For all of the organization’s problems, the Las Vegas Raiders at least have star tight end Darren Waller at their disposal.
Once a late-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, Waller has evolved into one of the league’s more reliable offensive playmakers. In case you needed any further proof of how far the Georgia Tech product has come, he’s about to go where no tight end — and that includes Rob Gronkowski — has gone before.
Darren Waller can set an NFL record when he plays the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2
At least for now, it might be too early to say “same old Raiders,” and Waller is who devoted fans of the Silver and Black can thank.
The Pro Bowl tight end hauled in 10 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown in the Raiders’ 33-27 Week 1 victory over Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Waller celebrated his 29th birthday with a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter and his fourth consecutive 100-yard game.
That isn’t a misprint. En route to helping the Raiders start 1-0 for the third straight season, Waller became only the fifth tight end since at least 1970 with four straight 100-yard games. He’ll stand alone if he extends the streak to five when he plays the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Sept. 19.
Longtime Raiders fans may also be surprised to learn their starting team end is the first player in team history to accomplish the feat. The likes of Amari Cooper and Tim Brown never managed it.
Who are the other tight ends who had four consecutive 100-yard games?
We already told you that Rob Gronkowski, the top tight end of his era, never had four straight 100-yard receiving games. Something tells us that most football fans will recognize most, if not all, of the tight ends who accomplished the feat before Waller.
Tony Gonzalez, arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history, created the club while he played for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2000. The 14-time Pro Bowl selection posted at least 100 receiving yards from Oct. 15 through Nov. 5. The first and last game in that streak, curiously enough, came against the Raiders.
Over a decade later, New Orleans Saints second-year standout Jimmy Graham rattled off four consecutive 100-yard games early in the 2011 season. He repeated the feat two years later en route to earning first-team AP All-Pro honors.
Another Chiefs star, Travis Kelce, joined the club in 2016, accomplishing the feat across four games ranging from Nov. 20 through Dec. 8. The final outing in that streak, a 21-13 victory over the Raiders, saw him finish with 101 yards on five catches.
Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee followed in their footsteps with four 100-yard games in December 2019. Of the five tight ends currently in the club, four played for teams in either the AFC or NFC West. Of course, this means the likes of Gronkowski and Miami Dolphins veteran Mike Gesicki are next to join them.
Waller’s inspirational comeback story only continues to get better
Of the tight ends in that group, Gonzalez is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Kelce could eventually join him. Graham has had a fine career and was among the league’s best red zone threats in his prime. Higbee is the exception, although he’s been a reliable weapon for the Rams over the years.
Then, there’s Waller, a sixth-round pick of the Ravens in 2015 who missed all of the 2017 season after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. The Raiders took a chance on him in 2018 and signed him off the Ravens’ practice squad.
Nearly three years later, he’s responsible for one of the best comeback stories in recent memory. He went public in 2019, when the Raiders appeared on HBO’s Hard Knocks, about failing drug tests and using pills and cocaine while on the Ravens. The Georgia Tech product went to a detox center and a rehab center in 2017 and has been sober since then.
A few years ago, Waller took the initiative in hopes of saving his life. Now, he’s making history for a team desperately trying to return to the postseason. If you’re looking for a team to root for this fall, Waller might be enough to make you consider jumping on the Raiders’ bandwagon.
How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.