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Raiders' Darren Waller Says His Sobriety Made Being Out with Injury, COVID-19 Harder

Adam WellsJanuary 13, 2022

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 09:  Tight end Darren Waller #83 of the Las Vegas Raiders warms up before a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on January 9, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 35-32 in overtime.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller, who has been open about his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, said his injuries and a COVID-19 diagnosis this season made it harder for him to stay sober.

Speaking to ESPN's Paul Gutierrez, Waller explained why being away from football for so long this season was a problem for him:

"Because of my disease of addiction, that can have me thinking all kinds of crazy things. So, I've got to make sure that I'm talking about those things when I have all that idle time. I've got my therapist. Stay going to [A.A.] meetings. Stayed in the playbook. Working on music. Just staying solid, keeping my head out of that idle time and just into things that I enjoy. And stay into the game of football as much as I can."
B/R Gridiron @brgridiron

.<a href="https://twitter.com/Rackkwall83?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Rackkwall83</a> is gonna help a lot of people with his honesty 💯<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/Raiders?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Raiders</a>) <a href="https://t.co/jQkKawvllk">pic.twitter.com/jQkKawvllk</a>

Knee and ankle injuries kept Waller out for four games. He also didn't play in the Raiders' Week 17 win over the Indianapolis Colts after being placed on the NFL's reserve/COVID-19 list.

Waller's sobriety was a major focus when the Raiders were featured on Hard Knocks in 2019. 

"I was just like a vegetable—I was getting high like literally every day," Waller said on the show about his time with the Baltimore Ravens during training camp in 2016 (h/t Sports Illustrated's Kalyn Kahler). 

The Ravens originally selected Waller in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL draft, and he played sparingly as a rookie, catching two passes in six games.

Waller was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. The Georgia Tech product did play in all 12 games the rest of the season after returning.

The NFL announced Waller was suspended for at least one year in June 2017 after a second violation of the substance-abuse policy. He was reinstated in August 2018, but the Ravens cut him from their 53-man roster before the start of the season and signed him to the practice squad.

The Raiders signed Waller off Baltimore's practice squad in November 2018, and he played in the final four games that season before taking over as the team's starting tight end in 2019. 

Waller has appeared in 43 games over the past three seasons, and he is averaging 84 receptions, 1,002 yards and 4.7 touchdowns per season since the start of 2019. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career last year.

The 29-year-old will make his playoff debut Saturday when the Raiders play the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.