Darren Waller is heading back to the East Coast after the New York Giants traded the No. 100 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 the compensatory third-round draft pick they acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs for Kadarius Toney. For the Raiders, they clear much-needed salary cap space after signing free agent wide receiver Jakobi Meyers earlier on Tuesday. From a Fantasy Football standpoint, this is big news for Waller, recently re-signed quarterback Daniel Jones and the entire Giants offense.
As recently as two seasons ago, Waller was locked in as one of the surefire "elite" tight end options in Fantasy drafts. Those who subscribed to the tight end advantage strategy targeted Waller, Travis Kelce or Mark Andrews during the 2021 draft season. His draft stock took a tumble last August prior to the 2022 season as Waller dealt with a Grade 2 hamstring strain in early July right around the start of Raiders training camp. At the time, Waller sought a new contract, eventually agreeing to terms with Vegas on a three-year deal. In early October, Waller aggravated his hamstring strain and was placed on injured reserve.
Waller finished the 2022 season with just 28 receptions, 388 yards and three touchdowns. His 2021 season totals were also stymied by injuries, including an ankle sprain and then a Grade 1 knee strain. However, Waller was one of the most dominant mismatches in the game during the 2019 and 2020 seasons where he totaled 2,345 receiving yards on 197 receptions and 12 touchdowns.
One thing Waller has always been able to deliver, even in seasons when he's played hurt and missed time, is explosive plays. Last season, the Giants ranked 31st in explosive pass plays, which are defined as catches that go for 20 yards or more. Waller has racked up 52 explosive catches over the last four seasons and 22 total during his last two injured seasons (where he only appeared in 20 of 32 possible games).
From a schematic standpoint, he's a near-perfect fit for what Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka have evolved the Giants pass game to look like. Kafka, who has experience working with Travis Kelce in Kansas City, and Daboll, who helped a Day 3 draft pick in Dawson Knox evolve into a weapon, will have no trouble crafting one-on-one matchups for Waller. Daboll was also the Patriots' tight end coach during the 2013-16 seasons, helping to maximize Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett during his tenure.
Kafka and Daboll specifically leaned on both Kelce and Knox in the red zone. In 2022, Giants rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger, a fourth-round draft pick, was often the first read once the Giants got into the red zone. Now Waller is likely to become that red-zone first read.
The Giants also have a ton of vacated targets in their offense. They've re-signed wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins, but their other two leading receivers down the stretch -- Richie James and Darius Slayton -- are still free agents at this time. Waller has the upside to see triple-digit targets as the lead dog in this passing game in addition to being the focal point of the Giants' red zone pass game. This move improves his volume and his touchdown upside. Injuries will always be a factor, especially with Waller now entering the wrong side of his 30s, but the upside here is enough to bring him back into the top five of a desolate tight end position. A case can even be made that he has TE2 upside, behind only Kelce.
As for Jones, this puts him squarely in the back-end QB1 discussion. Jones and the Giants offense evolved to a shotgun-heavy, pass-first approach over the final month and change of the 2022 season. This makes sense seeing as both Daboll and Kafka come from very pass-heavy backgrounds. Assuming that will carry over, Jones' rushing floor (over 700 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs in 2022) combined with an upgraded passing outlook put him squarely in the QB1 discussion.
Heath Cummings is not as excited about Waller's Fantasy stock after coming to the Giants. Heath moved him down to TE9 overall in his rankings after the trade. However, Heath moved Jones up to just outside the QB1 range at QB13 following the deal.