Giants’ rookie tight end could significantly benefit from Darren Waller’s retirement

East Rutherford , NJ — May 10, 2024 -- Fourth round draft pick Theo Johnson as the NY Giants hold their Rookie Camp and introduce their new draft picks.
Chris Pedota, NorthJersey.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

The New York Giants were informed by former tight end Darren Waller officially on Sunday evening that he was retiring from the NFL. Waller spent one season in New York after being traded from the Las Vegas Raiders last offseason. He had 52 receptions for 552 yards and only one touchdown in his lone season with Big Blue.

The retirement will save the Giants $11.6 million in cap space, but more importantly, it will pave the way for the current tight ends on the roster to get more playing time next season.

The Giants have a few intriguing tight ends on the roster

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Oct 29, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Theo Johnson (84) runs with the ball after making a catch during the second quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium. Ohio State defeated Penn State 44-31. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants currently have four tight ends on the roster: Daniel Bellinger, Theo Johnson, Jack Stoll, and Chris Manhertz are all listed on the depth chart according to ESPN. Giants fans are already excited about Bellinger, who has shown flashes at times over his Giants tenure so far; but they are also excited about the new kid on the block.

Theo Johnson was a four-star recruit out of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. He was revered and heavily recruited by nearly every top school in the country because of his ridiculous freak athleticism. He committed to Penn State over the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State. The Giants selected Johnson in the fourth round of this year’s draft.

Theo Johnson is an exciting rookie talent

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Johnson took some time to get involved with the Penn State offense, only playing in two games in the infamous COVID-19-affected 2020 season. He caught four passes for 56 yards and that was it in his freshman campaign — but to be fair they only played six games that season.

In 2021, he had much more of an impact in the offense, taking over the starting tight end position that was held by current Pittsburgh Steelers TE Pat Friermuth. He caught 19 passes for 213 yards and one touchdown in his first full feature campaign.

Many expected Johnson to skyrocket from that point forward statistically, which was the expectation for the Penn State offense in general when former five-star recruit QB Drew Allar replaced the longtime starter, Sean Clifford.

As Allar and the Nittany Lions have disappointed on offense over the past two seasons, and in particular in 2023, Johnson’s stats only marginally improved from that 2021 season line.

In 2022, Johnson caught 20 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns. Finally, in 2023 during his last season, he caught 34 passes for 341 yards and seven touchdowns in an at times anemic Penn State offense.

Here are some examples of Johnson making big plays throughout his college career:

Johnson’s freakish athleticism could earn him some playing time

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Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson has always been regarded as a raw type of prospect who, under the right coaching and development, could really flourish and show his talent. Johnson tested very well as most expected out of him, running a 4.57s 40-yard dash, posting a 39.5″ vertical jump, and a 10’5″ broad jump.

Those metrics earned Johnson an 87 overall athleticism score on the NFL Combine Tracker official website, and Next Gen Stats, giving him a 6.15 prospect grade which is, “Good Backup With The Potential To Develop Into a Starter.”

The Giants selected him in the fourth round of the 2024 NFL Draft which most thought was great value for a player like Johnson. He has immense upside and can become a pillar of this Giants offense for years to come, and can certainly be a part of a very talented Giants offensive core with fellow rookie Malik Nabers, former first-round selection Evan Neal, and Andrew Thomas — who is one of the best tackles in the NFL.

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