Raiders' Jon Gruden Touts Darren Waller as 'Superstar' Ahead of 2020 Season

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2020

Oakland Raiders tight end Darren Waller (83) runs against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot/Associated Press

Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said Friday the team views tight end Darren Waller as a "superstar" heading into the 2020 NFL season.

Gruden took note of recent lucrative contract extensions involving the San Francisco 49ers' George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce, but he noted that Waller shouldn't be overlooked among the top players at the position.

"We think he's a superstar," he told reporters. "We think he's a great tight end. I know two tight ends got paid a lot of money [Thursday]. We're happy to have our guy. He can do it all. He can block. He can run any route. He's got great stamina."

Waller is coming off a breakout season that saw him record 90 receptions for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games. He'd made just 18 catches in his first four years in the NFL.

The 27-year-old Georgia Tech product was a sixth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2015 draft. He made just two appearances during his rookie season. He was then suspended for four games in 2016 and for the entire 2017 season for violations of the league's substance-abuse policy.

Waller, who joined the Raiders in November 2018, recently celebrated three years of sobriety, and Gruden said Friday the tight end's story can provide inspiration for others going through a difficult time.

"He had a dark portion of his life there for a while that not a lot of people come back from," he said. "I hope a lot of young people get the real story behind Waller. You can beat addiction. If you just listen to Darren Waller and how he did it, he is a great source of, I think, leadership and proof that you can be great even though you've had some dark, dark times."

The fight for targets for Raiders playmakers will be more competitive this year.

Vegas signed wide receiver Nelson Agholor and tight end Jason Witten and then drafted Henry Ruggs III with the 12th overall pick in the draft. They join Waller, Tyrell Williams, Bryan Edwards and Hunter Renfrow as options for quarterback Derek Carr.

Waller's numbers may drop a bit in 2020, but it's clear Gruden and the coaching staff still view him as a critical building block as the Raiders attempt to end a three-year playoff drought.