Darren Waller traded to Giants: Fantasy Football impact for Daniel Jones’ new tight end in New York
Darren Waller returns to the East Coast after the New York Giants. Traded the 100th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. to the Las Vegas Raiders for the 31-year-old former Pro Bowl tight end. The Giants traded a compensatory third-round draft pick they acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs for Toney Kadarius. For the Raiders, they are clearing a much-needed spot in the salary cap after signing free agent wide receiver Jacobi Meyers earlier Tuesday. From a fantasy football standpoint, this is big news for Waller, recently re-signed quarterback Daniel Jones, and the entire Giants offense.
Just two seasons ago, Waller was locked in as one of the unmistakable “elite” tight ends in fantasy drafts. Those who signed up for a tight advantage strategy targeted Waller, Travis Kelsey, or Mark Andrews during the 2021 draft season. His draft stock dropped last August ahead of the 2022 season when Waller suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain in early July, right before the start of Raiders training camp. At the time, Waller was seeking a new contract, eventually agreeing to the terms of a three-year deal with Vegas. In early October, Waller aggravated a hamstring strain and was placed on reserve due to injuries.
Waller finished the 2022 season with just 28 receptions, 388 yards and three touchdowns. His results in the 2021 season were also wiped out by injuries, including an ankle sprain and then a Grade 1 knee sprain. However, Waller was one of the most dominant nonconformities of the game in the 2019 and 2020 seasons as he gained 2,345 yards on 197 receptions and 12 touchdowns.
One thing that Waller has always been able to show, even in those seasons when he played with injuries and missed time, is explosive play. Last season, the Giants ranked 31st in explosive passes, which are defined as catches of 20 yards or more. Waller has made 52 explosive shots in the last four seasons and just 22 in the last two injury seasons (where he only appeared in 20 of 32 possible games).
From a formation standpoint, he’s almost a perfect fit for how Brian Daball and Mike Kafka designed the Giants’ passing game. Kafka, who has experience with Travis Kelsey in Kansas City, and Duball, who helped turn Day 3 draft pick Dawson Knox into a weapon, would set up Waller’s one-on-one matches with ease. Daboll was also the Patriots’ tight end coach during the 2013–16 season, helping to maximize Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett during his tenure.
Kafka and Daball specifically relied on Kelsey and Knox in the red zone. In 2022, Giants tight end rookie Daniel Bellinger, a fourth-round draft pick, was often the first to read when the Giants were in the red zone. Now Waller is likely to be the first read in the red zone.
The Giants also have a lot of empty targets on offense. They re-signed wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins, but the other two top wide receivers, Richie James and Darius Slayton, are still free agents. Waller has the advantage of seeing three-figure targets as the lead dog in this passing game, in addition to being the center of the Giants’ red zone passing game. This movement improves his volume and his touchdown up. Injuries will always be a factor, especially with Waller on the wrong side of his 30s right now, but there’s enough upside here to put him back in the top five in a desert tight position. You can even assume that he has the advantage in TE2, second only to Kelce.
As for Jones, he is directly involved in the discussion of QB1. The Jones and Giants offense has evolved into a shotgun-focused, first-passing approach in the final month and the 2022 season change. This makes sense, given that both Daball and Kafka have very passionate backgrounds. Assuming this continues, Jones’ quick floor (over 700 yards and seven rushing touchdowns in 2022) coupled with improved passing prognosis has put him directly into the QB1 discussion.
Heath Cummings isn’t thrilled with Waller’s Fantasy stock since joining the Giants. The Heat dropped him to TE9 in the overall rankings after the trade. However, after the trade, the Heat moved Jones just outside of QB1’s range to QB13.