Darren Waller went from considering life after football to one of the game's emergent stars, and he used the Monday night stage to introduce himself to the world.
Waller caught 12 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown in a 34-24 win over New Orleans. If his stats don't give you a hint, he was a nightmare for the Saints, lining up in all four skill position alignments and recording at least one reception from each. Waller routinely won matchups with safety Malcolm Jenkins, forcing the Saints to try a number of approaches to stop him -- including throwing nine different defenders at him -- before finally settling on double-teaming Waller over the middle.
By then, the damage had been done. Waller had made the most of his 16 targets, helping power the Raiders to their first win in their new home of Allegiant Stadium.
"Darren's a great player," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said following the victory. "Our job is to try to get him the ball. Ive said it before. I don't know if I've said it to you, but I'd take him out of any of the tight ends. And I know (George) Kittle and (Travis) Kelce are as good as they get, but Waller's right up there with them. This is his second year playing the position. It's astonishing what this man can do."
By the time the sun rose on Tuesday, the football world was acutely aware of who No. 83 is for the Raiders.
"It's been a long time since we've seen a guy like this," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "He's definitely more than a receiver playing tight end."
Waller's outburst was foreseeable. The tight end was a yards-after-catch machine in 2019, racking up more than 52 percent of his 1,145 receiving yards after the reception. Only Kittle had more YAC in 2019, and Waller bested Kittle in YAC Over Expectation (YACOE) by four yards.
Waller's receiving total was also the second-most among all tight ends in 2019, trailing only Kelce. Of tight ends with at least 40 receptions, Waller finished fifth in catch percentage over expectation at +7 percent.
And finally, since Week 13 of last season, Waller has 586 receiving yards. He's posted 100-plus receiving yards in four of his last seven games. This storm has been building, and it wouldn't be a surprise if we'd been paying attention to the Raiders last season. We can't ignore Waller now.
"To let one of those guys like that get into our defense the way he did, that's our own fault," Saints coach Sean Payton said, per The Times-Picayune's Jeff Nowak.
It's New Orleans' fault only because they had clues that Waller would be a factor and didn't prepare accordingly. Or maybe they did, and whatever they prepared simply wasn't enough.
After all, this is a tight end who went from averaging less than a reception a game and just 8.1 receiving yards per game and had made a mere two trips to the end zone from 2015-2018, to six catches and 71.8 yards per game. His ascent has been fast and furious, and like the henchman learned from Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) in 2Fast 2Furious, life comes at you quickly.
These Raiders hope to keep catching folks by surprise. Perhaps it'll land them in the refreshing waters of the postseason. Ejecto seat-o, cuz.