EAST RUTHERFORD — Less than two months after being acquired in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders, tight end Darren Waller impressed his new Giants teammates.
The 2020 Pro Bowler has been working hard in conference rooms and indoor practices, getting to know his teammates and trying to fit in with a new team looking to build off a 9-7-1 season that led them to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 year.
While his past two seasons haven’t been the best, Waller is the type of tight end that can be a game-changer for quarterback Daniel Jones and the offense. When healthy, he has the potential to be a big-time player, something New York lacked last season.
Safety Xavier McKinney said Waller can put a lot of pressure on the secondary.
“You can feel his presence,” McKinney said Thursday after the Giants finished practice during organized team activities. “Like I said, you have to know where he is. He’s capable of playing inside, outside, against cornerback, against safety, it doesn’t matter.”
The Giants haven’t had a tight end like this since Mark Bavaro (1985-90) and Jeremy Shacka (2002-07), and if Waller can handle it, all it costs them is a third-round draft pick.
Left tackle Andrew Thomas, who the Giants signed to a five-year rookie contract in the offseason, said Waller makes opponents look like they’re facing another wide receiver.
Waller’s jersey also gives that look. He wears a number 12, not the usual number 80 with something that uptight people wear.
Quarterback Daniel Jones said Waller can run any route, showed good hands, focused on his job and was fun to be around. He added that unlike some athletes who are 6-foot-6, Waller is 6-6.
“He’s a really thoughtful guy. You can tell he cares about the relationships he has with the guys on the team and is extremely humble and genuine about who he is,” Jones said. “I have a lot of respect for that and who he is as a person, as a teammate.”
Waller has come a long way in his challenging career. A sixth-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, his freshman season ended in October on injured reserve and he was suspended for the first four games of the following season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. A second violation cost him the 2017 season and he was waived by the Ravens on September 1, 2018.
His break came when the Raiders claimed him off the Ravens practice squad in late November.
Waller had phenomenal seasons in Oakland in 2019 (90 catches for 1,145 yards and 3 TDs) and 20 (107 catches for 1,196 and nine TDs). Injuries limited him to 83 receptions for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns over the past two seasons. But it’s not bad.
Waller likes the complexity of the Giants’ offense and the sense that the coaches are looking for input from the players.
“It requires you to know everything that’s going on on the field and not just get stuck in one spot like you have to know the whole picture of the offense,” he said. “Why is the defender looking in a certain direction, why do you need to be in a certain window at a certain time. It makes you move fast, think fast, and I love challenges.”
Football is just one of them.
“I don’t dedicate myself only to football, but I know that when I’m here, that’s my main priority when I’m here,” he said. “I’m not doing other things instead of the time I have to put into this. Yeah, I like to make sure that I meditate and think a lot about why I do certain things on the field, why I do certain things off the field, and make sure that I’m providing value in who the Giants are getting someone who will make their team better than whatever they ask them to do.”