Fortunately, a connection already appears to be forming during OTAs, according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan, who described how Jones wasted no time targeting Waller.

Jones needs Waller to deliver his Pro Bowl form, something that should happen if Kafka moves the tight end around like Kelce. The matchups problem a roving Waller can create will give Jones quicker reads and easier throws.

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