Darren Waller: The Breshad Perriman Backup Plan
After losing Torrey Smith to free agency earlier this offseason, it was pretty clear that the Baltimore Ravens would address the wide receiver position in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Despite having a very solid season in 2014 at age 35, Steve Smith Sr. can't be counted on much longer to be the team’s number one receiving threat. He may not fall off the cliff in 2015, but time catches up to every athlete eventually.
The Ravens wasted no time attacking the 2014 receiving class, selecting Breshad Perriman with the 20th overall pick. Our own Joe Juan did an excellent job profiling Perriman and his fit in Baltimore around draft time.
Perriman certainly has a tremendous opportunity to earn significant playing time early on, and if he runs with it, he could unseat Smith as the team’s top target.
And while most of the attention post-draft was paid to the uber-athletic Perriman, the Ravens also selected another receiver in the sixth round who could eventually find playing time as well.
Waller's Physical Profile
On paper, Darren Waller is yet another big, tall and fast wide receiver from Georgia Tech, a school that has produced both Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas in recent years. Baltimore waited until pick 204 overall to snag Waller, a full round after the Ravens were rumored to have been willing to select him.
Once again, with the help of the guys at mockdraftable.com, Waller’s spider chart will aid us in visualizing just how athletic he is compared to his peers at the wide receiver position.
Waller performed below average in most agility drills (20-yard shuttle and 3-cone), but was very explosive for a guy his size. His 4.46 40-yard dash time is also extremely impressive.
His top-three most comparable players according to Mockdraftable are Mike Evans, Michael Floyd, and Marques Colston. Brandon Marshall and Dorial Green-Beckham also find their way onto this list. There are a few busts (Limas Sweed, for example), but the overall grouping shows promise.
What Waller's New Bosses Think
Both head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome agree that Waller possesses a very high ceiling in terms of what he can do within the Ravens’ offense.
According to a recent Baltimore Sun article, “You have to look up really high when you talk to him,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He has good catch radius. We saw it on tape, we saw it in the workout, but now to see it here on our field is the confirmation [of] how well he moves for a big man. Now, he doesn't move like a 5-foot-9 receiver. He's long, he's fast, he gets in and out of breaks exceptionally well. He can snatch the ball. So, we'll see where it goes from here, but so far, so good.”
“We all covet big receivers,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “To get a big receiver, another big target, we know how tough it is facing receivers that are that type of size. He brings all of that.”
Having the backing of the general manager and coaching staff is the first step in a late-round pick like Waller sticking in the NFL. Being paired with a big-armed quarterback like Joe Flacco doesn't hurt either.
According to Pro Football Focus, Waller finished 10th best in the nation in yards per route run versus Power 5 teams (2.69) and tied for first in drop rate, finishing 2014 without a single dropped pass.
In 2014, Flacco ranked in the top-third of all NFL quarterbacks in adjusted yards per attempt, signifying that he was willing to throw the ball deep. Now in a Marc Trestman orchestrated offense, it’s fair to assume Flacco’s passing attempts should increase from his totals last season under Gary Kubiak.
Combine Flacco’s willingness to take chances downfield with Waller’s impressive YPRR in his last season at Georgia Tech, and you have a potential match made in heaven.
It Might Take Time
When compared to his new, high-profile teammate in Perriman, Waller’s path to substantial playing time is more than likely a longer ways away. Despite his prototypical size and athleticism, he's not as polished a route runner or pass catcher as most NFL coaching staffs would prefer.
His run blocking acumen, however, bolstered by the sheer amount of experience he gained while playing in a triple-option offense in college, should only serve to boost his chances of seeing the field.
Judging by what they did in the draft last month, the Ravens are clearly investing in big, strong, fast pass-catchers, a category in which Waller falls into.
Comparisons to Calvin Johnson or Demaryius Thomas are certainly premature, and it will most likely take a longer-term approach, but if the Ravens are willing to invest time and effort into Waller’s development, he could become a dynamic downfield threat in the future.