Does new Giants TE Darren Waller have something to prove in 2023?

Darren Waller, nyg, Giants
Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

The New York Giants have some new firepower on offense following an offseason filled with exciting acquisitions. Chief among their additions is tight end Darren Waller, who New York acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Las Vegas Raiders. Waller has been viewed as one of the best tight ends in the NFL for the past several years.

Entering 2023, league execs, coaches, and scouts are ranking the top ten players at every position for ESPN. Waller ranked fifth on this year’s list of tight ends, reaffirming the notion that he is among the league’s best. But despite his top-five ranking, Waller still has “something to prove” in the eyes of some league execs, scouts, and coaches, according to ESPN’s Jeremey Fowler.

This begs the question: what does the former Pro Bowler still have left to prove entering his first season with the Giants?

The key for Darren Waller: Staying healthy

The biggest question Waller needs to answer in 2023 is whether or not he can stay healthy. As Fowler points out, missing 14 games over the past two years has hurt Waller’s rankings on the executives’ list. But when Waller is healthy, he is an elite player that possesses the ability to change a game.

Waller can still be a “high-level player” for the Giants, says an AFC executive

New York did not give up much to acquire Waller (a late third-round pick), but they still have high expectations for him in their offense. Waller is expected to serve as the team’s primary receiving threat.

Despite missing 14 games with injuries over the past two years, Waller ranks third in receptions (280) and receiving yards (3,394) among tight ends since 2019. His 12 games with 100 receiving yards since 2019 trails only Travis Kelce among tight ends.

One AFC executive told Fowler that Waller can still be a “high-level player” for the Giants because “he can still run.” However, that executive did share some reasons for skepticism.

Can Waller produce in a busy offense that’s winning games?

The AFC executive pointed out that Waller’s two best seasons (2019 and 2020) came when the Raiders “had minimal targets around him and losing records.” The Raiders went 7-9 in 2019 and 8-8 in 2020. Waller was the team’s primary target in the lineup those seasons. He surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in both seasons.

The Raiders have since acquired more talent on offense. Most notably, Las Vegas traded for All-Pro WR Davante Adams in 2022. He took over as the team’s primary receiving threat and went on to post 1,516 receiving yards and a league-high 15 receiving touchdowns this season.

Entering 2023, Waller will once again be his team’s primary receiving threat. However, he will need to stay healthy if the Giants are going to rely on him to fulfill that role. Additionally, the Giants have added quite a bit of talent to their offense: newcomers Jalin Hyatt and Parris Campbell will pair with Isaiah Hodgins and Darius Slayton at wide receiver; not to mention the likely return of superstar running back Saquon Barkley.

Waller needs to prove that he can stay healthy and produce in a full offense for a team that intends on competing for a spot in the playoffs. If he can do those things, nothing will prevent Waller from confirming that he is one of the NFL’s best tight ends and most dynamic playmakers.