He told the Ross Tucker Football Podcast about “the importance of a tight end that can line up as that boundary X, that single receiver to the short side of the field, because that very often dictates pre-snap looks and it allows the quarterback to understand what the defense is going to do before the snap of the ball.”
Cosell asserted how an offense “always” want to give its QB1 “as much information as possible through the use of personnel and formation before the ball is snapped.” Fortunately for the Giants, “Waller is one of those guys” who can make defenses obvious.
Aligning out wide is nothing new for the Pro-Bowl tight end the Giants traded for earlier this offseason. Waller often played the X receiver during his early and most productive years with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Giants Can Copy Familiar Formula to Unleash Darren Waller
Former Raiders’ head coach Jon Gruden began moving Waller into a wide alignment from the start of the 2019 NFL season. Shifting the tight end into space dictated what coverage shells defenses slipped into.
A great example came against the Denver Broncos in Week 1, when sending Waller in motion forced cornerback Isaac Yiadom (26) to follow him. That showed the Raiders the Broncos were in man coverage, giving the Silver and Black an obvious physical mismatch, pitting 6-foot-6, 255-pound Waller against 6-foot-1, 190-pounder Yiadom.
Lining Waller up as a wide receiver became a common scheme for the Raiders, as Cosell’s colleague Matt Bowen detailed.
Gruden’s strategy made Waller the go-to target for the Raiders. He embraced the role by making 90 catches from 117 targets, per Pro Football Reference.
Waller was even more productive in 2020, being targeted 145 times and snagging 107 receptions for 1,196 yards. Those numbers ensured Waller became a Pro Bowler, largely thanks to all the time he spent playing as the X, with Ryan Holmes of Put on Raiders detailing how the role created another “easy read” in the passing game, this time against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Giants’ head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka replicating the Gruden blueprint would solve a deficiency at wide receiver and also improve Jones’ big-play output through the air.
Giants Need More Big Plays Through the Air
Generating huge gains through the air proved a challenge for the Giants in 2022. The Jones-led offense mustered a mere 28 completions of 20-plus yards, easily the fewest in the NFL.
Jones struggled to push the ball vertically, averaging only 6.8 yards per attempt and just 3.4 completed air yards per attempt, per Pro Football Reference. Giants’ general manager Joe Schoen needs to see a jump in those numbers to justify the four-year, $160-million contract he handed to the signal-caller earlier this offseason, instead of paying star running back Saquon Barkley.
For those numbers to improve, Daboll requires third-round draft pick Jalin Hyatt to quickly emerge as a viable deep threat. Unfortunately, Hyatt “mostly worked with the third-team offense this spring,” according to Dan Duggan of The Athletic.
Hyatt’s development will take time, so the Giants should count on Waller to be the big-play target on the outside. That’s not too much to ask from a pass-catcher who has averaged 12 yards per catch during his career.
The worry is Waller’s injury history, since he’s missed 14 games the last two years with various ailments, including ankle, thigh and hamstring injuries. Keeping Waller healthy will be key to deploying him the way Cosell described. Especially when there isn’t another tight end on the roster as explosive, nor a wideout as physical.
If the Giants are able to give Waller plenty of snaps as the X, the 30-year-old will have little trouble returning to his Pro-Bowl form and giving Jones more chances to improve as a deep passer.