Tight end Darren Waller brings size, speed and a big-play threat to Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Less than two months after being acquired in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders, tight end Darren Waller has impressed his new teammates on the New York Giants.

The 2020 Pro Bowler has worked hard in the meeting rooms and indoor workouts, gotten to know his teammates and tried to fit in as the new guy on a team looking to build off a 9-7-1 season that got them to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

While his last two seasons have not been his best, Waller is the type of tight end who could be a game changer for quarterback Daniel Jones and the offense. When healthy, he has the potential to be a big-play guy, something New York lacked last season.

Safety Xavier McKinney said Waller can exert a lot of pressure on a secondary.

“You can feel his presence,” McKinney said Thursday after the Giants finished a practice during an organized team activity. “Like I said, you’ve got to be aware of where he’s at. He’s able to make plays inside, outside, against the corner, against the safety, it doesn’t matter.”

The Giants haven't had a tight end like that since Mark Bavaro (1985-90) and Jeremy Shockey (2002-07), and if Waller works out all it cost them was a third-round draft pick.

Left tackle Andrew Thomas, who had the fifth-year option on his rookie contract picked up by the Giants in the offseason, said Waller presents opponents with the look of facing another wide receiver.

Waller's jersey also gives that appearance. He wears No. 12, not the usual 80-something number worn by tight ends.

Quarterback Daniel Jones said Waller can run any route, has shown good hands, is focused on his job and has been fun to be around. He added unlike some athletes who are listed at 6-foot-6, Waller is 6-6.

“He’s a real deep-thinking guy. You can tell he cares about the relationships he has with guys on the team and is extremely humble and authentic in who he is,” Jones said. “I have a ton of respect for that and who he is as a person, as a teammate.”

Waller has come a long way in what started out as a troubled career. A sixth-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, his first season ended in October on injured reserve and he was suspended for the first four games of the next season because of a violation of the league substance abuse policy. A second violation cost him the 2017 season and the Ravens waived him on Sept. 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 1196 and nine TDs). Injuries limited the past two seasons to a combined 83 receptions for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns. That’s not bad though.

Waller likes the complexity of the Giants offense and the sense the coaches are looking for player input.

“It requires you to know everything that’s going on on the field, not just have yourself fixed in one spot, like you need to know the whole picture of the offense,” he said. “Why the quarterback’s looking in a certain direction, why you need to be in a certain window at a certain time. It forces you to move fast, think fast, and I love challenges.”

Football is just one of them.

“I don’t pigeonhole myself to just football, but I know that when I’m here, this is my top priority when I’m here,” he said. “I don’t do other things in place of the time I need to put into this. Yeah, I like to make sure that I’m meditating and putting a lot of thought into why I do certain things on the field, why I do certain things off the field, and making sure that I’m providing value in the fact that the Giants get somebody that’s going to make their team better in whatever way they ask them to do.”

NOTES: Coach Brian Daboll refused to address RB Saquon Barkley's contract talks with the team, the status of players coming off injured reserve or recent rule changes by the league. ... He said the OTAs are a learning and teaching tool. ... CB Deonte Banks, the first-round draft pick, graduated from Maryland, Daboll said.